women's rights

Trump's antics stoke opposition

President Donald Trump's continuing assaults on cherished American ideals, like protecting the environment and providing health care, are having an intriguing side effect. His administration is keeping the outrage at a boil.

For organizations that encourage and train women to run for political office, that has made for a very busy four months since Election Day.

Tens of thousands marched against President Trump in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017, and the total nationwide was in the millions. (Photo: mathiaswasik/flickr/cc)

Tens of thousands marched against President Trump in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017, and the total nationwide was in the millions. (Photo: mathiaswasik/flickr/cc)

Activism has spiked in many areas, from demonstrations in airports to raucous town halls to protests at politicians' doorsteps. But the events of the last few months have fundamentally changed attitudes about politics, particularly among women. Organizers say many more women are embracing the value of running for office.

VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that offers classes with titles like "30 Things Every Woman Needs to Know to Run for Office," recently surveyed women who had signed up for the program. In the past, two-thirds of VoteRunLead's students said they were thinking of running in the next five years or so. When their children were grown, perhaps.

Now, according to VoteRunLead founder Erin Vilardi, 66 percent want to run in the next two years.

"In the past, we heard, it's on my mind, but it's not urgent," she said. "A new crop of women are raising their hands and accelerating the schedule."

VoteRunLead, which is based in New York, unveiled a website this week under the banner "Run as you are." An important function of groups like this is matching the skills and passions of individuals with the right offices.

"Probably, the number one question I get is what to run for," Vilardi says. She begins by asking what policies they want to change. Most will end up seeking school board or local offices, with a sprinkling interested in federal posts.

From September 2014 to the November election, VoteRunLead trained about 5,000 women at conferences and online. Since Nov. 8, another 5,565 have signed up. Organizations like the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, She Should Run and Ignite National are reporting similar surging interest.

Even optimists thought interest might fade after the Jan. 21 women's marches. But Anne Moses, president of Ignite National, which offers programs for high school and college women, says so far, apathy has been a stranger. "I thought maybe it would slow down," she said, "but this administration is doing a good job of keeping people angry."

Cue Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, she gave a major speech in San Francisco to an audience of 6,000, and she's scheduled today to address the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington. On Tuesday, she tried out a new mantra: "Resist, insist, persist, enlist."

Her timing was perfect. Last week brought the image of a room of men in Congress debating whether to cover maternity care, along with Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts making light of losing mammograms. He was forced to apologize.

Such moments are raising awareness in young women that "sexism is real, it's not just something my mom is talking about," said Moses of Ignite National, which is based in San Francisco.

The recent ineptitude of the White House - failing on two travel bans and Obamacare repeal - also demonstrates, like a reality show, that no experience is necessary to try governing. The missteps have been liberating for potential candidates, and especially women, who research shows tend to underestimate how well-prepared they already are for jobs.

Who knew that Trump's Washington would offer so much inspiration?

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.


A women's agenda for Trump era

If the participants in women's marches around the country last weekend are looking for a public policy road map, they would do well to pick up a copy of "Work Pause Thrive."

Published this month, author Lisen Stromberg's ambitious book lays out an agenda for legislative changes and describes policies that progressive employers are putting in place. The goal is to help along a new generation of men and women who say they want both involved parenting and rewarding work.

A new book from journalist Lisen Stromberg,  Work Pause Thrive , offers a collective agenda for working families. (Photo: LisenStromberg.com)

A new book from journalist Lisen Stromberg, Work Pause Thrive, offers a collective agenda for working families. (Photo: LisenStromberg.com)

As a devotee of advice on work-life balance, I found "Work Pause Thrive" dealt well with both policy and practical advice for would-be parents just starting their careers. The book navigates an economy still churning from the expansive entry of mothers into the workforce since the 1970s, without having put into place adequate affordable child care or altering the "all-in, all-the-time" workplace culture.

Stromberg tells this story from experience. She met a group of women in 1996 in a new mother training class recommended by their doctors. Twenty years later, the women are still in touch, and many of their careers look like "a direct trajectory to the top of our professions," she writes, "but buried deep within our resumes are twists and turns, pull backs and pauses."

The women crafted "nonlinear" careers that often required soul-searching, risk and straightforward negotiation with employers. But she wants the millennial generation to know it can be done - and that technology and attitudes are moving in this direction.

Putting family first for a time doesn't have to mean sacrificing one's career, according to Stromberg's survey of nearly 1,500 women. She highlighted women like Ann Fudge to make her point.

One of the most successful African-American women in business in 2001, Fudge quit her job as a division president for Kraft Foods to spend more time raising her two children. Fudge had recently been named by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 most powerful women in business.

When she left her corporate job, there was a brouhaha in the media about how she couldn't hack being both a mother and a top businesswoman.

The rest of her story received much less attention. Within a few years, she returned to work as president of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency.

Stromberg focused on college-educated women and men, she told me in an email, because that's the world she knows. "I was motivated to understand why even women with resources can't find solutions for challenges in the workplace when it comes to dealing with caregiving," she wrote.

However, middle- and lower-class families - in which Stromberg says women are increasingly opting out of paid work - would also benefit from her policy prescriptions for national paid leave, high-quality universal child care and paid sick leave.

Lower earners find it cheaper to stay home with children because they can't find work that covers the cost of child care. Meanwhile, many young parents struggle with student debt - never mind saving for college or retirement.

"We have been distracted by the notion that work/life integration is a privilege," Stromberg wrote in her email. "The reality is we lack public and workplace policies to support working parents. Let's focus on that issue and stop pitting women of different socio-economic classes against each other."

Women's Marchers, take notice.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

aftermath of Hillary's loss

For those on the left in shock or sorrow over Donald Trump's win, here is a quote worth remembering: "Ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible and great movement."

The statement comes from Trump himself; it was part of his election night victory speech. But progressives have as much right to claim it as their own.

Former Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton (Photo: Reuters)

Former Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton (Photo: Reuters)

No, Hillary Clinton did not become America's first female president. But her candidacy was important - and contrary to the too-common narrative, many were inspired. This was a very close race. Clinton earned 59.7 million votes, and Trump won 59.5 million.

Millennial voters would have elected Clinton by an Electoral College vote of 504 to 23 had they been the only ones filling out ballots.

Granted, what we witnessed in this historic presidential race was often ugly, vulgar and obscene. Nevertheless, people were galvanized. Clinton's candidacy inspired a flash mob of 170 men and women in pantsuits in Union Square. Hundreds flocked to the Rochester grave site of suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony and placed "I voted" stickers on her tombstone. Parents took their daughters to polling places, on the campaign trail and to election eve parties.

Those opposed to Trump should not let that spirit get away but must bring it to bear in their continuing pursuit of women's rights.

In places yesterday, progressives were drawing lines in the sand. Physicians for Reproductive Health vowed to "remain vigilant," noting Trump's opposition to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's health is endangered.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, emailed supporters to say she was "Devastated. Angry. Heartbroken." But she added that the four most important words were these: "These. Doors. Stay. Open."

She was responding to Trump's pledge to defund Planned Parenthood despite its work providing women with birth control and services like breast and cervical cancer screenings. On Twitter, supporters urged others to sign up for a monthly donation plan.

Elsewhere, women celebrated electoral victories. Emily's List, which raises money for pro-abortion-rights women candidates, said a record number of women of color will be serving in Congress as a result of Tuesday's vote. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada was elected as the nation's first Latina senator. Kamala Harris of California, Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will all join the U.S. Senate in January.

These women, noted Jess O'Connell, executive director of Emily's List, arrive with diverse perspectives and strong voices "at a time when we've never needed them more," adding, "Their leadership will provide the checks and balances that are such a critically important part of our government, as we continue our work to achieve full equality for women."

Trump's attitude toward sexual assault will bear watching. We're all familiar with his boasts and women's accusations against him. But keep in mind that, as a nation, we are still struggling with how those in authority handle reports of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. After a Pentagon survey found that roughly 26,000 men and women had been assaulted, Trump tweeted, "What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?"

Finally, progressives should hold Trump to a promise he made as a candidate to guarantee six weeks of paid leave for mothers who have just given birth.

Here's another quote worth remembering, and it comes from the gracious concession speech Clinton made yesterday morning: "This loss hurts. But please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

So far, Arab Spring has been chilly for women



This year's Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian regimes included many prominent women: There was a Tunisian blogger who was among the first to alert the world to the country's growing turmoil. And there were demonstrators, journalists, bloggers and tweeters in Egypt who forced the February ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

But since those inspiring days, the news from this region has painted a picture of a democratic revolution only partly finished. The problem with leaving a task unfinished is that there's the danger of stalling - or leaving an opening for someone worse.

In recent days, an Egyptian general admitted that his troops conducted "virginity checks" of female protesters - a barbaric and unnecessary humiliation by the military, which now seems like a poor caretaker of power as Egypt prepares its new constitution.

But the virgin tests are only the most notorious of the setbacks for the women of the Arab Spring. Backsliding in this part of the world is particularly frightening, given its history and its cast of brutes who want a return to Islamic law. It would be tragic for another country whose women helped make revolution - like Iran in 1979 or Algeria in 1962 - to reverse course to subjugate them to a fundamentalist regime.

In Egypt especially, where the United States intervened directly by calling for Mubarak to quit, we have a moral obligation to push for results that we can support, not democracy and equality for only half the people.

Signs of anti-woman sentiment have been surfacing. One Tunisian feminist, Raja bin Salama, called for the country's new laws to be based on the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, that we are endowed with reason and conscience, and that we should act toward one another in a spirit of kinship.

For endorsing such outrageous ideas, the head of the Tunisian Islamist party denounced bin Salama and threatened to hang her in a public square. Rashid al-Ghannouchi was living in exile when he made his threat, but has since returned to Tunisia.

In Egypt, the eight-member committee to redraft the constitution excluded women altogether. The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights is protesting the exclusion, and 102 other Egyptian women's organizations have signed on in sympathy.

Western women have a hard time comprehending societies where women can be trained as lawyers, surgeons or computer scientists - and yet be told whom to marry, or be arrested after sitting at a coffee shop with an unrelated man. For us, economic gains have resulted in many other freedoms, although unfinished revolutions await here as well.

In Saudi Arabia - which has felt the aftershocks of its neighbors' struggles toward democracy - a 32-year-old woman was arrested last month after uploading a YouTube video of herself driving a car, since Saudi women aren't allowed to drive. Her peaceful protest is reminiscent of Rosa Parks' choice of a seat at the front of the bus.

What can we do to help? We can keep these issues in the forefront by talking, blogging, tweeting, reading. A group of Saudi women is petitioning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help change the driving law. International diplomatic pressure can and should play a role.

Many Americans oppose our involvement in the Arab uprisings, not knowing whether the new regimes will be an improvement. We should target our involvement to be sure they are.

First published in Newsday