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A Government By The People: The Need For Working Class Women’s Political Leadership, IGNITE

A Government By The People: The Need For Working-Class Women's Political Leadership, IGNITE

In the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln famously extolled a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Yet, the history of U.S. political leadership has often fallen short of being by the people, especially as it relates to political leadership from working class communities.

Many of our nation’s elected officials, for instance, come from privileged backgrounds, enabling them to run for office with a vast network of donors and political connections. In particular, more than half of sitting Congressional members in 2020 were millionaires and in 2014, The Atlantic sounded the alarm of out-of-touch politicians making policy decisions based on beliefs, rather than lived experiences, about the realities facing their working class constituents. Too many of our political leaders are far removed from the everyday hardships facing Americans living near and in poverty. Given this disconnect, they often propose policies that don’t meet the needs of working class communities. Such policy making can have the greatest adverse impacts when it comes to working class women and their families.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the current poverty rate is 10.5 percent; yet, the poverty rate for women is 11.5 percent. Additionally, women face wage inequality, job mobility stagnation, and the unpaid labor of childrearing and homekeeping. Consequently, research shows that women and female-headed households comprise 50 percent of the individuals on government assistance programs, while married couples are only 14.7 percent, and male-led households are 29.5 percent of those utilizing these programs. One study even noted that economic gender parity was 257 years away. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these economic disparities even worse. 

The global pandemic has exacerbated the structural inequities already in our system. Across the nation, there are photos of bread lines and story after story of hospital overcrowding. Rural communities, in particular, are being hit hardest by the pandemic and public health experts are predicting a bleak winter. The economic fall-out from the health crisis and its particularly devastating impact on women’s financial forecasts are just beginning to be appreciated. For instance, we are living in the middle of the first-ever women’s economic recession where women are exiting the workforce at alarming rates, felt most by women working in low-wage jobs. 

In 2020, women were forced to leave jobs to care for children when schools closed; became unemployed after seeing service industry jobs disappear; and made difficult decisions between being the primary caregivers at home while simultaneously working on the frontlines of healthcare during the global pandemic. These women were already facing staggering wage and wealth gaps prior to this crisis, even more so for Black, Indigenous, and Latina women. These glaring disparities require that the women facing these barriers possess the political leadership necessary to impact change. Yet, while women represent a disproportionate share of those in poverty, women also hold far fewer positions of government power and leadership to effect the change necessary to reverse these trends.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see more Congressional members from modest means – many of them women. For instance, one recently elected Republican Congresswoman described her experience of going from homelessness to Congress in a decade as an uniquely American success story. Additionally, a recently re-elected Democratic Congresswoman was the first in her family to go to college, where she had to work throughout her educational journey. Throughout her campaign, she discussed how her community college education inspired her to attend law school. While these are stories to commend, they are unfortunately few and far between. More needs to be done to ensure our political leadership is truly reflective of our economic diversity – especially as it relates to working class women.   

Thankfully, IGNITE National is seeing an incredible uptick in the number of young women and girls who are interested in political leadership and, in particular, those who want to harness their political power to address societal inequalities. Young women’s commitment and dedication to access political power has not ceased during COVID-19 but in fact has accelerated as they think about the connections between poverty and the pandemic. IGNITE women across the country remain eager to serve in a myriad of political positions with growing interest to serve on police commissions. Hence, IGNITE National is working with women from directly impacted communities to prepare them for various forms of political leadership.

ReflectUS, the national coalition of nine of the leading women’s representation organizations, of which IGNITE National is a member, is building a “From the Ground Up” State Network, aimed at building political leadership among working class women. Harnessing the expertise of the ReflectUS Coalition Members, we’re building this network with local, state-based and community-based organizations across the ideological spectrum to ensure that women with lower incomes can take hold of political leadership and begin addressing these disparities through elected office. As we continue to meet with communities across the country and, in particular, local women leaders, we see the vital need of ensuring political leadership for all women.

Working together, we can ensure that more working class women are running for office, getting elected and appointed, and have the tools needed to create the lasting change they want to see in their communities. Our nation was made to be governed by the people and that’s exactly what we intend to accomplish. 

Anne Moses is the Founder and President of IGNITE National and a Board member of the ReflectUS Coalition. Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS

ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.

APAICS and LatinasRepresent: Administration Appointments Must Reflect All of Us

APAICS and LatinasRepresent: Administration Appointments Must Reflect All of Us

Throughout our nation’s history, women of color have consistently been shut out of the halls of power, with few exceptions. This lack of visibility has helped perpetuate stereotypes that political service is not a viable career path for most women. Yet, members of the ReflectUS Coalition are fighting against these very notions. In particular, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) and LatinasRepresent are empowering Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women and Latina women, respectively, to ensure that more women from diverse backgrounds are reflected in political leadership.

When our daughters see themselves as judges, chiefs of staff, and cabinet members, a world of new possibilities opens up for them. That’s why APAICS and LatinasRepresent are teaming up on December 8, 2020 to present, “The Appointee Process: Perspectives from Latina & AAPI Women”. The event will prepare Latina and AAPI women to engage in the presidential appointments process. 

President-elect Joe Biden announced that he wants his administration to be the most diverse in the history of the United States. He demonstrated that commitment early by choosing Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman to serve as his Vice President. Most recently, the President-elect announced an all-female senior White House communications team, with several of the most senior staff being women of color. Yet, there is still more work to do.  

Latinx people are the second largest racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Although Latinx people are more than 18 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up about 1 percent of elected officials at all levels and about 8 percent of people in the federal workforce. In addition, Latinx people only account for a fraction of state and presidential political appointments, which is why the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) has urged the President-elect to appoint at least five qualified Latinx individuals to Cabinet-level positions and to ensure that Latinx people make up at least 20 percent of the thousands of available positions within the federal government, including advisory boards, commissions and other bodies. 

This year, Asian American voting increased by 300 percent, more than any other voting block and AAPI women will make up over 50 percent of the AAPI Members of Congress starting in the 117th Congress. Recently, APAICS joined with AAPI Members of Congress to urge the President-elect to choose AAPIs for at least seven percent of his cabinet level picks to truly reflect the diversity of America. Asian Americans are about 6 percent of the population (and growing) yet represent a fraction of elected and appointed positions in government.

As important as it is to highlight Latina and AAPI voices for the purpose of representation and visibility, it is equally important that we honor and acknowledge the need for greater diversity of our communities in presidential appointments. APAICS and LatinasRepresent are urging the Biden-Harris administration to make appointments that truly reflect the uniqueness of our cultures. For instance, we want to see Afro-Latina, Indigenous-Latina and LGBTQ+ Latinas represented. We also want to see parts of the AAPI community represented who are historically underrepresented, including Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Southeast Asians. We are thrilled that a South Asian American will be in the White House and know it is just as important that Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are represented through the appointments process. No culture is a monolith and we look forward to a variety of our cultural expressions being represented in the Biden-Harris administration through appointments. This form of visibility normalizes our leadership in our communities and in the communities of those around us. It also normalizes leadership of  Latina and AAPI women in political spaces during a critical time in our nation’s history.

In addition to hosting a webinar demystifying the appointments process on December 8, 2020, APAICS has also created a resume bank for those interested in pursuing an appointment with the Biden-Harris administration and LatinasRepresent is working with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) to encourage and support Latinas to pursue presidential appointments within the administration. To learn more about how to apply for positions, visit the Biden-Harris transition website, or submit your resume to the CHC Resume Bank for Political Appointments or the APAICS Resume Bank for Political Appointments.

APAICS and LatinasRepresent will continue to call on the Biden-Harris administration and all future administrations to increase the number of women in appointed positions. We will especially call for greater representation of Latina and Asian American women to reflect the true diversity of our country. 

Madalene Mielke, is the President and CEO of Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies and Chairperson of the Board of Directors for ReflectUS.

Stephanie Lopez is the Program Manager of LatinasRepresent, an initiative led by National Hispanic Leadership Agenda. LatinasRepresent is a member of the ReflectUS coalition.

ReflectUS is a national, nonpartisan coalition working to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the racial, ideological, ethnic, and geographic spectrum.