UCSD lecture looks at women’s politcal past, present, future

Sara Guillermo, chief program officer for IGNITE National

Looking at the role of women in the past, present and future of politics, UC San Diego hosted a part lecture-part workshop with Sara Guillermo, chief program officer for IGNITE National — a movement to educate and motivate young women who are ready and eager to become the next generation of political leaders.

The March 12 event in the UCSD Women’s Center opened with an interactive agree/disagree exercise where participants were encouraged to review certain statements and then stand in designated areas that indicated whether they agreed, disagreed or were unsure of the statements.

These included: Women don’t run for office because of social media backlash and trolling; Women don’t run for office because of the family roles they serve; Women don’t run for office because they aren’t recruited or asked to run; Women don’t run for office because they don’t feel qualified; and I want to run for office. (More on these later.)

The Past

In the next activity, participants were given the name of a woman or event in history and asked to research them, say why they are significant, and share their findings with the group.


Figures and events included: Victoria Woodhull, the first female presidential candidate of the United States in 1872; Shirley Chisholm, first African-American woman elected to Congress in 1968; Roe V. Wade, the court case that legalized abortion in 1973; bell hooks, the author who deliberately uses lowercase letters to spell her name and who wrote about race, capitalism and gender; Anita Hill, the attorney who accused her supervisor, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, of sexual harassment in 1991; the “year of the women” in 1992, when a then-record number of women — 11 — were elected to the Senate and Congress

Why these were chosen to illustrate the political past of women in the United States, Guillermo said, was because they serve as a reminder of how things change, but still stay the same.

Citing the Anita Hill testimony and its parallel to the 2018 testimony of Christine Blasey Ford (who accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault), she said:

“The big piece in looking at these moments in our history is that they repeat themselves, but also increase the ways we are thinking of women’s strides in politics. … Some of them have cycled back into our lifetimes right now.”


The Present

In 2016, Guillermo explained, the political representation of women in office was: 20 percent of Congress, 25 percent in the State legislature, 12 percent of governors and 22 percent of mayors representing 30,000 people or more.

Students opined the number should be closer to 50 percent given that women make up 50 percent of the population and called the statistics “sad” and “shocking.”

And perhaps worse, Guillermo said, at the rate this is going, there will not be 50 percent women in political leadership until 2121.

One student joked “global warming might get us first.”

But, Guillermo added: “When we think about the past two years, and after the 2016 election, there were people who took to the streets in activism, particularly the Women’s March of 2017.

“In 2018, we elected the largest and most diverse group of women to Congress ever. We saw candidates that debunked some of the (statements) from the agree/disagree exercise.”

Citing Congress members Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, she explained:

“They all ran against white men in their districts. … Instead of knocking on the doors of voters, they knocked on the doors of people who did not vote in the election prior and the list of new potential voters.


“They ran massive voter registration drives. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez wanted to reach a new demographic.”

The Future

Going forward, Guillermo said IGNITE is looking to “harness your energy and look to the future,” by registering people to vote and getting varied perspectives on governmental boards — all of which leads to a healthier democracy.

“In the 2018 midterms, we had the largest surge since 2008 of people registering to vote. … We’re starting to see that across the country,” she explained.

“In looking at where the focus of government is, it is mostly the top 10,000 seats in this country — the president, your state legislature, etc. — but people forget there are half a million seats at the local level from the mayor to the mosquito abatement board.

“They are tackling issues the federal government won’t tackle.”

To encourage those in attendance to become involved in civic issues, Guillermo suggested three takeaway steps:

1) political socialization, through which young women meet candidates and elected officials to demystify the political process and to (possibly) think about running for an office down the line;

2) campaign training, including how to fundraise, speak in public and communicate your message; and


3) increasing legislative knowledge to learn how policies are made.

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