Marita Garrett wants adjectives like “first” and “only” to be needed less and less to describe women, especially women of color, who are elected officials.
During her 2017 campaign, the mayor of Wilkinsburg was excited to see how many women in the Pittsburgh area were also running for office and how many are running in 2018.
“OK, this is happening,” she thought to herself. “And that was just the start.”
The 2017 municipal election in Allegheny County set the tone for 2018 and beyond so that women should always see other women running too, she said. It showed that not only do women run, women can run great campaigns and win.
Currently, seven women are 2018 candidates for the Allegheny County delegation to the Pa. General Assembly. Two women declared their candidacy for the special election in Pittsburgh City Council District 8. Women are also running for governor and lieutenant governor.
The progressive left has been losing at the state level because there aren’t enough people there to push their agenda, but more diverse voices could change that, Lu said.
The 2016 presidential election was really a motivator to say “no more” and shift the power, said Sara Innamorato, candidate for state representative in District 21. The only way to change who’s in power is to stop being hesitant to take power and change the scales.
“One of my major goals with running is just showing that other people can run,” she said.
In order to make a difference in issues like reproductive rights, more women need to be elected, said Jessica Semler, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Western Pa. That means more women candidates, regardless of if they win, will change what elections look like.
“The 2018 election feels that things are really on the line,” Semler said.
For the second year of Women’s Marches across the country, including in Pittsburgh, the focus is “Power to the Polls” with a focus on registering voters.
Start at the City-County Building at 11 a.m. for poster making, and the march to Market Square starts at 11:30. In the square, find information about voting and voter registration and hear from speakers. Learn more about the march and its focus on voter registration.
When: January 21, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
More needs to be done to educate people about voting and to reach the people who need that information, said Tracy Baton, a local social worker and organizer for the Pittsburgh Women’s March. The focus of the coming year is both about voter registration and elevating the voices of the vulnerable and communities of color.
While Tuesday with Toomey plans to continue, organizer Jill Helbling said the focus needs to turn to the elections this year with phone banking and door knocking.
People have to remember to vote — not just in the general but in the primaries, too, Lu said.
Change in 2017
Throughout 2017, there were regular rallies in Pittsburgh, such as Tuesdays with Toomey and Mondays with Murphy.
The difference is there are more constants now when it comes to rallies, Lu said, adding that it’s women leading these movements.
“I didn’t think we’d still be out there year later. … I thought that it couldn’t sustain itself forever,” Helbling said. “But it hasn’t died down.”
Women attendees have been a big part of that, she said. Women step up and take the mic and are part of the weekly crowd that holds Sen. Pat Toomey accountable even though he’s not up for election until 2022.
At Planned Parenthood, Semler said the staff started the year with dread, but they’ve seen an outpouring of support in donations and a 50 percent increase in the number of volunteers.
Women of all ages are getting involved, Baton said. She said women in their 40s, 50s and 60s are stepping forward to lead and to learn new tools for organizing.
There’s a revival of demanding politics be transparent and accessible, Lu added.
That’s set up new opportunities, like the creation of Women for The Future of Pittsburgh, a new political action committee focused on progressive women candidates.
“I don’t think there’s any other time this could have happened,” said Ashleigh Deemer, one of the founders of the PAC. “Although Hillary Clinton is a divisive figure, not seeing her in the White House was a radicalizing moment that led women to get involved and run.”
More to be done
While getting women to run for office — and to be elected — in 2018 is the current goal, there’s still a long-term push for gender equity in elected positions, Deemer said.
She hopes to see wins from women candidates in May and November, but also that voters remember to stay involved because it’s not the end. People are busy, so politics can take a backseat, but it’s important for them to learn why they need to stay involved, she said.
“In a in a lot of ways, the grassroots energy and enthusiasm is there, but the power hasn’t adjusted to what is happening,” said Abigail Gardner, founder of Scottie Public Affairs and a political consultant. One example she cites: Although there were women candidates on both sides of the aisle, neither the Republicans or Democrats picked a female candidate in the special election for Pa. congressional District 18.
Although multiple women ran and won in Allegheny County’s municipal elections in 2017, women did just as well as they had in past elections.
“We can’t let up,” Garrett said, adding that she still sees missteps that leave out women, especially women of color. While there are trainings for women who run for office, she’d like to see trainings for women who want to be campaign managers, too.
Yet there seems to be a sense of change.
“I think there’s a sustained energy that we’ll see results in 2018 and for years and years after that,” Gardner said.
Innamorato agreed. She said she doesn’t know how the 2018 election will play out, but it will set a precedent for future elections in terms of the number of women running.
“I’m excited to see who’s running in 2019 and 2020 and who’s running after that,” Innamorato said. “That’s what’s exciting about this year, it’s going to be the first wave.”