Monday, August 15, 2011

Let's Make History Tomorrow!

In 1922, Viola Ross Napier of Macon and Bessie Kempton of Atlanta became the first women elected to the Georgia General Assembly. The morning after the election, Napier, a widow, a lawyer, a Democrat and the single mother of four children said:
 Miss Kempton and I will not be the only women in the House for long. We are just the wedge for others to come through. Many will join us at the next election. I feel sure it will be a good thing. (Macon Telegraph, 9/15/1922)
It would have been a good thing, but despite Mrs. Napier's optimism, it was 77 years before Rep. Nikki Randall,  the next Democratic woman from Macon was elected to the Georgia House, and tomorrow, voters in Middle Georgia have the opportunity to make history by electing, Miriam Paris, who would become the first Democratic woman from Macon to serve in the Georgia Senate.

I don't know about you, but I think 91 years is long enough to wait.

It's no accident that it took so long for women to begin to find their footing in the political arena in Georgia, and nationally. There is no venue more friendly to the "Good 'Ole Boy" system than politics, and perhaps no political fraternity tighter than the one under the Gold Dome. There may be no Greek letters and no secret handshakes, but in the halls of power, the glass ceiling is real. And if a woman, like Paris, dares to run for a seat that was bequeathed from one male legislator to another, she can expect to face blowback from the male-dominated political establishment.

In this race, Paris has weathered attacks on her family, her children, and her intellect. Despite being a lifelong Democrat who campaigned with her father from the time she was a little girl, despite having never voted in a Republican primary, despite having run and won election as a Democrat, despite her tireless support of Democratic causes and candidates (including President Obama), despite earning the endorsement of groups like Georgia's WIN List and EMILY's List who ONLY support Democratic women - facts be damned -Paris has been attacked for being "a Republican." Why? Because that's what happens when you take on the Good 'Ole Boy system. The truth is less important than winning, less important than holding on to power, less important than maintaining the status quo, and less important than keeping the glass ceiling intact. Paris' composure in the face of these withering, mean-spirited and baseless attacks is a testament to the qualities she will bring to her service in the Georgia Senate.

A WIN List endorsement is no easy get, and Paris earned it. Georgia's WIN List exists to provide progressive Democratic women with the scaffolding they need to run for office and WIN. Georgia's WIN List has a single purpose: to elect progressive Democratic women to state level office in Georgia. While I am no longer on the board of WIN List, I am proud of the organization's accomplishments and, more than ever, believe in the efficacy of the mission. Far too few women hold elected office. Despite the fact that more women will vote tomorrow than men, according to the Rutgers' Center for American Women in Politics  , Georgia currently ranks 25th in the nation for the percentage of women serving in the General Assembly. Currently, only 23.3% of those serving in the Georgia legislature are women, and only 8 women serve in the Georgia Senate. Georgia women hold no statewide offices, no congressional seats and neither United States Senate seat. We can change those numbers one election at at time.

As bad as those stats sound, they represent an improvement over 2010, when Georgia ranked 37th nationally with women holding fewer than 20% of all legislative seats. African American women face even greater challenges. Nationally, of the 1,740 women who serve in state legislatures, only 239 are African American. At 22, more African American women serve in the Georgia Legislature than in any other state.  Since 2000, Georgia's WIN List has had a hand in helping to support and elect most of these outstanding women.

Tomorrow, voters in Middle Georgia have the opportunity to elect Miriam Paris, an outstanding Democratic woman, a woman for whom service is second nature and who demonstrated the toughness necessary to weather the storms of this campaign with the sort of grace and dignity we would all do well to emulate. I think Ms. Napier would have liked Ms. Paris - a lot. Now, let's elect her.