The midterm elections are (finally) over and most Americans are relieved to be finished with the endless political ads on TV and Radio not to mention the relentless emails and phone calls. But now that the people have spoken, can they expect any real change once their new representatives are sworn in? Mitch McConnell, the likely Senate Majority leader for the 114th Congress vowed he would help end the gridlock and get working. The outgoing 113th Congress was the least productive in history -- they literally did almost nothing and Americans are clearly fed up. The approval ratings of congress going into the election was at record lows.
This year, as with many other critical elections, women played a hugely important and central role in determining the outcomes. The last two presidential elections were unquestionably decided by women who turned out to vote in greater numbers than men. In the midterms they also turned up in major numbers but this time around, white men dominated. Given this, should women conclude they won't be heard again until 2016? Perhaps not -- elections aren't the only opportunity for women to be heard on issues that matter to them.
Seventy-five percent of American women disapprove of how Congress has been doing its job. Year after year, issues that I and many other women think should be high priority (my personal list includes minimum wage, immigration reform and protections for sexual assault victims) get kicked down the road -- largely because of party politics and a toxic environment in Washington that ensures even the most common sense pieces of legislation stall. Every woman I know wants to see better outcomes in Washington. A majority of American women believe government should play a bigger role in advancing issues like these. However, once we help elect them, women are not wielding enough influence and holding lawmakers accountable. It's time to for that to change.
This year, I set out on a journey to better understand why and how women can have a greater voice in our politics and policy and while I still have a lot of work to do to really understand it, one thing I have learned is that if women participated in politics with the same fervor after the elections are over we might actually see different results. After all, if we decide elections why don't the issues we care about advance once the candidates we elect take office? In a system of representative government, shouldn't elected officials serve my interests once elected? They should, but women need to play a greater role in making sure they do.
It seems that we women, even professional, highly accomplished and powerful women, are not throwing our weight around the way we could, and I would argue should, in Washington. In the years and months between each election cycle we are not actively engaged enough in pushing for the issues that matter to us. I believe our willingness to advocate actively for what we think is important is critical to our leadership, power and success overall. We may feel policy is outside the scope of what matters in our lives but the reality is our lives our hugely effected by what happens, or doesn't on capital hill.
Take one simple example, family medical leave. The U.S. remains one of the only industrialized nations in the world not to offer guaranteed paid leave for men and women who need to take time off for the birth of a child or to care for a sick relative. A massive plurality of women on both sides of the political spectrum support paid family leave and it generally has bi-partisan support in congress . Only 12 percent of U.S. workers get any paid leave at all, an issue that even conservative pundits like Meghan Kelly on Fox News derides as unacceptable. And yet, year after year, bill after bill fails to advance. Many powerful interest groups oppose expanding the FMLA but if women mobilized and insisted that their elected officials represent them on this issue, it might be a different outcome. On issues where we largely agree, we should insist lawmakers see us as an interest group with just as much power. Some great organizations like MomsRising.org are working hard to help facilitate this but we need women, both republican and democrat to take action in big and small ways if we want to change the paradigm.
While women care hugely about issues like these and in general, care deeply about the future of the country, women are less likely to get involved in the politics which could change this reality. Women are less likely to give to political campaigns -- one reason they may have been outvoted in the mid-term. We clearly find money in politics distasteful but it's a reality of the political process today that can't be ignored if we want to play a role. Even small contributions can set women up for more direct access to candidates and elected officials. I recently was invited a fundraiser with a price tag of $250. It turned out to be an intimate in-home forum with a Senate candidate I admire and the Governor of the state. There were only about 25 people there -- anything I wanted to talk about or ask the candidate I could. While $250 isn't insignificant, for many women a contribution of this amount is in the realm of the possible.
There are a number of other ways women are also opting out of political participation and influence. Women are less likely to use social media to address political issues, to participate in political events or meetings, and less likely to believe we know enough about politics to get involved. We are also less likely than men to write letters to members of congress, to call or visit our representative's office. This gap matters hugely -- 97 percent of congressional staffers said that in-person visits from constituents are the most influential way to communicate with legislators Finally, we're less likely to write letters to the editor about issues that matter to us. As a result, year after year issues that women consistently say matter to them, fail to advance.
I'm hugely simplifying a complex set of challenges but I'm on a mission to get women to think about their political power as a great-untapped asset. My organization, All In Together will be launching in January to try and tackle this. Our goal, and our call to action, is to remind women that our participation in politics should not end on November 5. We should of course vote -- it's critical we do, but our lives, and our voices matter beyond the ballot box -- we should be speaking up on anything and everything that matters to us. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain from trying.