Before the Midterm Elections, Five Activists Criss-Crossed the Country to Hear From Women.

We’ve heard a lot ahead of these midterm elections about the historic wave of women jumping into the political process as candidates—and for good reason. With the polls now open, 2018 is not just poised to become another Year of the Woman. It will also be remembered as a decisive moment in which women of color were recognized as more than reliable voters. Thanks to change-making candidates—from Catalina Cruz, a Dreamer headed for the New York Assembly, to Stacey Abrams, who launched an inspiring campaign for governor in Georgia—the face of American politics looks different and more like the people that it has overlooked for centuries.

But focusing on women candidates misses an even bigger phenomenon: Over the past 24 months, women have reinvigorated our democracy, and in the process, they are transforming our country.

No matter the results of this election, every progressive victory this cycle will be the result of women.

Women have been the often-unsung volunteers, staff, and supporters, signing up in record numbers to be part of historic campaigns. Women make up 75 percent of leaders and membership in local chapters of Indivisible, an organization that’s mobilized the resistance nationwide. And women have launched their own grassroots efforts, too. In places like Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, women of color—who’ve been the most reliable progressive voters in America—are demanding policies (and candidates) that align with their convictions. In a direct rebuke to voter suppression in the South, Black women are running—not walking—to the polls. Motivated by anti-immigrant candidates, Latinas are running for office, organizing, and speaking out. And white women have come to a realization that evaded 53 percent of them in 2016: They have to do more.

No matter the results of this election, every progressive victory this cycle will be the result of women.

This spring, the five of us came together to better understand how women are organizing and showing up in this unprecedented moment—and what’s driving them. As we crisscrossed the country, we met women who had never marched or picked up a protest sign before and were now doing things they could never have imagined.

The woman in Austin, Texas, who fought for and won maternity coverage at the tech company where she works and said, “But I realized it’s not enough—I need to get involved in politics.”

The women from Nashville, Tennessee, to Wisconsin who shared the multiple barriers they’ve faced in the workplace and in politics, from sexual harassment to racial discrimination, but who’d resolved not to give up or in.

The immigrant women, working-class women, teachers, students, doctors, nurses, candidates, and more. The one thing they all had in common? They were on fire. And they were relieved and energized to be together. As a transgender woman said at the end of one of our gatherings: she was glad to be in a room full of other women and to be included in a movement that fights for all.

Over and over, women told us that our political process as it functions (or doesn’t function) now neither speaks to nor works for women. With a sigh, a longtime activist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, put it best: “I will run the phone banks again this election, as I have for the last several years, but ultimately, I’m working within a system built by men, for men.” And a single mom in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, broke down in tears as she described how hard it is to work the two jobs it takes to afford daycare and groceries. Still, she showed up for two hours on her only day off—her 4-year-old daughter in tow—to talk about what we can do to make America a better place for all of us.

Once, in Pennsylvania, we asked a group of women to share when over the past 24 months they felt most powerful. A few women talked about standing up for themselves at work or for their students at school or for their neighbors when they went to the airport to protest the Muslim ban. When it was the last woman’s turn, she turned to us and said, “This might sound cheesy, but I feel powerful listening to all of you talk about the things you have done.”

Women are done with zero-sum politics. We know this can and should be a nation that holds us all up, rather than pitting us against each other.

We felt that sentiment wherever we traveled, whether women were listening to immigrant women tell their stories in Arizona or applauding the grassroots efforts of Black women who are changing the electorate in Georgia. In other words: Women are done with zero-sum politics. We know this can and should be a nation that holds us all up, rather than pitting us against each other.

Defending democracy and expanding justice is women’s work; it always has been. But there’s something unique about this moment for women. In the past, our activism has helped change the country; but we’ve never run the country. We’ve changed the rules, but never made them. We’ve influenced the culture, but we’ve never shaped it. We’ve powered everything, but we’ve never truly owned power in this country. It’s time for that to change.

Women want to do more than “resist.” We want to no longer be an afterthought or an accommodation—to move past arguing for an incremental improvement in the gender pay gap, a few more seats in the legislature, or a slight improvement in family leave and access to childcare.

We are rising up together to demand economic, political, and cultural equality. Together, we have the power to make communities and workplace safe for women. We can make every job a job that pays enough to sustain a family, because we’ve been working hard for too little for too long. We can take care of caregivers, support families instead of tearing them apart, and treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve. We can champion racial justice. And we can and must build a political system that lifts up and addresses women’s everyday needs, such as good public schools, affordable health care, quality childcare, and a just immigration policy.

The question is not if, but how and when women in America will fully build the political power necessary to ensure that the issues that keep us up at night are not dismissed or marginalized, but front and center in the national debate. To do this, we’re going to support the leadership of trans women, because the same gender norms have oppressed us all. We’re going to follow Black women, Native women, and immigrant women, because we know a hopeful future for our democracy depends on it. That’s why we are building a multi-generational, multi-racial movement.

For women, November 6th is not the end; it’s the beginning.

Alicia Garza, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Principal, Black Futures Lab; Co-founder, Black Lives Matter.

Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance; Co-Director, Caring Across Generations

Cecile Richards, author, labor and women’s rights activist, and former President of Planned Parenthood

Deirdre Schifeling, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Katherine Grainger, Strategist, Principal, Civitas Public Affairs Group

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