The Political Road Ahead

February 07, 2017

Image of the U.S. Capitol with a flag blowing int he wind in the foreground.

The 2016 election was one for the record books — notable for its historic candidates, polling, and punditry. It was an election that spurred an uptick in voter engagement but saw a decline in voter turnout. And it was an election that generated high levels of anxiety and controversy. In the end American voters did indeed make history — not by electing the nation’s first woman president, as many had anticipated, but rather by electing political outsider Donald J. Trump to the White House. How will AAUW continue its nonpartisan work under President Trump? Here is our 12-step program for these uncharted political waters.

We intend to approach our ongoing work with both the new administration and the new Congress with our mission in mind. After this tumultuous election year, AAUW’s nonpartisan leadership and research-based advocacy are needed now more than ever. But it also feels like everything has changed, and we don’t have a policy track record to use as a road map for how President Trump will govern. While campaign rhetoric is one thing and governing is another, we must continue to hold President Trump accountable for his comments and behavior both during the campaign and at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While the new administration and 115th Congress have the potential to raise serious challenges to AAUW priority issues, there may also be some strategic opportunities to advance our mission. It is now that the real work begins.

1. Begin as we mean to proceed.

AAUW will work to find common ground with the Trump administration and the new Congress, and we will not hesitate to stand our ground when we do not. We will continue to speak truth to power as we have for 135 years, and we will be valuable allies or fierce critics depending on what’s warranted at the time in accordance with AAUW’s member-adopted Public Policy Priorities.

2. Remember that personnel is policy.

Trump has said he wants to unify our nation and be the president of all Americans. AAUW applauds that sentiment. Yet it cannot be overstated that actions speak louder than words. As Trump assembles his cabinet and White House team, and as the Senate deliberates throughout what AAUW hopes will be a thorough vetting and confirmation process, AAUW reminds our policy makers that personnel decisions are policy decisions. To help ensure the nation’s unification we encourage nominations and appointments reflecting the variety of experiences and backgrounds that make the United States the envy of the world and that also make for better policy solutions.

The Next Four Years. Cover image of Winter 2017 AAUW Outlook magazine. Image of the White House.

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 of AAUW Outlook magazine.

3. Hold their feet to the fire — and remain nonpartisan.

AAUW is a nonpartisan organization, and we have a long history of creating social change through public policy efforts. Because this work is often undertaken within the political arena there is sometimes confusion about AAUW’s political work versus our nonpartisan stance. Our work has always been political but has never been partisan. What is the distinction between “political” and “partisan”? Political work can be characterized as taking policy positions and working toward a common goal — as represented in AAUW’s member-adopted Public Policy Priorities. Simply put, being political is a way to influence legislation and regulation through government or public affairs, while partisan activities maintain a firm adherence to a party, faction, or person. AAUW believes democracy demands work every day of the year and that hyperpartisan rhetoric serves only to jeopardize the opportunities for reasonable consensus. We have established our priorities, and we will hold every elected official accountable.

4. Understand that facts do matter.

While pundits may talk about a “posttruth” era, AAUW has always known that good research is the basis of sound public policy and positive societal change. That has not changed. AAUW has produced a vast array of research on the issues that matter most to our community — respected analysis that influences the national debate. Use the research in programming, order copies for public libraries, and write letters to the editor. AAUW’s fact-based manner of speaking truth to power is potent.

5. Be an ally in the fight against hate.

Words matter a great deal. AAUW stands against bullying, bias, and bigotry of any kind and continues to be the leading women’s organization working on addressing hate crimes, especially gender-based hate crimes. We are disturbed to hear of racist, sexist, and xenophobic incidents taking place across the country, especially on college campuses. If you experience or witness harassment, threats of violence, cyberbullying, or hate speech, you should notify campus safety or municipal police. Students, contact your campus Title IX coordinator (the individual responsible for helping track gender-based harassment, including intersectional harassment). You can also contact your local Anti-Defamation League regional office and/or the Southern Poverty Law Center to report harassment or hate speech. There is much room for communities — and AAUW members — to take action on this issue.

6. Stand up to everyday sexism whenever you can.

We have all seen it, and most of us have experienced it. I’m talking about the gender bias that many women face. It is so common that unfortunately it has become part of our landscape, and that very ordinariness is what makes it so pernicious. When we encounter bias we often do not know how to respond. Or worse, we worry about the possible consequences of calling it what it is: sexism, harassment, gender discrimination, rape culture. And let’s not forget that women of color, women with disabilities, LGBT women, and others struggle with an intersectionality that adds even more complexity to this issue. Since every situation is different there is no perfect response. And only you can decide whether you want to confront it head-on.

AAUW’s values are nonnegotiable.
We believe in fairness and equality,
inclusivity and opportunity.

7. Support women leaders.

Women are not new to leadership, but we are still outnumbered by men in most leadership positions. AAUW’s 2016 report Barriers and Bias: The Status of Women in Leadership includes a fascinating test you can take — an implicit association test — to gauge your own level of bias. Unfortunately, research shows that treating women and men equally in hiring decisions, job evaluations, and leadership positions is more an ideal than a reality. So if we agree that sex discrimination is unacceptable, why is it still happening? One answer is that many of us harbor unconscious biases that can affect our judgment. Uncovering these implicit biases can be the first step toward eliminating them and making lasting change.

8. Never forget that voting rights and fair representation are fundamental to our democracy.

This was the first presidential election without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder states have been emboldened to pass damaging voting restrictions in response to discredited claims of voter fraud. In 2016, 14 states had new voting restrictions in place, and many amount to a return to a sort of poll tax that disenfranchised too many would-be voters. Politicians should not be allowed to choose their electorate — or to manipulate it in a way that not only silences voters’ voices but affects the outcome. As we approach the 2018 elections AAUW will continue to emphasize the importance of fair and reasonable voting rights. Further, as we approach the 2020 census AAUW’s ongoing interest in implementing fair redistricting reform will become even more important.

9. Recruit a friend (or five!) to subscribe to the AAUW Action Network and help ensure that our message is heard at every level of government.

AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist tool is a powerful vehicle for reaching elected officials and policy makers at every level. Members and supporters sent more than 200,000 messages to state and federal legislators this year using this free system, but we will need even more voices in the years ahead. Recruiting Action Network members is also a great way to introduce people to AAUW and bring them into dues-paying membership down the road.

10. Help build our AAUW community by recruiting new members.

AAUW has been empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881. We have worked together as a powerful national grassroots organization to improve the lives of women and their families. Let your neighbors, local students, colleagues, friends, and family know that by joining AAUW they can help break through barriers for women in government, in the workplace, and on campus.

11. Work locally as well as nationally.

It is also important to remember that in every election we not only elect policy makers but also make decisions on ballot initiatives — both of which provide opportunities to make progress on AAUW policy priorities. In 2016, Maine, Colorado, Washington, and Arizona voted to raise their state minimum wage. Arizona and Washington went one step further by approving new paid sick leave programs. In Missouri a ballot question on raising the cigarette tax to help fund a school voucher scheme failed. Alaska passed an initiative to automatically register all qualified voters when applying for a Permanent Fund Dividend. These are just a few examples of how AAUW priorities continue to play out in your neighborhood and beyond. As an AAUW member you can subscribe to the e-bulletin In the Statehouse to get the latest on AAUW action at the state level.

12. Keep in mind that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The GOP maintains control of both chambers of Congress. Remember, this is the Congress we have worked with for the past few years; it hasn’t changed that much save for the addition of a few more Democrats and a record number of 21 women senators, four of whom are women of color. Our advocacy work will remain focused on AAUW policy priorities. The GOP leadership remains the same, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leading their respective chambers. While the transition period has seen Republicans coming together, it remains to be seen if Trump administration priorities will align with Speaker Ryan’s, and if the Speaker’s priorities will be acceptable to the powerful Freedom Caucus — the Tea Party wing of the party that is large enough to block House legislation. As for the Democrats, they voted in Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to be the new Senate minority leader, replacing the retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as planned. House Democratic leadership survived a challenge, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) retains her position. There is an internal debate among Democrats in both chambers as to what direction they — as the “loyal opposition” — intend to take as they face off with a Republican party that controls the presidency and both chambers of Congress for the first time in more than a decade.

AAUW’s values are nonnegotiable. We believe in fairness and equality, inclusivity and opportunity. We believe that bias and discrimination of any kind are unacceptable in our national dialogue and that our government must represent all of us. Throughout our 135-year history we have always stood for solutions that work for all women and families — and we do not intend to stop now. With your active support AAUW will continue to speak truth to power and fight for gender equity from the White House to the statehouse. You provide the voice; we’ll provide the megaphone. Now let’s get to work!



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Lisa Maatz By:   |   February 07, 2017


  1. Avatar Denise Burian says:

    I love the advocacy that AAUW does – the frequency, the research based work, and focus on women’s issues.

    I would like to see the public policy priorities to be more specific. For example, our policy does not state a position on charter schools. As a result, I have heard some say that we can lobby for charter schools because we don’t have a position on them. I do not want us to have our name used to lobby for profit based charter schools. Same for vouchers, we should oppose using any public money for vouchers. We need to be more specific as to what we are for and what we are against. Words matter.

    • Elizabeth Holden Elizabeth Holden says:

      As outlined in the AAUW Public Policy Program, AAUW is opposed to school voucher systems, which use public funds for nonpublic elementary and secondary education. You can learn more about our position here: In addition, we believe all publicly funded schools—including charter schools—must be accountable to the public for academic achievement, health and safety standards, and the civil rights of all students.

      The strength of the AAUW Public Policy Program is that it originates and ends with the membership. Voting on the 2017-2019 Public Policy Program will begin April 17 at part of the AAUW National Election. I hope you’ll participate!

  2. Avatar Mardy Stevens says:

    Thank you for a thorough, and doable, analysis of our political road ahead. I encourage all branch and state leaders, as well as national members, to “speak this” to others. We know who we are, we aren’t going away, and we are working together!

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