The recent events in Charlottesville remind me that this nation has a values problem. That is, not all Americans believe in equality, freedom and justice as core values of the United States. When some American refuse to recognize the human dignity in their own countrymen and demand a return to a time where only white men had power, how far can we say we have come?
2020 will be the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the United States. In those 100 years women have gained 22 percent of elected office. At this rate, gender parity in politics will not be reached for another 140 years.
I share this as the Texas State Director of IGNITE, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that empowers young women to run for political office. The organization provides leadership and civic engagement training; enabling women improve their communities.
Women and minorities have made slow growth in achieving acceptance, let alone a fairly representative voice in American politics. Too often, the spotlight of one individual making an impact expands to highlighting the “obvious” progress of an entire group. All too often, when one minority group makes a small amount of headway in achieving political power, the story told is overly celebratory, ignoring the canyon wide gaps we must overcome to achieve equal representation, the true culmination of democracy.
In last month’s runoff in Georgia — the most expensive U.S. House race in history — Karen Handel was elected to Congress. Her election is a victory in the march towards political gender parity, but her policies and stances threaten the rights of minority groups, including women. When a federal judge extended the voter-registration deadline for the special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District by two months allowing nearly 8,000 additional people to register to vote, Handel emailed her supporters expressing anger over the decision calling it “partisan.”
She has a record of attacking voting rights, including supporting Georgia’s strict voter-ID law and in 2008 spearheading a policy that withdrew registration from nearly 5,000 registered voters by challenging their citizenship. This resulted in the ACLU suing the State of Georgia and winning. Handel opposes same-sex adoption. She left the Susan G. Komen Foundation in protest when the organization reinstituted funding Planned Parenthood, which is the only access point for women’s care for much of the nation. Can we truly call the election of someone who suppress voting rights, LGBTQI+ rights, women’s rights progress towards equality?
Social justice is a dirty word to a sizable portion of the population.
It’s convenient to dismiss minorities voicing unfair treatment by denying inequality exists in the first place. Indeed, the angry white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville believe it is they who are being treated unjustly, rather than the minority groups they verbally and physically attacked during that horrific day.
Additionally, conservative Christianity often sits in opposition to those who stand for social justice because they deem such efforts unnecessary or an attack of America’s status quo of elected representation primarily consisting, since its inception, of landowning white men. The real challenge we all must face is that America, the experiment in democracy, has not yet succeeded.
Because equality is not a value this country shares, one in fact many oppose, we continue the two-step dance in the United States where one minority group takes a step forward, and another’s oppression forces them a step back. I remind the new Congresswoman that during her lifetime married women could not get a credit card without their husband cosigning, even if they had their own income.
I ask our conservative elected officials to fight for the American ideals of equal representation and opportunity. Because women fought for access to political, financial and social power, we are seeing more women like Handel run for office and win. In one way, she progresses human rights and in another she denigrates the rights of others.
When young women ask me, “Do you think the United States is making progress?” I turn the question around on them. I hear answers ranging from eternally hopeful to already pessimistic. America should be the nation that notices when it takes one step back, and is brave enough to admit it and then do the work it takes to move two steps forward in the right direction, one in which the people of this nation, immigrants, people of color, women have people who represent them rather than suppressing them.
Margo McClinton Stoglin, Ph.D., is the Texas State Director of IGNITE National, an organization dedicated to empowering young women to become politically ambitious. Lizzie Robbins is the Texas State Program Manager, serving IGNITE by coordinating high school curriculum and college organizations throughout the state.