Tag Archives: women’s activism

If Wishing Could Make It So

I hope this column from The Guardian isn’t a case of “whistling Dixie” as the old saying goes.

Titled “The Republican Party is about to face the wrath of women,” the writer suggests that the anger I’ve expressed over the GOP’s behavior in the Kavanaugh hearings is both a lot more widespread than many think–and not limited to the behavior of those involved in these hearings.

Even the dimmest and most misogynist of Republican operatives must realize, by this point, that the supreme court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and the handling of the sexual assault allegations against him will hurt their chances, especially with women voters, in the upcoming midterm elections.

What they don’t seem to realize, though, is that huge numbers of women aren’t just mad – they’re organized and mobilized politically in a way we’ve never quite seen before. The key story of the midterms is the large number of progressive women – and to a lesser extent, progressive men – who have been taking on the crucial, unglamorous work that swings elections: registering voters, canvassing door-to-door, preparing to get people to the polls. The disdain for women that the Republicans have shown by continuing to rally behind Kavanaugh is only energizing them further.

The author cites some impressive evidence for those assertions. Beginning with the millions of Americans who joined the Women’s Marches following Trump’s election, the author describes a “multi-issue, women-led upsurge of political engagement on an unprecedented scale.”

Nearly 25,000 protests have taken place since Trump’s inauguration, involving somewhere between 14 and 21 million Americans. These figures greatly exceed levels of protest participation at any prior time in US history, even the height of the Vietnam war. And no matter the issue or focus of the demonstrations, women have consistently been the majority of those taking to the streets. (Emphasis added.)

Protests, without more, change nothing. So it is both impressive and gratifying to see the level of grass-roots activism that has accompanied those marches. Women, especially, have built what the author calls “a powerful electoral ground game.”

Substantial mobilizing for the midterms is being done through the vast array of local grassroots groups that formed after Trump took office, including the 5,000 groups affiliated with Indivisible. Like the resistance to Trump more generally, these groups are typically women-led and have already played a key role in a series of progressive electoral upsets, including Doug Jones’s Senate victory in Alabama last December to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s highly publicized primary win this past June. Their autonomy from the Democratic party gives much of their work an under-the-radar quality that can obscure their impact.

Theda Skocpol is an eminent political scientist who has investigated the resistance–the anti-Trump phenomenon that is reflected in the 5,000 groups cited in the Guardian column.

Skocpol, the longtime government and sociology professor at Harvard University, has been making research trips to eight counties that went for Donald Trump in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as communities across all of Pennsylvania. In suburban America, even in uber-conservative counties, Skocpol began to notice action groups popping up in response to Trump. And she began to notice who was doing the organizing, here in the heart of what the national media have taken to calling Trump Country: women. Specifically older, college-educated white women: “retired teachers, librarians, health care people, some businesswomen,” as Skocpol put it.

Exit polling tells us that 52 percent of white female voters went for Trump in 2016 (something I still can’t get my head around….)

Skocpol acknowledges this, but her research suggests that the political behaviors of these white women have shifted radically in the wake of the election. They are calling on Congress, knocking on doors on behalf of state and local candidates, and in some cases, running for office themselves. “Sociologically, what we are witnessing is an inflection point — a shift in long-standing trends — concentrated in one large demographic group, as college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” she wrote in a recent essay co-authored with Lara Putnam.

Skocpol’s observations certainly mesh with the enormous upsurge in women’s political activity that I’ve seen in Indiana. But the proof of the pudding–to use another old-fashioned saying–will come when the votes get counted.

I’m not hoping for a wave–I’m hoping for a tsunami. And I’m alternately terrified by the thought that we might not get either one.