• Nikki Vergakes

Recharged in a Politically Unstable Climate

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

Countless women have stepped up to run for public office, many for the first time, this midterm election season.

There were gasps, there were sobs… there were cheers and there were jeers. It doesn’t matter if you were from the U.S. coast or the bible belt or didn’t live in the U.S. at all –  you probably had a pointed reaction to the results of the 2016 election. The next day (9th November 2016) was a somber day for many. The night was different, however. Crowds bigger than the crowd for the inauguration gathered in many major U.S. cities gathered to protest the type of ignorance, hate and bigotry that a Trump presidency would allow. As the sun went down, the justice rose in the streets of many cities and the hearts of many womxn. That call for justice hasn’t stopped burning since for some womxn. Many were called to be committed to resistance, and haven’t stopped since.

Some womxn who found themselves protesting on the city streets were protesting for the first time. “No Trump! No KKK No Fascists in the USA!” was made the new battle cry for many who have not spoken those words before. I was in one of those crowds in Boston, and it was my first official protest. I was one of those womxn who was learning the chants as she was singing along. Like many womxn, this was not my last.

The theory that the day-after election night protest would not be the last of many womxn proved true on January 21st, 2017. That day made about 4M womxn spoke up and said this will not do. They said not in my country and not to my body. They said no to the unfair treatment of minorities, to the dismantling of the tax code. Not too long after, they made statements to the administration that science is real, that a Muslim ban is unnecessary and to stay away from their reproductive rights.

Trump has provided many reasons to inspire us to resist. It’s hard to keep track – and at times sickening to review all that has occurred in such a small amount of time – but it’s important to keep top of mind why we and many other women fight. He’s made unsure the future of over 100,000 immigrant children. He’s banned a whole productive population from the military. Activists (many of them womxn) helped save the ACA, but he just barely got enough votes to change the tax code in favor of the rich for many years to come. He appointed the most conservative Supreme court judge in years. He’s banned many Muslim-majority countries from entering the country. He ignored a U.S. territory that experienced a natural disaster, sympathized with the alt-right (even when a life was lost) and more.

The sheer events of the last election inspired many womxn to become more politically active. There were many reasons, including the obvious ones like the comments the new POTUS made or the comments that were revealed that he said in the past towards womxn during the election. Zandra Wilson, President of Blu Skin Care, explained her reasoning for becoming more politically active:

I am a woman who is more politically active since the 2016 election. The reason is very simple. We have an unhinged person in the white house and an uneducated group of people who need to learn the truth.

Not only did womxn show up in person, but they also showed up online and in the non-profit world. A few examples (of many) are the podcasts Queery and The Bossy Show. Queery was started by LGBTQIA+ comedian Cameron Esposito as part of her resistance to ensure that LGBTQIA+ individuals are not erased from the narrative. The Bossy Show is hosted by editor of Ms. Magazine Carmen Rios and Youtuber/ writer Jill Gutowitz that has two guests every week: a political analyst/expert and a pop culture figure, to discuss the Trump happenings of the week and how to act. Amy Siskind, President of The New Agenda, puts out a daily list on her social media and website about all the things that happen behind the curtain when we’re too busy with the latest distraction – whether it’s a rogue tweet or Russia. Why does she do this? Because experts in totalitarianism recommend keeping a list of changes around you.

Joanne Gouaux said she was absolutely inspired to become more of an activist after the election. Since the election, she’s gone on two grassroots lobbying trips to Capitol Hill. She also organized, created and managed a major Special Education Legal Advocacy Conference, with a goal of empowering others and making social change. During her lobbying and conference-organizing, she’s formed and nurtured new bonds with D.C. staffers, and has an open dialogue with them about issues that are important for her, including civil rights, healthcare, education for kids with disabilities and more. A digital marketer by trade, she leveraged all of her activism efforts by garnering local media coverage about her efforts.

Numerous non-profits, organization and media companies have risen from the 2016 election, as highlighted above. Another new organization that earned real results in the 2017 election is the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. They have been a chapter since before the election, but after 2016 the chapter membership grew exponentially. The mission of this league is to inform and encourage active participation in government, while increasing understanding of major public policy issues. Part of voter suppression is the lack of education for certain communities. Organizations like these have started or strengthened their breadth in 2018 – and that’s a good way to stop this form of voter suppression. The more education, the more people will be inspired to act. The more people inspired to act means more politically progressive candidates in office.

This outcome demonstrates that if we make a concerted effort to engage voters of all communities, they will come out to vote. If we knock on someone’s door, register them to vote, explain the importance of voting and empower them, they will (be more likely to) come out and vote,” a representative from the organization explained.

The organization also emphasized that empowering all communities to come out and vote leads to a higher turnout and a stronger democracy. Besides strengthening the U.S.’s democracy, this also cuts down on voter suppression. An underestimated role in voter suppression is disenfranchised communities who don’t feel compelled to vote because they feel like the government is working against them either way.

The majority of efforts that have been on the rise since the last election are have mainly been grassroots. There is an argument that grassroots efforts are some of the most effective. The women I interviewed for this piece were all involved in grassroots efforts. A grassroot effort is one in which the people in a given district are the basis for a certain political or economic movement. This was demonstrated through folks in the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. This was demonstrated through folks like Joanne Gouaux. This was demonstrated thorugh the hosts of The Bossy Show. This is demonstrated through Amy Siskind. This is still seen every day by womxn everywhere, because the fight and resistance is far from over. One of the biggest examples of success that grew from a grassroots movement is the local elections in 2017, however.

On a year-end episode of Podsave America, they stated that the most inspiring thing about 2017 was the individuals who dedicated their year to the resistance – especially those who have never been involved in politics before. Podsave America is produced and hosted by Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett of Crooked Media. Those two founded the new and already highly influential media company after serving as staffers for former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Due to these many people, womxn included, who spent all year either starting a non-profit, running for office for the first time, or campaigning for progressive and diverse candidates, there was a major win in the U.S. in November 2017 – a year after the 2016 election. Andrea Jenkins was the first openly black trans woman elected to public office. Ralph Northam won governor-elect in Virginia, beating his conservative competitor. Like Northam, numerous first-time, progressive candidates won. Last but not least – Doug Jones beat the conservative Alabama congressman who was accused of sexual advances towards minors.

There’s definitely a trend in people who are taking political action – and representation in many things such as media. The trend is women. Soon gone will be the days of a white man standing at a podium and telling us to think. Women are beginning to influence our collective consciousness. Sophia Amoruso, former CEO of Nastygal, founded a media company called Girlboss Media. The website shares the name of the two books and Netflix Original Series. Girlboss media produces articles, Girlboss “Rallies”, Books, a Podcast and digital rallies. Numerous articles are posted on the site daily, and it’s no Cosmopolitan. No longer is media for womxn solely focused on “how to please your man” or makeup and hair tricks. Nothing is wrong with that, however. There’s actually articles like that on the site as well. Articles on Girlboss focus on time management, leaning in, goal setting and more like that. This sire recognizes that womxn care about their horoscope as much as they care about their next business venture.

On the Girlboss Radio podcast, Sophia starts out every show with a reminder that success now has a different meaning for everyone. We used to subscribe to an idea of success that was given us by a white man in a board room that meant climbing the corporate ladder. Nowadays, it includes all the bumps in the roller coaster of meeting goals, and failing forward. She reminds us that it’s important to set many different goals, and that success is not always linear. On the show, she interviews successful and inspiring women. She’s had on Gretchen Carlson and Gwyneth Paltro to name a few.

It’s important to note that womxn making a name for themselves in the media world is as important as it is to note politically active women. A career in politics is similar to a career in media. They are both gatekeepers and agenda setters. We are heavily influenced by both media and politics. There is also an argument that they influence each other. Whether they hate each other or love each other, they can’t live without each other. Listening to a feminist podcast could influence your voting decision, or could inspire you to take political action. Your political views can influence your media consumption. Let’s commend the womxn who have become both more politically active, and the womxn who started a new media venture.

No one has to subscribe to anyone’s trajectory for their life. In this world, for the most part, we have our own authority on what we can do, and what action we can take. Now is a very opportune time to become more politically active as a womxn. There are many opportunities and resources, thanks to the internet.

Although more terrifying news is being reported daily and the course of global politics is forever altered, we have hope due to womxn like these who have taken steps in the right direction. This year was proof enough that when womxn rise up and use their power, positive change can happen. We also have learned that it’s almost always better when people come together. If you’re interested in getting involved, look for resources in your community or online. If you don’t see resources in your community – make them! Chances are, you will want to get involved.

This post originally appeared in She Zine.