Women’s Equality Day @ ConventionAugust 27, 2008
While Tuesday was not designated “women’s issues day” at the Democratic National Convention, it certainly felt like it — which seems appropriate, given that the day also marked the anniversary of women’s suffrage in America. For the first time ever, the majority of delegates are women: 51 percent. That’s a big jump since the last time the Democrats convened in Denver — 1908, when only five delegates were women.
The morning opened with the first Women’s Caucus meeting, in a convention center ballroom filled with a couple thousand enthusiastic women banging tambourines and wearing stickers bearing the slogan of their choice. I’m pleased to say many of them were wearing AAUW stickers with our “Power of One Vote” and “I Am the Face of Pay Equity” messages. Women politicians and celebrities were on hand to fire up women for the Democrats. With lingering pockets of Hillary holdouts who have not embraced Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy, this caucus was an important tool to set the tone and inspire unity. And, given the brief, small chorus of boos EMILY’s List President Ellen Malcolm was greeted with when she lauded Clinton but endorsed Obama, it seems a few of those pockets remain.
Actress Eva Longoria was on hand representing Voto Latino; Hispanics are clearly a key demographic in the fall elections. Longoria said, “I’m just here representing all the desperate housewives in the room,” in a nod to her TV role. Cancer survivor Fran Drescher of “The Nanny” fame came to talk about the importance of women’s health policy issues and the work of her group, Cancer Schmancer. “A black man is running for president, and women and Latinos are the deciding vote; it’s a world gone mad and it’s about time!” said Drescher.
Despite the star power in the room, it was former Gore campaign chief and current CNN political analyst Donna Brazile who brought down the house. She discussed the sexism in the media that was sometimes directed toward Hillary Clinton, but was clear that she believed a woman would one day be president someday soon. Brazile also dropped a bombshell on the crowd when she announced that, late the previous evening, she had signed the petition putting Clinton’s name into nomination — the petition ensuring that there will be a roll call vote at Invesco Stadium on Wednesday night. Brazile said she did it “for unbought and unbossed Shirley Chisholm; for Barbara Jordan, the first black woman to headline a major party convention; and for Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first black woman Ohio sent to Congress.” Rep. Tubbs Jones (D-OH) unexpectedly passed away last week; she had been a longtime and vocal Clinton supporter. Brazile’s announcement was greeted with thunderous applause.
The convention continues to have its share of protestors, and the Women’s Caucus meeting was no different. As a DNC official was speaking, a priest stood up to disrupt the meeting, talking over the speaker with an anti-choice message. While protestors have been welcomed outside all venues, the priest was quickly removed to the sound of thousands of tambourines drowning out his shouts.
Later that day it was on to the EMILY’s List reception; it was sold out and a much sought-after ticket. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton — in a preview of her speech that evening — were the headliners. But other friends of AAUW spoke as well, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who thanked the organization for their continued work to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office. She recalled her own race — she is the first woman elected to the Senate in her own right — and how “people said I didn’t look the part. Well, guess what?” Mikulski said. “This is what the part looks like!”
I was pleased to hear Speaker Pelosi make special mention of Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) success in passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that AAUW was also instrumental in passing. Michelle Obama came to pay homage to EMILY’s List as well. It is the richest PAC in the country, not just the largest women’s PAC but the richest PAC of any kind, and as such has the clout to command an appearance not only from Michelle Obama but from countless other politicians seeking EMILY’s support.
That evening, in the convention hall at Pepsi Center, the Democratic women senators delivered their checklist for change — 10 key agenda items they are working on to improve the lives of women and their families, which includes a range of issues from pay equity to energy independence. Lilly Ledbetter also gave a wonderful speech about her fight for pay equity — in prime time, right before former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner’s keynote address! I think those of you who watched will agree she gave the best non-politician speech of the night, and it was incredibly gratifying to see pay equity getting such attention. Ledbetter continues to work closely with AAUW on equal pay issues and is fast becoming a favorite speaker for AAUW state conventions. If you saw her speak Tuesday night, you know why. Ledbetter speaks plainly and straight from the heart, and she is an incredibly moving and effective spokesperson for this key AAUW policy priority.
Last but not least, what everyone was waiting for: Hillary Clinton. Introduced by a biographical film and her daughter Chelsea (husband Bill was there, but up in a skybox with Michelle Obama and VP-nominee-to-be, Sen. Joe Biden), she delivered a highly anticipated speech thanking supporters, revisiting major themes from her campaign, and thanking “the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits.” The speech was a graceful effort that endorsed Obama. Its effect on her most stubborn supporters will play out in the coming weeks, and their decisions at the ballot box — as The Nanny called earlier — will likely decide the outcome of the election.