By Karen Middleton
I had another “Wake-up Call” this week. No, not from the hotel computer, but another motivating conversation that keeps me working every day to change the face of American politics by electing more Democratic women to public office. The wake-up call is common in my work. I have had the same conversation over and over again with Democratic women living in the United States who see the same pattern of frustration, confusion and disengagement among women who work in politics.
On this wake-up call, we talk about what we need in order to create a stronger, more supportive network among elected women, and among women thought leaders, funders and strategists. Call it the good ol’ girls network or the war room — we need our own power center in every state to build our collective political future. We talk about how we know we need it and how inspired we are to work together to get there. But then we turn to our need to issue a wake-up call to some of our peers and counterparts in order to get this work done.
But, for a couple of key groups of powerful and amazing women, it is time for your wake-up call — we need you to get off the bleachers and get into (or back into) the game. Share it with those women you know I am talking to here.
One group of women I am most concerned about are those who have been in elected office or who have worked around campaigns and elections, and those who ran and lost, many of whom seem to have thrown up their hands and walked away from political life at the very moment in history when we need them the most. For whatever reason, they feel betrayed by the system as it exists. I walked away from my own elected position two years ago to recruit, train and inspire Democratic women to run for office. I did so because I believe there needs to be many more of us if we are going to create the kind of change we want to see in the world. I invite you to join me and get back into this, and together we can work to fix it — not just play by the rules as they have been written. I want enough of us in office to make new rules and change how political business is conducted — and I am convinced we can do it.
The other group of women I see as ready to serve are those who are leading change organizations and social justice movements around issues they care about. With a straight face, you say you can never run for office, yet you can move mountains and save the world for years on a shoestring (which mirrors most nonprofit budgets these days). You can advocate, rally, organize and blog for your lifetime, but you would be able to make more dramatic change if you were not just going to the ballot box, but putting your name on the ballot to be the one who decides.
I will give a shout out to those women who have been at this for years, who are stunned to see major victories being undone, and who never thought we would be talking about birth control again in 2012. Many of you are wondering where the pipeline is so you can take a break, and I hear you. I know where the pipeline is, but these women are sitting in the bleachers right now. You can help me in issuing this wake up call and sticking with it just a little bit longer.
I know that politics is a contact sport and can be personally very challenging. It can be hard on your family, your finances and your health. But as a gender we are resilient, we have a high pain threshold, we work hard and we know how to get things done. We are better at politics than we profess, and politics needs us — it is not doing so well without more of us on hand.
I see a few key groups of women in this country who can do more to help us reach ambitious goals, and I say to them: you need to either decide to cross over from advocacy to elected leader, or you need to return to the table and keep fighting. Too many of the women who are most able to step into these roles as our next governors, senators and congresswomen have simply left the scene. While I will strenuously argue that more intensive training and support can help, we can’t do it without keeping women engaged in politics at all levels, from voting, to running campaigns, to writing checks, to being those elected officials.
Here is your version of the wake-up call. Share it with those women you know I am talking to here.