Panel on women in politics share insight and inspiration

Posted:  Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 11:15am
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The Lincoln County Democratic Committee (LCDC) convened a panel of women from across New England for an extraordinarily timely discussion of “The Power of Women in Politics in 2018: Voting, Running, Resisting” during its monthly meeting on Sept. 26 at their Victory 2018 Campaign Office in Damariscotta.

The panelists, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby Eliza Townsend; MaryRae Means, a founding member of GRR (Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights); Shannon Carr, MD; EMILY’s List Northeast Regional Director for State and Local Campaigns Molly Cowan; Kelli Whitlock Burton, alumna of Emerge Maine and Suit Up Maine co-leader; and Cait Vaughan, a community organizer from Maine Family Planning, shared their thoughts on a series of questions posed by LCDC Chair Chris Johnson about the status of women in Maine and U.S. politics and activism.

After each guest provided a brief introduction to their organization and commitment to women on a professional level, Chairman Johnson kicked off the discussion by asking the group to consider “In the nearly two years under the current Republican administration, and even longer at the state level, we have seen an erosion of the rights of women and families, and their access to opportunity, agency, and power. What are your top priorities for these harms to be reversed?”

Townsend brought silence to the meeting with a stunning statistic about women in poverty. “One in eight women in Maine live in poverty and of those one in eight, 61 percent are women with families of children under five years old.” Her non-partisan organization’s main policy objectives, she said, are paid sick leave for all, paid family leave, and access to affordable, quality child care.

"A woman can't be an active participant in society without controlling her own reproductive freedom," stated Carr, an OB/GYN physician who splits her time between a women’s clinic in Texas and private practice in Maine. She voiced concern about legislative roadblocks that are being erected to chip away at a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her personal health.

Vaughan said she is concerned about the fact that poverty has gotten much worse in Maine over the past eight years. She said she is especially distressed because of the racist and classist rhetoric, where people are shamed for being poor, being an immigrant, being a woman. However, confrontation is not a helpful way to deal with this, she said, "We need to invite people to do better." She is not hopeful, but she is "persistent, resolute, and stubborn. This is lifelong work." She added that "Voting is not the only way to be effective. Those who work to support and care for those who are active also contribute."

Cowan energized the audience with her response to Johnson’s second question,”On the positive, what policies do we most need to advance here in Maine, and across the nation?” EMILY’s List is a Political Action Committee which seeks to elect pro-choice Democratic women up and down the ballot across the country. It has endorsed Laura Fortman, State Senate District 13 candidate, as well as Eloise Vitelli, State Senate District 23 candidate and Natasha Irving, candidate for District Attorney in Prosecutorial District 6. Janet Mills, Gubernatorial candidate, has also been recommended by EMILY’s List. “In the year before 2016, we had 900 women approach EMILY’s List about running for office. Since the election in 2016, we’ve had 46,000 inquire about assistance.” She reported that during the 2018 election season, 82 percent of women had won their primary elections and encouraged the attendees to “Ask a capable woman to run for office!”

Whitlock Burton echoed Cowan’s optimism about the future of women in politics. As an alumna of Emerge Maine’s six-month boot camp for potential Democratic women candidates and co-leader of Suit Up Maine, the online progressive, grassroots group of more than 5,400 Mainers that seeks to create and foster a more informed and engaged electorate, she mentioned she had recently attended a meeting in New York where 82 women were being coached on how to run for office on a state level. “We’re building a deep bench of potential candidates for elections in 2019, 20, and 21,” she said. Taking the long view, she admitted, “Regressives have been pushing their agenda for decades. Don’t give up.”

The discussion closed with Johnson asking the panelists to offer any final thoughts they might wish to share. Means had offered lively and often humorous commentary during the evening about the need for “mature” women to share their personal histories in order to “preserve a legacy of choice, access, and the right to make decisions about one’s own healthcare.” Means became serious when she talked about her interaction with young women in their teens and the importance of making them aware of both past injustices and current trends in legislative agendas. “Keep talking. Stay connected. Keep on speaking truth. Your generation - you will be creating the future for the next generation of women,” she said.

The LCDC will not hold a regular meeting in October. Instead, the organization invites the public to two events in the county. The first is their annual Harvest Dinner taking place on Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. at the Kings Mills Union Hall, 901 Townsend Rd, in Whitefield. Visit http://lincolncountydemocrats.com/harvest for more information. The second is a Rally for Democracy Street Fair on Oct. 20 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at its 521 Main St. Damariscotta headquarters. The free event is open to the public and features food trucks, live music, and more.