Women marched. Now what?

October 29, 2017

The Washington Post: Women marched. Now what?

By Karen Tumulty and Perry Stein

Until the morning after the 2016 presidential election, politics was not a particularly high priority for Sarah Schulz.

“I called myself a Democrat, and that was pretty much the extent of my political involvement,” Schulz recalled. “I woke up on Nov. 9 — I woke up physically, and I woke up politically.”

Within weeks, the 40-year-old mother of two co-founded a local group of liberal activists, Women of Michigan Action Network (WOMAN), that now counts more than 1,300 members in the Midland area, where she lives.

The day after the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, Schulz joined tens of thousands on the Mall in Washington to put Donald Trump on notice that his presidency would be facing a wall of resistance.

Now she’s trying to figure out: What’s next?

Friends are urging her to run for office. But what office? And how?

“I don’t know the nuts and bolts of it,” said Schulz, who works in human resources for a nonprofit. “I don’t know how to fundraise. I don’t know where one gets a campaign manager.”

Charting a future — for themselves and for the forces of opposition that have been unleashed in the Trump era — is what drew Schulz and more than 4,000 other women from across the nation to Detroit’s Cobo Convention Center over the weekend.

“This level of engagement I’ve never seen before. It’s as true in rural Michigan as it is in downtown Detroit,” said former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, an attendee who is running for governor in 2018.

“This is about training and organizing and building our bench of candidates and also campaign operatives as we look to next year’s midterms. That will be the test,” Whitmer added.

The three-day convention was put together by the organizers of January’s post-inauguration women’s march, which is believed to have been among the largest single-day political demonstration in U.S. history, with protests in hundreds of cities and towns around the nation.

“We cannot afford to be shut down or shut up by any man, particularly not one as indecent and deplorable as Donald Trump,” declared keynote speaker Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

Waters closed her speech by leading the women in a chant: “Impeach 45!”

But it was about more than Trump. “I want to push back against the values he represents, but also fight for progressive values that I believe in,” said Lebanese American Fayrouz Saad, 34, who is running for an open congressional seat in the Detroit area that both parties see as competitive. If elected, she would be the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress.

The gathering was plagued by early organizational problems, including a backlash against a decision to showcase a male politician — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — with a prominent speaking role. Sanders backed out amid the complaints.

That misstep, however, did not appear to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands who showed up, some wearing the pink knit “pussy hats” that became the symbol of the January march. Their T-shirts brandished slogans declaring “the future is female” and that they were “reclaiming our time,” a liberal meme that also served as the convention’s slogan.

“It just all fell into place. it just felt inspiring,” said Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers of both the march and convention. “People are extraordinarily motivated and feeling hopeful, and that’s exactly what the point of the convention was.”

They were a diverse group, women of nearly every age and ethnicity. There was programming for children and a “pumping pod” for nursing mothers. Men’s bathrooms in the convention center were changed to gender-neutral ones for the weekend.

Stoking their fervor was the recent wave of revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men, among them movie producer Harvey Weinstein and political pundit Mark Halperin.

“I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been slut-shamed, I have been harassed, I have been maligned, and you know what? I am just like you,” said actress Rose McGowan, who has accused Weinstein of raping her. “What happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in this society. It cannot stand and will not stand.”

Identity issues were a theme of many of the convention events, which included a workshop titled “Confronting White Womanhood,” for “white women committed to being part of an intersectional feminist movement to unpack the ways white women uphold and benefit from white supremacy.”

Other sessions looked at the practical challenges of turning the raw feelings left over from the 2016 election into lasting political power. Among them: “How to Organize a Protest/Rally in Less Than 24 Hours!”

Yet to create a lasting movement and succeed in winning more elective offices, women must do more than present an angry front, gubernatorial candidate Whitmer said. “The key is a vision that really does get people into better-paying jobs and get our kids the education they need — those bread-and-butter issues.”

In one fiery speech after another, the women were told that the best way to achieve that is to elect more women to political office.

“I am a firm believer that the conversation changes when a woman takes a seat at the table,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) said in her speech Friday.

Missing from the lineup of speakers were some of the biggest names in Democratic politics — 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). All had been invited and declined.

However, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), both of whom are being talked about as possible presidential contenders in 2020, did speak on the opening night.

“If we want a different outcome, we must change the players list,” Gillibrand said. “Just imagine if Congress was 51 percent women.”

During the 2016 election cycle, Emily’s List, a leading funder of female candidates who support abortion rights, had discussions with what was then a record 920 women interested in running. “We called it our ‘Hillary bump,’ ” said Stephanie Schriock, Emily’s List president.

This year so far, the organization has heard from 20,500 — including 47 on Friday alone.

“This is our pipeline,” Schriock said. “This is extraordinary.”

As a group, she added, they are generally more liberal than their male counterparts, and more than half are under the age of 45, “which is a sea change for us.”

More than 100 women lined up for a training session on running for office that Emily’s List held here Saturday afternoon. Among them was Schulz — only to be turned away because there was no room left at the oversubscribed session.

She went to one called “Speechwriting the Resistance” instead.