Politically Speaking

An Open Letter to President Obama
by Susan Rose

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations on your reelection. It was a hard-fought campaign. Thanks to you and Governor Romney for your gracious speeches on election night.

I am part of a coalition of groups that voted for you: women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and young people. The media and commentators are full of articles discussing this demographic alliance and how it will shape future elections.

President Obama, women women helped carry the election for you. Fifty-five percent of your voters were women. The gender gap resulted in a ten percent advantage in your reelection. Stephanie Schrock of Emily’s List was right when she called women the “most powerful voting bloc” in the country.

On the campaign trail, President Obama, you spoke frequently about moving our country forward. With your reelection, it is time to advance the feminist agenda. The women of this country have earned it. Women made gains in the presidential election with a new 20 percent female Senate and 18 percent female House, though these are nowhere near the critical mass we need.

Organizations across the country made concerted efforts to recruit women into office. The 2012 Project, founded in 2009, led a national effort to recruit and support women from various professions to run for Congress and state legislatures. Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, The Feminist Majority, NOW, NWPC, Emerge and others advocated for issues affecting women, endorsed candidates, rallied the troops to support candidates, and raised money to help them win their elections. The rallying cry became women can’t win if they don’t run.

The results showed some progress: a total of 22 new women representatives will be entering Congress in 2013. Among the women joining the Senate are Tammy Baldwin, Deb Fischer, Heidi Heitkamp, Mazie Hirono and Elizabeth Warren, four of whom made landmark advancements for their states in breaking the glass ceiling.

Much has been written about the war against women this election cycle. Here’s what the battlefield looked like:

The Affordable Health Care Act, as well as Medicare, became political targets during divisive campaigns. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richardson said that “women’s health, more than ever, was a decisive issue in the 2012 election.” The conservative attacks against Planned Parenthood to halt abortions evolved to efforts to deny women the use of contraception. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 and 2012, state legislatures passed a combined 119 measures to restrict access
to abortion.

Women are gaining fewer of the new jobs being created and their unemployment is increasing according to the Pew Research Center. Our weak economy has affected women disproportionally with a greater number of women, particularly single families and seniors, slipping into poverty. Our country needs workplaces that balance both work and family commitments in order for women to succeed economically. For the first time in many years, Congress did not approve the Violence Against Women Act, which had traditionally been bipartisan legislation. The number of rapes committed annually in the U.S. is epidemic and thousands of rape kits remain untested.

It is time for Congress to:
• Implement the Affordable Health Care Act (if necessary, tweak it to make it better);
• Create job training and job programs;
• Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act;
• Initiate family justice programs including paid family leave, paid sick leave and flexible work schedules;
• Pass the Violence Against Women Act.

In your victory speech on election night, President Obama, you reached out to Republicans and the nation. I agree, it is time to end our divided nation status, but the new Congress must also demonstrate to women that they matter.

We understand the fiscal challenges facing our country, but we ask you to lead an effort, once and for all, that will treat women as equal partners in our democracy and that will guarantee women their basic human rights and dignity.

Hon. Susan Rose, Ret.