On International Women’s Day, we celebrate women for their many achievements in every facet of their lives–politically, socially, and economically. This year, the official theme for the event is: Press for Progress.
So, what does that mean? Press for progress?
To me, it means rising up and taking action. It means seeing something wrong in the world and deciding that you can be the one to change things. Really, it perfectly describes what I’ve seen going on around me since November 2016. Women standing up and speaking out, many for the first time in their lives.
Prior to the 2016 election, all I did was vote. I didn’t care for politics and had no interest in volunteering for campaigns or even debating the issues. My first presidential election was the one between George W. Bush and Al Gore. I recall being excited to finally get the chance to shape the future of the country with my vote. My parents are lifelong voters, and when I was growing up, we watched the news together every night and discussed what was going on in the country. I understood that taking part in the election process was my civic duty and that it was important, so, naturally, I couldn’t wait to get to the polls for the first time.
As we all know, that election was a mess (great job, Florida), and I also recall how disenchanted and disheartened I was by the eventual results. I dropped my ballot for the candidate who won the popular vote, but somehow he didn’t become president. The Supreme Court even intervened. It seemed wrong to me, that so many voters were being ignored. But I was 20 years old and that process, though aggravating, wasn’t enough to get me active. I settled back into the relative comforts of complacency, making a little bit of noise whenever George W. Bush did something I didn’t agree with, which was often, and voting religiously every two years.
And then 2016 happened, and my life completely changed.
At first, I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was angry and scared. I felt isolated and powerless, and I wasn’t sure where to turn. But I made a solemn promise to get active, no matter what it took. I joined several groups online first, and then I joined every other group I could find that seemed to be resisting the ugly turn our country had inexplicably taken. Now that I was actually paying attention, things began to happen very quickly, and it became difficult to prioritize and track the many issues that urgently needed my attention. There was so much to be done and I couldn’t believe I’d sat for so long not tackling any of this essential work. Trump was a nightmare, but what about our congressmen and senators who were busily ignoring the will of the people? They hadn’t all just sprung into office in 2016. This disconnection of government officials from their constituents had started many years before, while my head was in the clouds.
I had never canvassed door to door, or phone banked, or organized in my community in any way, but all of a sudden I found myself leading groups of people who were just as angry and frustrated as I was and wanted to put their energy to good use. Seemingly overnight, I was visiting the offices of my elected officials across the state. I was attending protests, planning events, and speaking to large crowds. And everywhere I looked, I saw dozens of other women stepping out of their comfort zones and working for change. The resistance was overwhelmingly and refreshingly female.
That’s not to say there’s no male involvement–there absolutely is–but this movement is filled to bursting with women who joined because they were pissed off and then ended up staying because they are committed to making this country a better place.
What’s happening right now is bigger than my little piece of the Space Coast or even the entire Sunshine State. This change is sweeping the country, upending the way things have always been done to make way for fresh faces and even fresher initiatives. And it all started when 4 million of us took to the streets and marched on January 21st, 2017.
The furious momentum that started with the Women’s March has built into a self-sustaining movement, and it’s largely estrogen powered. Women went from being voters to uncertain activists to forces of nature…and now many of us are running for office, which is a beautiful thing. The most effective way to create lasting change is by becoming part of the political process. If our elected representatives refuse to listen to us, we’ll replace them with someone who will.
Right now, women hold fewer than 20% of the seats in Congress. In state legislatures, that number is 25%. And we only hold 6 out of the country’s 50 governorships. This lack of representation is appalling considering that women make up more than half of the population. It’s no wonder that our issues often simmer on the back burner—access to reproductive healthcare, equal pay for equal work, paid family leave, essential services for children and families, the struggling public education system, just to name a few. The things that matter to us aren’t prioritized by our legislatures, and they are often attacked by out of touch politicians who have made a habit of not listening to us.
But the last year and a half has dramatically changed the playing field. Most of us have our reps’ contact information on speed dial. We’ve all heard the sigh from a member of staff as they recognize us over the phone, or have seen the resigned look on a staffer’s face as, yet again, we show up at their boss’s office. But those of us who have been making these calls and visits know that holding our elected officials accountable isn’t enough. In order to spark the lasting change we desire, we have to take seats away from representatives who are actively ignoring us.
But Pressing for Progress means more than just changing the political landscape. It means attacking the status quo on all fronts. The fight for gender equality means complete culture change. Movements like #metoo and #timesup are empowering women to challenge longstanding practices, from Hollywood to small town America. It was chilling to see how many friends and family had their own stories of sexual assault and harassment, but, at the same time, it was incredible to see women speaking about their experiences without shame, and watching so many men being held accountable for their actions for the first time.
Women are powerful, and we’re done sitting on the sidelines and keeping silent. 2016 initiated a complete transformation, the results of which have reverberated through the last year and a half. For so many of us, it felt like the country we knew was going up in flames, but, like the resilient phoenixes we are, we rose from those smoldering ashes and went to work.
Going back to the way things were isn’t an option. Whether it’s creating spaces for young women to achieve and thrive or supporting candidates as they run for political office, women are stepping to the forefront, leading by example, and leaving their mark on their communities. I’m proud to know so many inspiring and amazing women, some I’ve met over the last sixteen months and others I’ve known for much longer. Each one of them is Pressing for Progress in her own way—through activism, or vocal advocacy for marginalized groups, or by running for office and winning.
Though there is much critical work to be done, we have so much to celebrate too. We must keep Pressing for Progress every day until women and girls have access to the same freedoms and opportunities as the men and boys around them. As Michelle Obama said, “No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.”
To those of you doing great work, I congratulate you and challenge you to continue. I promise to do the same. Rolling up our sleeves and getting out there is the only way to create the change we want to see in the world. Keep fighting, until all of us have the equality we deserve. This movement is female, and so is the future.
**This is adapted from a speech I gave at a local IWD event