Women are ready for their turn

By Yvonne Abraham

And now, a ray of hope.

Are you a woman, or someone who cares about them? Are you miserable over the Electoral College defeat of the person you thought was going to be our first female president? Are you especially appalled that she lost to a misogynistic throwback?

You are not alone. Like you, Lisa J.B. Peterson woke up on Nov. 9th feeling gutted.

“I realized women were so much further behind than I thought we were,” said the financial planner from Salem. “The rug was completely pulled out from under me.”

No kidding. In mid-October, in the midst of the scandal over the “Access Hollywood” tape and the many accusations of sexual assault I thought would sink the candidacy of the man who is now the president-elect, I wrote: “When it comes to the rights of women, and especially those of assault victims, this bully has become the unlikeliest of catalysts for progress. The more he talks, the less hospitable the world becomes for men like him.”

Oh, what a fool I was! Maybe he didn’t win the popular vote, but 63 million Americans, too many of them women, took in Donald Trump’s appalling behavior and words and voted for him anyway. While many of us retreated to nurse our wounds, commiserating on Facebook, donating to charities, grief-eating, some, like Peterson, sprang into action.

“We need more strong female leaders to step up,” she remembers realizing. “Why not me?” So, Peterson, 38, has decided to aim for political office. And she’s not the only one.

“It’s the silver lining of this election,” said Ryanne Olsen, executive director of Emerge Massachusetts, a training program for Democratic women who want to become political candidates. In previous years, Emerge has received applications from about 40 women. This year, the group has a whopping 82 applicants. And 57 of those women began their applications after the election.

“It’s the best possible problem for us to be having, in the wake of a really tough election,” she said.

These hopefuls are inspired by Hillary Clinton’s example and galvanized by Donald Trump’s threatening specter, Olsen said.

Applicants have come from all over the state, and all kind of professions: lawyers, leaders of nonprofits, social workers, teachers. There is even a minister.

“I kept looking for good news after the election,” said applicant Julie Flowers, a 37-year-old pastor from Beverly. She found some measure of solace, and an example, in the new women elected to the US Senate.

“If we keep mobilizing at the local level, it ends up filling this whole pipeline with qualified, engaged, women,” she said. “That can change our national conversation.”

There is urgency to these women’s ambitions now. Karen Foster, who heads a nonprofit for people with disabilities in Western Massachusetts, had thought she might run for office “five years down the road.” She was busy with work and her two kids. At the time she married her wife in 2009, four states recognized gay marriage. The Supreme Court’s decision to enshrine it convinced her progress was inevitable, in all kinds of things. The election shocked her from her complacency.

“I just had this major awakening,” said Foster, 38. “Things I had taken for granted are not to be taken for granted. . . . It is time to start working for this fragile place at the table.”

Olsen is assessing Foster’s application, along with the others, right now. Ordinarily, Emerge caps its class size at about 25 women. The shoestring operation (Olsen is its only staffer) is looking for extra funding now, so that she can double the class of 2017.

“I’m not sure my heart can take calling 60 qualified and talented women and telling them it’s not their time, and to wait their turn,” Olsen said.

Indeed. There’s been more than enough of that for one century, thank you.