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Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford and the year of the woman in politics

Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford and the year of the woman in politics
© Greg Nash

During the confirmation hearings for now-Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, it was surreal to see a Senate Judiciary Committee made up of white men discussing ‘Long Dong Silver,” pubic hair on Coke cans in response to the steady, straightforward testimony from Anita Hill about the sexual harassment she allegedly experienced while working for Clarence Thomas.

Twenty-seven years later I can still remember how I felt as a 24-year-old press secretary for the National Women’s Political Caucus. As most women of my generation will share, we all experienced sexual harassment, but never had a word for it. “They just don’t get it” was the national refrain from women to the dumbfounded stares of those old white men fumbling over their questioning of Anita HIll.

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While the progressive coalition of women’s, reproductive rights, civil rights, and equal justice groups battled to shape the dialogue, a delegation of six female Democratic U.S. Reps, marched across the Capitol to join the lone Democratic female senator to demand justice for Anita Hill. They showed what women in power would do to stand up for women’s life experiences, and at the same time, revealed the profound lack of real power women had. 

In 1991, Congress was 98 percent male. Armed with a power green suit, closed toed shoes and pantyhose, I remember my sense of exhilaration when the media showed up to cover the women members of Congress marching across the Capitol. Days later, I can still feel my sense of desperation as camera crews raced away from our bedraggled talking heads to cover the busloads of Christian activists swarming the Capitol.

The proper looking, devout throngs came out to support the besieged African American conservative nominee who complained of a “high tech lynching” and the momentum moved against us and Thomas was confirmed for life on Oct. 23, 1991.

Two days later the National Women’s Political Caucus took out a full-page ad in the New York Times depicting a Senate Judiciary Committee of all women evaluating Thomas with the word, “What If?”

We raised $250K to help identify, recruit and train Democratic and Republican women who supported reproductive rights to run for office and in the next election cycle a record number of women won elected office forever branding 1992 as “the Year of the Woman in Politics. 

Now 2018 is dubbed the “Year of the Woman of Color” in politics defined by the extraordinary fact that a minority of the Democratic candidates running in 2018 are white men. And here we are again, days away from the U.S. Senate confirming another conservative justice with a record of opposing reproductive rights, with a female accuser stepping forward with her story. 

Conservatives argue that Christine Blasey Ford’s story is different. They weren’t adults. There is no corroboration. It’s a he said, she said, and after all he has more than 60 women’s names who can vouch for Kavanaugh’s respect for women.

This time the intense focus is on two GOP women Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRepublicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote Democrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Senate to vote Monday to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court MORE (R-Alaska) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans advance Barrett's Supreme Court nomination after Democrats boycott committee vote Democrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Maine) — the same total number of women who served in the entire U.S. Senate when Thomas was confirmed. 

I don’t know what decision they’ll make on Kavanaugh, but I know for sure that their choice will be shaped by their life experience as women and with the knowledge that their elected power can make a difference.

And for the rest of us, fighting to influence the decisions of people in power with women’s marches, calls to Congress and #MeToo stories, while it may seem like a never-ending uphill battle, your voice can shape the debate. If we can’t win the Kavanaugh battle, Nov. 6 is only 50 days away and an army of women awaits.

Pat Reilly is the co-founder of Change Research, which provides public opinion research to forward-thinking candidates and causes. More than 50 percent of Change Research’s candidates are women and one third are a people of color.