Online Extra: Political Notes: Group aims for more young women in politics
by Matthew S. Bajko
In Sacramento the number of female lawmakers this legislative session, at 26, is the lowest it has been in 19 years. A recent post on the CALmatters website noted that there are more white men named Jim now serving in the 120-person state Legislature than there are black and Asian-American women combined.
Locally the picture is a little better, with women now constituting a six-member majority on the 11-member San Francisco Board of Supervisors following the results of the November election. And board President London Breed is expected to be re-elected to another term leading the body at its special meeting Monday (January 9).
Yet the city has only elected one woman mayor, now-U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who served for a decade starting in 1978 following the assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk. And there hasn't been a lesbian member of the Board of Supervisors since 2000 when the seats reverted back to being elected by district. The only out woman in elected office in the city currently is college board member Shanell Williams, who identifies as bisexual.
Nationally, the numbers of women elected to public office has remained stagnant, with women accounting for 51 percent of the population but holding just 21 percent of elected offices. Aiming to boost that percentage is the nonprofit Ignite, which is focused on encouraging more young women to enter politics.
"I love the fact Ignite is focused on young women in particular. I think that is missing in this space," said Kristin Hayden , the organization's chief of partnerships. "I just think at this moment in our history young women need a positive encouragement and message out there to galvanize them to achieve their political ambitions."
Hayden, 46, who identifies as gay, relocated from Seattle roughly 18 months ago to work for the Oakland-based Ignite just as it was broadening its scope nationally. In Washington state she had founded a nonprofit called One World Now, where she worked for 12 years, that helped underserved high school students gain international experience.
Ignite is nonpartisan in its focus, noted Hayden, making it different from the partisan groups working to elect women to public office, such as the Democratic-focused Emerge America. And its focus on women in high school and college also makes its approach unique, she said.
The work Ignite is doing is critical, said Hayden, if America is to achieve gender parity among its elected officials.
"All the research shows if we continue what we are doing then we are not going to see parity in our lifetime in politics, which is so disturbing," she said.
Hayden, who lives in San Francisco, said her own views on running for office have changed since working for Ignite. Previously she had no desire to seek elected office due to "the ugly side of politics" and found it "unappealing" how the women who do run are treated.
"For all the reasons I did not want to run for office are all the reasons why women don't run," said Hayden, who added, "everything is possible" when asked if she would seek public office someday. "I would be a great politician. I have the skill set, the personality, and the passion for change making."
The one positive to come from seeing a man who espoused misogynistic views on the campaign trail be elected president, said Hayden, is it has "totally galvanized more young women ... to run and to fight now than we have seen before."
Shani Winston, 24, who helped launch an Ignite chapter at SF State, from which she graduated in the fall of 2015 and worked at as the director of the women's center, is one young woman who envisions running for office. Winston, a straight ally, isn't looking to do that in the U.S. but rather in Israel within five years.
Her family, originally from Iraq and Morocco, are Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews; her mother is an Israeli citizen, so she can apply for dual citizenship.
"There is just infinite amounts of opportunity there," said Winston.
One concern that makes women think twice about running for office, she said, is "being overpowered by a majority of men in politics. Sometimes that can drive us away from being involved."
At a morning event Ignite hosted at the downtown San Francisco offices of LinkedIn last Friday, January 6, several hundred women, and a few men, gathered to hear from Bay Area native Rosie Rios , who served as the 43rd U.S. treasurer during the Obama administration and stepped down last year, as well as a panel of women that included Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and newly sworn in San Francisco District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who succeeded her boss, gay former Supervisor David Campos , as he was termed out of office.
"Up until a year and a half ago never in my wildest dreams did I think of running for office," said Ronen, whose campaign office was vandalized with anti-woman graffiti and marked with the symbol for a witch.
A married mother of a young daughter, Ronen said she was compelled to seek the supervisor seat so that she would have "the power to enact change."
Ignite founder and president Anne Moses , who had worked for Emerge America as its chief operating officer, admitted the initial plan for the gathering was for it to be an inauguration celebration and watch party to toast Democrat Hillary Clinton having "broken through that last glass ceiling" in U.S. politics. But following Republican President-elect Donald Trump's victory, Moses said they changed course.
What she found so depressing about Trump's winning, she said, was the election of "someone so publicly disparaging of women." The outcome "really kicked me in my teeth," admitted Moses. "How can I find a silver lining in this election? It is people like you. Ignite has been deluged by women and men saying I want to get involved."
She explained that she founded Ignite in 2010 to focus resources, both financial and professional, toward supporting young women who wanted a career in politics.
"We realized if we want women in office we need to invest in the next generation," she said.
And young women from across the country following the November election have "flooded" Ignite with calls and messages, she said, "saying, 'I am done. I want to run now.' We need them on school boards, city councils, even mosquito abatement boards."
Rios, who pushed to see women's images be added to U.S. currency as one of her top goals as the country's treasurer, has launched a number of initiatives focused on lifting women up and encouraging them to seek public office. Her Teachers Righting History campaign has the simple goal of convincing schoolteachers to hang the portraits of women who have contributed to society in their classrooms.
Women are also largely missing from the statuary in public parks as well as in the nation's capital, pointed out Rios. In New York City's Central Park, as one example, Rios noted the only female figures found on pedestals are fictional: Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose.
"We don't exist," said Rios, who attended high school in Hayward and is currently staying with her mother in Fremont.
She is also launching her Empowerment 2020 foundation to host a meeting each Women's Equality Day on August 26, which commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote. Her goal is to increase attendance each year so that 1 million people attend in 2020 to mark the 100th anniversary of the amendment.
"I am not going to stop. This is not a gender issue, it is an equity issue," said Rios, speaking at her first public event since resigning last summer.
To learn more about Ignite, visit its website at http://www.ignitenational.org/.
Due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Monday, January 16, the Political Notes column will return Monday, January 23.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.