This week marks the 175th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention when suffragists and abolitionists convened to ignite the movement for women's political and social equality. A number of the convention leaders were Quakers whose belief in the "inner light" grounded their commitment to the absolute equality among all people. Elizabeth Cady Stanton began the convention with the words, "We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free." Thus, the women's rights movement was born.
Suffragists Susan B Anthony, Sojourner Truth, & Lucretia Mott, painted by Melanie Humble
Frederick Douglass, who was present at the Seneca Falls convention, later said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. If there is no struggle, there is no progress." The Declaration of Sentiments was exactly that, a demand for power. While the Declaration of Sentiments was written almost two hundred years ago, many of its core messages still ring true today. Women still face challenges in achieving equal representation in government, despite making "historic" gains in elected office in recent years.
The Fight for Fairness is Far From Over
House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi echoed RepresentWomen's frustrations regarding slow progress in an article for MSNBC. Unfortunately, women are still fighting for equal rights 175 years after the Declaration of Sentiments.
The story of America has always been one of ever-expanding freedoms, from abolishing the scourge of slavery, which was strongly supported at Seneca Falls, to ensuring all women and people of color are able to vote, to securing reproductive freedom, to achieving marriage equality.
These victories were made possible by everyday Americans participating in the highest form of patriotism: outside mobilization. This is the indelible legacy of Seneca Falls, stirring generations of women not to wait but to work for change.
So, on this momentous 175th anniversary, let us renew our pledge to continue the work of Seneca Falls. Because all of America's mothers, wives, sisters and daughters must be able to enjoy the liberties and opportunities that they deserve.
When women succeed, America succeeds.
The Impact of New York City's Woman Majority Council
This week, RepresentWomen released its latest research from Research Associate Steph Scaglia, diving into the impact of having women make up the majority of New York City's council. In the few short years since this council was elected, the value of women's leadership has undoubtedly been felt. The key takeaways include:
1. Women in leadership positions create a ripple effect, enabling women to uplift one another and reducing bias across the council.
2. Diversity on the council leads to a shift in priorities; Since the majority women of color council better mirrors the demographics of the city, this allows for a wider variety of issues to be brought to the table.
3. A larger Women’s Caucus has become more legislatively efficient, particularly regarding reproductive rights and maternal healthcare. With a built-in majority, the women don’t have to fight to explain why these issues are essential.
4. Structural barriers persist, impacting the woman council members' day-to-day work. With dated buildings and protocols, women face barriers that are unique and more pervasive than for their men counterparts.
5. All New Yorkers benefit from a diverse council. The council’s shared lived experiences with their constituents, different legislative perspectives, and representation of their communities make its members prone to collaborate, understand one another, and support each other to serve both their districts and the city as a whole.
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds Signs 6-week Abortion Ban Into Law, but Remains Temporarily Blocked
As reported by the New York Times, Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a 6-week abortion ban into law last Friday. This places Iowa alongside 20 other states that have enacted some sort of restrictions on abortion. A lawsuit against this ban has resulted in the ban being temporarily blocked by a Polk County judge, meaning abortions are still allowed up until 20 weeks.
Iowa's politics reminds us that (a) just because a woman is in power does not mean women's rights are safeguarded, and (b) our broken political system puts all citizens at risk. With proportional representation and multimember districts, the issue of gerrymandering would be resolved, and Iowa Republicans would be less incentivized to pass legislation solely as a means of appealing to their base.
The move to restrict abortion in Iowa came less than one month after a deadlocked state supreme court blocked enforcement of a near-identical six-week ban. Reproductive justice advocates across the country condemned Reynolds’ decision to call a special session on abortion.
How Gretchen Whitmer Made Michigan a Democratic Stronghold
The New Yorker recently examined Gretchen Whitmer’s forward-thinking leadership style in a comprehensive profile written by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. Whitmer assumed office as the 49th Governor of Michigan in 2019. A thwarted kidnapping plot thrust the Democratic politician into the national spotlight in 2020. Since then, she has been using her newfound fame to call attention to issues like gun control, worker’s rights, and voting rights. The Governor’s strategy for revitalizing her state has two parts: to grow, Michigan needs young people; to draw young people, it needs to have the social policies they want.
Whitmer’s Democratic majority has allocated more than a billion dollars to support the auto industry’s green transition; quintupled a tax credit for poor families; repealed a law that made Michigan a right-to-work state; and enacted new protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people. After a forty-three-year-old local man went on a shooting spree at Michigan State University, in February, killing three students, some modest, if hard-won, gun-control measures were put in place. Similar breakthroughs have come in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. What’s happening in the Midwest, one of Whitmer’s advisers told me, is a “Tea Party in reverse.”
Whitmer, for her part, embraces the fact that her administration has close working relationships with corporations. When I last spoke to Whitmer, just after the Fourth of July, she was, in a sense, at the height of her political influence: reporters had been coming to Michigan all spring to ask whether she’d run for President. (“I am not sitting in any room thinking about running for President,” she told me, “and anytime that comes up it’s a distraction.”)
But she also seemed attuned to the political uncertainties of the Biden era, and to how much the Party still needed to accomplish and how brief the moment might be in which to do it. “You know, what happens in these next few years is going to determine not just what the Michigan economy looks like but what American democracy looks like, what the average person in this country’s rights are, what our confidence is in our institutions,” she said.
“Things are moving so fast right now. And, when you’re moving fast, you can make a lot of progress or you can do a lot of damage.”
Barbie Movie Screening in Washington, DC
This week I was invited to a screening of the new Barbie movie at the Motion Picture Association in Washington, DC. I never had a Barbie as a child and never bought them for my children (though both my daughters and my son had American Girl dolls thanks to my mother), but seeing the movie was an amazing experience! I laughed, I cried, I dreamed of a better world....
With my daughter Anna Richie
Writer/director Greta Gerwig in conversation with Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices
With Charlotte Clymer, RW board member and Running Start CEO Susannah Wellford, Emily Lenzner (VP at MPA), and Alyse Nelson
Community Engagement Exchange Event
RepresentWomen is proud to be part of the State Department's exchange programs under IREX -- last night I attended the Ideas Fest for the Community Engagement Exchange and was so happy to meet these young women leaders from Kazakhstan.
That’s all for this week. Have a good weekend!
Cynthia Richie Terrell
The middle of summer is here, and D.C. has the weather to prove it! One of the best ways to cool down is a refreshing soda. Rank your favorites!