When Florida Rep. Lois Frankel got married, she couldn’t get a credit card in her own name. She couldn’t take out a mortgage without her husband.
That’s a struggle today’s young women may have a tough time even imagining.
“There’s been so much advancement that our younger generation is benefiting from but not really understanding,” Frankel said Saturday at a breakfast for participants in the Women’s March on Washington.
But the millions of people who marched in the nation’s capital and around the world this weekend are signaling something different, and Democratic members of Congress — and the groups that support them — are ready to harness that energy.
“There is a sleeping giant that Donald Trump and his cronies have awakened,” Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Saturday before the march.
The former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee was first elected to the state legislature at age 26, and she too has often observed that young women take for granted some of the rights their mothers and grandmothers fought for.
Not anymore. “Maybe the ’60s is back,” Frankel said.
“The march was amazing, but I didn’t want to just go to bed afterward,” said a 16-year-old high school student who showed up to a “Getting Ready to Run” training hosted the day after the march by EMILY’s List, in partnership with other organizations like the Latino Victory Fund, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, The New American Leaders Project, Higher Heights for America, Emerge America, and the Asian American Action Fund.
Does that mean there’s a silver lining for Democrats in the election of Donald Trump?
“It’ll be a silver lining once we can organize in a way that makes sure we don’t roll back our progress,” Wasserman Schultz said.
So how will Democrats ensure the march is, as Frankel said, “more than a today thing?” Saturday’s overwhelming turnout — and not just from Democratic voters — will help members of both parties in Congress stand up to Trump, Democratic lawmakers said this weekend.
But if, judging from the signs and slogans during Saturday’s march, many participants were already Democratic voters, the march’s political sponsors will need to go a step further to deliver an electoral impact.
“We, as elected members of Congress, the more we add to our numbers, the more we’re taken seriously, the more credibility we have,” said Wasserman Schultz, who’s one of 78 female Democratic members of Congress.
Five hundred women, 40 percent of whom were between the ages of 25 and 34, showed up to Sunday’s two-hour training event at the Grand Hyatt Washington. Many said they were already politically engaged before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s victory just raised the stakes.
“I don’t think I took them for granted, but I definitely didn’t realize how quickly they could be taken away,” said Tori, 25, about the rights she believes are now under threat.
The fear that the new Trump administration has instilled in some women and minorities about their safety is helping dispel some of their inhibitions about running.
“I always wanted to be involved in politics, but I was scared,” said Liany Arroyo, 40, of Maryland. “My fear is gone seeing what’s happening.”
Munching on pastries and coffee at the hotel, where EMILY’s List had covered up the men’s and women’s bathroom signs to make them gender-neutral, young women lit up when talking about their role models in Congress.
“I just want to be like Elizabeth Warren,” said Naomi, a 32-year-old Washington, D.C., resident. But she knows that if she’s going to return to Ohio and win 12th District Rep. Pat Tiberi’s seat someday, she can’t run like the liberal senator from Massachusetts.
“I’m very moderate,” she said. “But I cannot run as a Democrat in my district.” Trump carried the seat by 11 points last November.
Knowing the profile of the seat they want to run for was one the specifics covered by EMILY’s List’s Muthoni Wambu Kraal in what was largely a feel-good conversation, telling the women — yes, even the introverts — that they’re capable of throwing their hats in the ring. Other practical tips? Work on a campaign. Ditch the Gmail address with the embarrassing name. “Get comfortable talking about yourself.”
EMILY’s List works to only elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, and the group sometimes finds itself pitted against other factions of the Democratic party in open primaries. One criticism is that it spends critical resources in already safe Democratic districts.
One woman at Sunday’s training asked about the opportunities to run in areas already represented by Democrats. “We have glass ceilings to break in our own Democratic Party,” Kraal said.
Enter closing speaker Pramila Jayapal, a Bernie Sanders-backed progressive who, with the support of EMILY’s List, won a competitive primary for the Washington district vacated by liberal Rep. Jim McDermot. By winning the general election in November, she became the first woman elected from the 7th District.