It is estimated that 3.2 million people across the U.S. participated in the Women’s March on Washington, pushing women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights and civil rights, among other things, to the forefront of public attention. But can the activism of women in over 300 U.S. towns and cities be translated into a sustainable movement?
Social Justice Attorney Sandra Fluke said that we should forget about the 1992 Year of the Woman where a record number of women were elected into Senate. “Let’s make this the Decade of the Woman,” she said at the “Watch Us Run” conference held by The Huffington Post and Bustle, in partnership with Bold on Inauguration Day.
The non-partisan event, held to increase women’s involvement in public service, was a great “beginning” conversation, Fluke said, after participating in a panel “How To Build Grassroots Momentum.” The panel was centered around the need for more diverse representation in U.S. politics. “We desperately need more women elected into office, more LGBT folks, more folks of color,” she said.
A women’s-rights advocate and Democrat, Fluke first came to public attention in 2012 after she spoke about the importance of requiring insurance plans to cover birth control. Fluke has been what she calls “publicly vetted,” when she was called a “slut” and “prostitute” by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh over her fight for insurance-covered birth control.
When she decided to run for Senate in California in 2014, she knew she could survive the “attacks,” but Fluke thinks a lot of women are concerned about the public scrutiny involved in running for office. Instead of dwelling on the number of reasons that would hold women back from running for public office, Fluke encourages them to think of the incredible potential difference they could do for their community, family and their friends and neighbors.
For many, the need for female participation in our political establishment transcends party lines. Drafting women for public service is something that’s important to liberals and conservatives alike.
“Women are their own toughest critic,” panelist Marilinda Garcia said. “Just do it. Then you’ll realize that you are capable and maybe find you’re in a position that you should have been in years ago.”
Garcia strives to lead women by example into equal representation in public office in the U.S. The former state legislator in New Hampshire (who ran for a congressional seat as a Republican) said that for women looking into serving, a big part of getting elected is getting over your own inhibitions and fears of being unqualified.
Fluke is rejuvenated by the number of women coming forward after the Nov. 8 election who want to run for office. And following the Women’s March on Washington, several Democratic groups are using that energy and channeling it into recruitment.
“When I see campaigns or organizations that are active in the community, there are women just pouring [out] their hearts and souls and accomplishing so much,” Fluke said. “They can totally handle running for office.”
Channeling the energy of an activist movement into permanent change is not an easy task. Both Fluke and Garcia encourage those interested in running for a public office to get the preparation they need to plan together so they can run and win, and begin to address the gender gap in politics.