As the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington approaches, no one can dispute that 2017 reinvigorated the movement to advance women’s equality.
Merriam-Webster deemed “feminism” the word of the year. TIME’s person of the year — more accurately, persons of the year — were the “Silence Breakers,” women who publicly spoke out about their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.
Grassroots organizers toil for years — even decades — to gain traction on an issue, quietly beating the drum to prepare for the moment that society is ready to act. Their biggest fear is that a movement will peak too soon, leaving its agenda undone.
If Sunday’s 75th Golden Globe Awards were any indication, women activists can put that fear to rest. Oprah’s rousing speech became a rallying call to the women, and men, of this country to step up and fight back against inequality. And in a red carpet interview, Debra Messing told E! host Guiliana Rancic, “We want diversity, we want intersectional gender parity, we want equal pay.”
The women of Hollywood, coordinated in black and wearing Time’s Up pins, displayed a show of solidarity more than a year in the making. It was, in fact, very different from the rallying call of a year ago that set the stage for this moment.
We marked the start of the first chapter of this journey on Jan. 21, 2017. It was the year that we organized. The next episode, the year that we act, starts on Jan. 21, 2018.
A strong, cohesive movement doesn’t materialize overnight. The planning and execution of the Women’s March was anything but a slam-dunk, and at times seemed doomed to fail. Yet the day was a triumph.
At 51 percent of the total population, women cut across every demographic group and are impacted by every issue facing the most marginalized in our society. The Women’s March organizers developed a set of unity principles in an effort to map a successful path forward and acknowledge the intersecting identities of women.
The growing pains will never go away, but there was growth and a conscious effort to reflect on the history — good and bad — that has led to both progress and continued oppression of women at the hands of the most privileged.
The success of the #MeToo movement, resulting from the takedown of seemingly invincible rich and powerful men who are accused of sexual harassment and assault, was a watershed moment.
In 24 hours, #MeToo posts on Facebook swelled to over 12 million — and within 48 hours, 1 million Twitter. The near universal experience with sexual harassment and assault voiced by women, and some men, overwhelmed even those familiar with the statistics.
The conversation no longer was relegated to headlines exposing the rich and famous; it leapt into our Facebook feeds with posts by friends and family. It was the 2017 version of a consciousness-raising group. The difference was that, instead of dozens gathered in a friend’s living room, millions could participate from their computers or mobile devices.
However, if women aim to create lasting societal change, the Time’s Up initiative launched at the Golden Globes must be just the beginning of moving from organizing to action in 2018.
The 2018 election cycle is primed to be one of the most influential political moments in recent history and women are set to take center stage. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, the number of women identified as potential candidates for U.S. House, U.S. Senate and state governor is nearly double the number at the same point in the 2016 election cycle.
Women currently make up less than 20 percent of Congress, and hold just six of 50 governorships. Women are far from being represented fairly, or even afforded the 30 percent “critical minority” of the population that is considered necessary for a group to exert political influence. Moving to action depends critically on supporting women candidates and electing them to office.
The election also provides an opportunity for the electorate to show that the social upheaval of 2017 extends beyond protesting in the streets to increased civic participation at the polls. It was, after all, black women who once again used their electoral power and stepped up to make sure Roy MooreRoy Stewart MooreRoy Moore loses lawsuit against Sacha Baron Cohen Shelby backs ex-aide over Trump-favored candidate in Alabama Senate race Of inmates and asylums: Today's House Republicans make the John Birchers look quaint MORE was defeated in the heated Alabama Senate election.
This year’s Women’s March official event is titled “Power to the Polls,” foreshadowing the emphasis that will be placed in making sure that women turn out to vote — and vote in their interests. Women, who in recent years have consistently voted at a higher rate than men, have an opportunity to set legislative agendas and demand that candidates and elected officials support their priorities.
It is time to put forward a proactive legislative agenda to advance women’s equality. We’ve used so much of our efforts to protect the rights we have from being rolled back. This has left little time to make the progress needed to better the lives of women in this country.
Legislation is pending in Congress that would help put an end to sexual harassment and assault, pay inequality, inadequate access to health care and many other issues that women care about. If a member of Congress doesn’t support these pieces of legislation, they should know that they don’t have our votes.
There should be — and I predict will be — a renewed push for the passage and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA would guarantee constitutional equality for women and men, a right that never has existed.
The United States was built on a foundation of gender inequality that we haven’t adequately addressed. Every issue women face in today’s society can be traced to this root cause. Until we right the wrongs of our past, we cannot truly move forward. We need a fundamental change, and it seems the timing couldn’t be better.
Bettina Hager is the Washington director and chief operating officer of the ERA Coalition, a grassroots organizer and advocate for gender equality. Follower her on Twitter @BettinaHager.