Although the 2018 midterm elections have not yet been held, it is already clear that one of the biggest stories that will be in the headlines on November 7th will have to do with women’s engagement with the political process. Voter turnout is expected to be unusually high among women, and the “gender gap” in party preferences—with women being much more likely than men to favor Democratic candidates—seems to be wider than it has ever been. What’s more, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women running for office. In fact, more than 40 percent of Democratic nominees for seats in the House of Representatives are women (compared to about 10 percent of Republican nominees). The essays in this dialogue offer insight into some aspects of women’s increasing involvement in the political process. What factors led so many women into politics (drawing them to the voting booth as well as leading them to run for office)? How may women’s increasing representation in political office reshape relationships between social movements and institutionalized politics in the years to come?
This month, we have a great assortment of essays and videos from scholars, activists, and scholar-activists.
Thanks to our wonderful group of contributors on this topic:
Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo
Updated November 4, 2018: A few days after I posted the essay below, Jair Bolsonaro was elected as the next president of Brazil. He received 55% of the valid votes to Haddad’s 45%, although a record 30% of the electorate abstained from voting or annulled or blanked their votes. While Fernando Haddad staged a spirited and upbeat campaign and surged in the final two weeks, he did not succeed in mobilizing a broad democratic front against Bolsonaro. Many public officials, intellectuals and celebrities rallied to the cause of democracy and declared votes for Haddad (including some of the prominent jurists involved in anti-corruption proceedings who had previously critiqued and prosecuted the PT). However, key political leaders on the center to center-right spectrum remained silent, or offered ambiguous or tepid support.
No matter what happens at the polls, scholars and activists and those in between will be telling a story about the significance of the results. With the nail biting and revelry, it will be imperative we not succumb to historical amnesia and instead to face the role of race and racism in social movement organizing and in electoral politics. Further, narratives in which a woman winning means all women win is historically inaccurate. Women in formal politics differ: Senator Hillary Clinton is a woman. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is a woman. Stacey Abrams, the Georgian gubernatorial candidate, is a woman. But they clearly have different life experiences and political commitments. The long-studied gender gap in voting is not a story about all women, but rather it is, like many other unmarked stories, a submerged story of White people. To understand the relationship between movement organizing and formal politics we need to expand intersectional analyses of identity and power in our research and how we tell the stories of movements.
In the post-Trump era, tools like Resistbot and Countable seek to make political engagement easier and more readily accessible to broader audiences. These tools predetermine which political stakeholders users should contact and ensure that collective action efforts to reach elected officials become automated. Recently, I presented in a course alongside a professor and founder of a new kind of tool that hopes to centralize and simplify many of the processes of collective action. Betsy Sinclair, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, developed an online platform she hopes will allow any citizens to start a “micro social movement.” Magnify Your Voice is described as “…the solutions platform for civic, environmental, and political initiatives near you. Create a new project, or join one to help make change in your neighborhood and beyond.” With Magnify, anyone can create a profile and post a project. Take for instance asking faculty to make election day “A Day Off For Democracy.” This particular project seeks to mobilize university members to cancel class and pressure their university president to make election day a holiday. The project has 49 members who support the initiative and 11 who have already taken an action such as cancelling class on election day or emailing their university president. Several are also part of related growing efforts through https://www.educatorpledge.com/ and http://www.adayofffordemocracy.com/. Continue reading
The emergence of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, the ascendance of Donald Trump to the Presidency, and the boldness and novelty of the Women’s Marches across the U.S. have thrust many more women into political life. Since returning home to South Bend, Indiana just over two years ago now, I have seen the impact of these phenomena. Yet, throughout the 2018 Midterms, political organizing amongst women in my area has reached uncharted heights. Or, to be fair, at the very least it has reached such heights that I have not seen in my lifetime.
Journalists and data junkies alike are gleefully dissecting the gender gap and what it potentially means for the mid-term elections generally and the political fortunes of women specifically. Number-cruncher extraordinaire, FiveThirtyEight, labelled the 2018 midterm election as “potentially record-breaking,” noting that women are poised to gain 100 Congressional seats this year. If they win, there will be 100 women in the House, and 24 in the Senate come January 2019.
“Grab ‘em by the Midterms.” That now-iconic rally sign efficiently compresses both women’s activist rage at Donald Trump’s attitude toward women’s bodies and women’s commitment to the power of the ballot.
Ours is a contradictory moment for U.S. women. On the one hand, the repressive policies issuing from the Trump-Pence administration have catapulted many women into social justice and electoral activism. On the other hand, we are reminded, repeatedly, that women’s voices are still often dismissed. Witness the testifying of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and the ultimate dismissal of her claims as Brett Kavanaugh took his seat on the Supreme Court. I draw optimistic lines between women’s leadership in “Resistance” organizations and the uptick in women running for office or actively working to elect those women. This swelling of women’s activism can help address the “ambition gap” that may, in part, explain why fewer women have gotten involved in politics.