Monday, July 17, 2006

Another Open Letter to Howard Dean

Dear Governor Dean:

I went to my post office box Saturday, just as I have every week since September 27th of last year. That's when I wrote a you a letter asking you to consider voluntary rule changes that the DNC could make to accelerate the election of women to Congress. I had supported you for DNC Chair, especially after you told me that there would be an "Every OPEN SEAT A Women's Seat" initiative if you were elected. Based on that now empty promise, the National Women's Political Caucus of Florida gave you a "Good Guy" award February 2, 2005 - an honor and actual award delivered to your DC office that you had never even acknowledged.

The issue: If the DCCC can ignore the "We can't take sides in primaries" rule whenever it suits our less-than-democratic party leaders, why can't it be suspended to make women winners in elections for OPEN SEATS each election cycle? This I proposed as a temporary rule change, 10-year moratorium which I now think should be extended to the year 2020 and the 100th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage.

My letter was faxed to you, mailed to you and brought to your attention not just by me, but also by a friend and one your trusted fundraisers -- who was concerned that I had started to ask women to boycott DNC and DCCC fundraising requests with messages re equal representation to be sent back in your postage-paid envelopes. Some women have done so, and I urge them keep it up like I have. That was November of last year, and still no answer.

While attending YearlyKos, I handed you a copy of that same unanswered letter as you waited to address the convention. The first thing you said to me was "Most of the candidates in high profile races this year are women" - not entirely true, and before we get off on that tangent let's please remember that a number of those same women ran in 2004 without much help from the DCCC.  Guess we should just be grateful that Rahm Emanuel is hell-bent on taking back Congress for Democrats -- otherwise this would have been another bleak, wholly undemocratic election season for great women candidates who never get a share of DCCC dollars tantamount to a real commitment to accelerating the achievement of equal representation.

"It's not that simple," I replied to you that day, and you nodded somewhat impatiently saying, "I'll answer you." Five weeks later, still no answer.

You went on in your Las Vegas remarks to say: "We need you to run for office...I am not kidding." What would it have cost you to say, furthermore, "and especially women, because the DNC is committed to electing MORE women and equal representation." When I asked another YKos participant later at lunch what she would have though if you had made such a statement, she said, "Oh, my God! It gives me goose bumps. It would have been fantastic." What would it have cost, Governor Dean?

Who am I, someone reading this might ask, to presume that I deserve an answer to my letter -- even if I had, at minimum, just been a loyal Democrat for 40 years and not an activist who has logged many hours in the trenches while men ran the show. Who am I to bring this situation to light when soooo much is again at stake in the mid-term elections?  Who am I to suggest last week that women take a parity pledge:  "I pledge that until women have parity in elected office locally, in my state, and nationally -- I will ONLY donate my $money$, time, or talent to WOMEN CANDIDATES!"

Who are women to presume that they are entitled to have a fair share of seats at decision-making tables - and, at minimum, seek and get relief from a party that calls itself "Democratic" and that they have supported for entire lifetimes? How long do we have to wait to be taken seriously in real terms? Five weeks, 10 months, 230 years, 300 years?

Everybody agrees that women should vote, give money, and work like dogs on political campaigns - mostly for white men. But when are we going to admit that the self-proclaimed "world's greatest democracy" isn't what it's made out to be for women. Need I remind you that the U.S. is 68th in the world for electing women to congresses, parliaments, and national assemblies?  I totally agree with your 50-state strategy, but let's not gloss over the fact that 19 taxation-without-representation states do not have even one woman in either house of Congress - a total disgrace!

A good friend answered my parity pledge email - the only negative response I have gottten so far - with: "Oh, Paula, I'm usually 100% behind you, but I feel the need is so great to try to recapture at least one house of Congress and possibly the FL governor's mansion in 2006 and the White House in 2008 that I can't in good conscience withhold my dollars and time from male candidates. Sorry about that."

My response: "There NEVER will be a good time to do this (which consistently entraps us), and please remember our past unsuccessful refrains of "Anyone, but Jeb Bush!" and "Anyone, but George Bush!" -- where did that get anyone, let alone women? Concerted action must be taken by women or we will NEVER go forward. Let me suggest that there are plenty of women running for Congress that you can support and still be a good Democrat, and in 2008 I hope more than one woman runs for President which is the way it should be." Don't you agree?

In the early 19th century, it was great for women to be abolitionists. Freedom for slaves, yes, but suffrage for women? Of course, but just not now - and it took another hundred years. Today it's great for women to be card-carrying, check-writing, feet-blistering Democrats. Democratic majority in Congress, yes, but equal representation for women so we have a real voice on issues like social security, health care, and foreign policies? Of course, but just not now.

Governor Dean, either you are actually for equal representation and can take a clear stand with a concrete plan* -- or you are really not for it, no matter what you say. I am sorry to say that I am tired of empty promises and patronizing pats on the back - and everyone citizen who really believes in democracy should be, too.

If not now, Governor Dean, when?

*"concrete plan" : a blueprint with numbers and dollars for how MORE seats for women will be won each year. We need 19 more seats each cycle to reach parity in 2020, on the 100th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage. Where each cycle can the Democratic Party aggressively plan to make a good share of that happen - how many OPEN seats (and we can assume at least 30 will open up each cycle), how many challenges and where, how many women can be identified and seriously supported so that they win. Women do make great candidates, so it's a win-win for the Democratic Party. And if the Republicans do their share...While 5050X2020! seems improbable under the present circumstances, it is NOT impossible - but it will take vision and leadership, in addition to women taking ownership and action.


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