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Creating Space for Women Experts

Katie Usalis serves as RepresentWomen's partnerships director. In this role, Katie focuses on developing and overseeing program strategies that activate and equip changemakers to advance structural solutions to the representation crisis in U.S. politics. 

It’s becoming increasingly apparent that what we are doing here – in politics, in leadership, and in governance – is no longer working. There are at least ten major, violent conflicts happening in the world at this very moment. Democracy is legitimately under threat in countries that we’ve all assumed would never go back to authoritarianism or dictatorships. Anger, indifference, and dehumanization are sinking deeper and deeper into the skin of our own nation, and folks are out here choosing between life-saving medical care and keeping their jobs. But I promise, I come with a message of hope. 

Women around the world are standing up to challenge the status quo and demand a new way of governing, and it’s not about us marching around shouting, “This isn’t fair.” Women, in all their wisdom, know that the United States needs a system that actually allows the best and brightest to rise to the top of political decision-making positions and right this ship. It just so happens that we also believe many of the best and brightest are women. 🙂

I’d like to tell you about one powerful way that this is becoming a reality. Let’s rewind back to 2021.

How It Started

It was around my second month on the job at RepresentWomen. At that time, we were a small team of four, and we were in a Monday morning team call going over our plans for the week, you know the drill, sharing updates on what happened the week before. As we’re wrapping up, our founder and executive director (i.e., the ideas person) Cynthia Richie Terrell shared that she was growing increasingly tired of men-only panels at democracy summit after democracy summit, as if women didn’t have the expertise to bring to the table: “I know! We should host our own democracy summit that features an all-woman lineup!” Being on the team for only a few months, I got to work with high hopes and a lot of enthusiasm, and not much else. 😆

A few months later, on March 8-10, 2022, we hosted our first virtual Democracy Solutions Summit featuring 43 diverse women ranging from top elected officials to grassroots community leaders, all experts, and some of our nation's top democracy defenders. Women leaders shared their knowledge and wisdom on a number of critical issues: ballot access and voting rights, campaign finance, the National Popular Vote, and solutions like ranked choice voting and the Fair Representation Act that make it possible to elect a body that better reflects the diversity of our beliefs, identities, and perspectives. We had no idea of what that first summit would put into motion.

How It’s Going

Three years on, it is very clear that our Democracy Solutions Summit is so much more than another “let’s fix democracy” event. Something really special happens when a group of highly skilled, intelligent, and motivated women come together to name problems and talk about solutions. There is partnership, camaraderie, and support that you can actually feel through the screen. 

Don’t just take it from me! One attendee shared that it’s “So extraordinary to see how women across the nation are making it happen,” and another said, “It was empowering to see so many women working together towards a common goal despite differing viewpoints, beliefs, backgrounds, and ages.” A hugely appreciated aspect of our DSS has been its focus on solutions: “I loved the success stories! Everything in the news is gloomy. It's nice to hear about things that are actually getting better.” Another attendee told us, “I appreciated how the entire summit was positive and solutions-oriented vs. negative and problem-focused.”

When asked about her experience as a speaker, Ava Mateo, executive director of 18byVote, shared, “It was incredible to participate in a conversation with a dynamic group of women who are all working towards a common cause, utilizing different tactics and focuses to get us there!” Former UT Legislator Rebecca Chavez-Houck said her favorite thing about speaking at the DSS was “Meeting other women dynamos who are active in this movement!” DSS 2022 speaker Yael Bromberg, Constitutional law, voting rights, and civil rights lawyer, summed it up perfectly by saying, “You created a holy space this week. Thank you for your leadership on behalf of women and democracy.”

Upwards and Onwards

It’s April 2024, and I now get to enjoy looking back on our third annual Democracy Solutions Summit with so much joy and inspiration. I’m sitting here, in my home office, basking in the reality that the very act of creating space for women to gather, speak truth, and share knowledge is, itself, an act of resistance. It’s shifting the energy. It’s building power. It’s re-writing the story. 

We could have never imagined the power that would pour from this summit when we took a leap and got to work planning the first one back in 2021. It’s such a privilege to be in a position to bring women of this caliber together for the purpose of improving our world, and I’m so honored to be a part of it. 

If you’re looking for some inspiration, I’d encourage you to watch the recordings or get involved with RepresentWomen’s Women’s Power Collaborative, where you can meet other folks (all gender identities welcome!) who dream of a stronger, more perfect union and believe that achieving gender balance in US politics is a necessary way to get there. We know that when women lead, democracy wins. Join us and be part of the solution.

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