This is the third installment in a three-part analysis of women in West Virginia politics.
By ERIN BECK
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charlene Marshall, the first black mayor in West Virginia and a former 14-year member in the state House of Delegates, wasn’t planning on running for office.
“I got drafted,” said Marshall, who served as delegate from Monongalia County until 2014. “I had always thought before that I would never get involved in politics and give people any opportunity to shoot me down.”
“No four people are in charge of any election,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ll show you maybe what a black woman could do.’”
One of the men, a retired West Virginia University professor, showed up at her house with a slate of candidates he had put together.
“By the time he left my house, he was asking me if I would be OK with him putting me on his slate,” she said. “I told him I didn’t care what he did with his slate.”
Marshall, a Democrat, had an awakening. She said she realized the men were motivated by fear.
“I thought they must have been pretty much afraid I could win or they wouldn’t have messed with me,” she said. “I just decided then that I would have to speak up and be a little bit more aggressive.”
A similar sort of awakening is occurring throughout the country, according to some who offer assistance to female candidates.
On Nov. 8, Donald Trump, a man who has said “women, you have to treat them like s—”; said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” when she asked him about calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals”; and bragged about sexually assaulting women, was elected president.
And in 2017, just 24.8 percent of members of state Legislatures will be women, and 24 percent of statewide elected executive offices will be women, — “minimal growth,” according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
According to Erin Loos Cutraro, co-founder and CEO of She Should Run, 5,500 women have signed up for the organization’s online incubator, a tool that offers guidance and support for female candidates, since the election. The women come from all 50 states. Normally, the organization has about 150 sign-ups a month.
She Should Run, which works to motivate young girls to think of politics as a career, teamed up with Mattel to offer president and vice president Barbie dolls, and it offers online resources for female candidates.
“I’ve worked in politics for a long time, and, while I can’t give an exact percentage, it is very clear that the majority of women who are stepping up into She Should Run’s programs have never thought about running for office before,” Cutraro said.
In a She Should Run online community, the women talk about their reasons for running.
“In this election, obviously a lot of the conversation was driven around the presidential race,” Cutraro said, “but with over 500,000 elected offices in a country and women representing just a fraction nationwide, we obviously have a lot of work to do to encourage women to get involved at all levels.”
Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said last week more than 150 women have registered for the Ready to Run nonpartisan campaign training in March in New Jersey. Normally, around this time it would have only three or four registrants.
“We’re seeing that women are looking for a way to have a voice in the political system,” she said.
Walsh said she thinks “what may have happened is people have a more clear understanding that who gets elected has a real-life impact in your life, and so it’s not OK to stay on the sidelines.”
She said the center helped the West Virginia Women’s Commission plan a Ready to Run program in the state once before.
“We’d love to see that program take off and be something that continues over time,” she said.
About 700 West Virginians have RSVPed to a Facebook event for the Women’s March on Washington, a protest planned for the day after the presidential inauguration. Kate Savidan, a state-level organizer who lives in Harpers Ferry, said many more have expressed interest who don’t RSVP to Facebook groups.
People will gather at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Independence Avenue and Third Street SW, near the U.S. Capitol.
She said some of the national organizers were surprised 1,000 people would be coming from West Virginia, where Trump overwhelmingly won.
Savidan wasn’t involved in politics before.
“Every woman has their own reasons why they march,” she said. “It could be access to reproductive healthcare, abortion rights, equal pay … It’s a very diverse crowd. Some of it, for men, was how women were referred to during the campaign.”
Buses will be offered from several parts of the state. Many people will take the trip there and back in one day.
“This is a way I can make a difference and at least make sure my voice is heard,” Savidan said. “Other women I know are angry. Some women are hurt. Some women are scared. I just really want to know that my daughters are going to have the same rights that my son does, and that this country will always be a safe place for them.”
Organizers also are looking for sponsors to pay for bus tickets for marchers who can’t afford them.
Shifting Gears, a 2014 study from the nonpartisan Political Parity that looked focus groups and interviews with current and former female candidates reported:
“Among female politicians who decided to run without being recruited, reasons for political interest varied widely. Some are driven by feminism (e.g., disappointment/shock over how few women serve in government, outrage at the treatment of Anita Hill, or being inspired by Hillary Clinton’s presidential run). For others, it was simply the right time or they felt ready, as they had always wanted to run for office. The largest group of self-recruiters, however, are women who ‘got angry’ over an incumbent’s failure to respond or represent the district well; or those who had a ‘eureka’ moment, realizing that their issues could be best addressed through making policy themselves.”
While the Equal Rights Amendment, which was to provide for legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination based on sex, was proposed in 1923, it was not passed by the U.S. House of Representatives until 1971 and not by the U.S. Senate until 1972, when it was sent on to the states. It never achieved ratification by the requisite 38 states.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, elected to her 11th term in Monongalia County in 2016, is one of the two Democratic women in the House of Delegates. She doesn’t see women’s losses in the Legislature this year as a result of Republican strength. The House of Delegates elected several new Democratic men, she said.
“I won, and it’s still hard for me to talk about,” she said.
Fleischauer, who has fought for numerous causes that disproportionately affect women, repeated a story told to her about when a leader in the National Organization of Women knocked on the door of Alice Paul, who introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, not knowing at whose door she was knocking, around 1971.
Paul responded by saying, “The reinforcements are here,” according to Fleischauer.
She said she has noticed several groups of women forming in Morgantown in response to the election.
“It feels like the reinforcements,” she said.
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