(Photo Credit: BET.com)
The public's cynicism towards our political system is certainly justified, but those who believe one person can't make a difference in Washington probably haven't heard of Shirley Chisholm.
The 1960s were a turbulent time for American politics. Civil rights shot to the forefront of social issues as assassinations of both black and white leaders became commonplace. That didn't stop Shirley Chisholm from trying to become the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress.
"At present, our country needs women's idealism and determination perhaps more in politics than anywhere else." -Shirley Chisholm
Her statements on the importance of more universal participation in government still ring true today. Black women especially continue to be severely underrepresented in the political system. According to Huffingtonpost.com, Black women make up 7.4% of the general population but only 3.4% of Congress.
Leaders like Chisholm, who advocated for supporting the country's more vulnerable populations by running against the established order, paved the way for future generations to take action in their own lives. In the last two presidential elections, Black women have surpassed voting numbers for all other race and gender groups.
Today is the birthday of one of my biggest inspirations, Shirley Chisholm, the 1st black woman to serve in Congress pic.twitter.com/39N4zSP0GN— Donna Edwards (@DonnaFEdwards) November 30, 2015
The lasting legacy of Chisholm persists in the political power now held by Black voters, who as an established group of political participants have made headway on today's top social issues like wage discrimination and police brutality.
Over 20 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2012 presidential election. These “missing votes” - most of whom are attributed to American youth - were not due to a busy schedule or lack of information, but rather to not being registered to vote. A new political group may have found an answer to this problem, but it doesn’t come without some resistance.
Created by former aides to President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, the democratic group iVote has introduced a new law that aims to make voter registration automatic when an American citizen obtains a driver’s license.
Currently, the voting law follows the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 ruling that allows potential voters the option to register when applying for driver’s licenses or state ID cards. However, if iVote’s law became successful, those applying for driver’s licenses will now not have the option to opt out of the automatic voter registration.
According to iVote’s leader Jeremy Bird, this new ruling could bring out millions of voters who have failed to reach polls before.
“I do think it can be a complete game-changer.” Birds said to The New York Times.
However, some politicians like Kansas secretary of state Kris W. Koback (R) feel like this doesn't target the real reason why people aren't voting.
“I just think it’s a bad idea.” Koback said, “It’s not going to increase participation rates.” Koback advocates for tightening voting laws and opposes iVote’s initiative because he feels like it doesn't tackle the actual problem - that those who haven’t voted are not interested in voting.
Bird has challenged Koback’s views by citing a study by Political Analysis which looked at the number of people who searched Google for voter registration information past state deadlines. The study states that up to four million people who were unregistered appeared to want to vote.
Although the 2016 Presidential election is only a year away, the way America votes may already be changing and it'll be interesting to see if political participation does increase as a result of this measure. For more political news about the 2016 presidential race, check out WomensForum.com’s Her Vote page.
The 2016 election is coming up and two women have a shot at the highest political office in the United States. What exactly does this mean? Yes, a woman could potentially be breaking, in Hillary Clinton's words, "the highest, hardest glass ceiling," but in actuality, a win would mean cracks, however significant, in the political power glass ceiling. It's 2015, and the U.S. ranks 72nd out of 145 countries in terms of political empowerment for women. And research shows that things are actually only getting worse.
A new study on global gender equality from the World Economic Forum shows that while women have definitely made strides in closing the gap in education, health, and even economic parity, they are far behind in terms of representation in national government. If one woman is elected to the presidency in the United States, will this really change things, despite talks of breaking a glass ceiling? Look at other countries that have had a woman commander-in-chief like India and Great Britain. One woman managing to pull herself to the top in the current political climate and with the limitations of a male-centric political structure does not mean a glass ceiling has been broken.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Photo Credit: AP
It's also important to look at the exceptionalism of a candidate like Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Journalist Perry B. Bacon rightly points out, "If Clinton wins, her path is not easy for other women to follow, either in politics or outside of it. Clinton is exceptionally talented, having graduated from Yale Law School, gotten elected to the U.S. Senate from a state where she had never before lived and won the job of secretary of state despite a rather limited resume on foreign affairs. She also had the benefit of starting her own political career after her husband had been elected president, giving Clinton connections and access most people will never have."
Photo Credit: Getty
So why is the United States in the bottom half? Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, says her research has shown that female candidates have to work twice as hard to raise the same amount of campaign money. Then take into account the not-so-masked sexism and the current political structure and it's easy to see where the gap starts widening.
Yes, progress is slow, and women like Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina are certainly trailblazers, but the fact is that it's 2015. When significantly more women are graduating from higher education than men and showing their widespread success in other fields, why are so few women leading their countries and having a say in the political structure?
Photo Credit: She Should Run
It's no secret that women are significantly underrepresented in government. Despite making up more than half of the country's population, less than 20 percent of congress is made up of women. The result? Biased legislation and extreme difficulty in getting anything passed that is aimed at closing the gender gap.
That's where She Should Run comes in. The non-profit encourages non-partisan female participation in the political system by recruiting distinguished individuals and providing resources for them to run for public office.
Their "Ask a Woman to Run" program has already built a community of more than 100,000 women thinking about running for office, providing "multi-platform ongoing awareness and action campaigns (which) continue to make the case for women’s representation in elected leadership."
After landing a job as a political aid, Diana Hwang started noticing the lack of Asian Americans involved in American politics. Hwang, whose full story can be found on SheShouldRun.org, organized a group of 35 young women to work and gain experience working alongside legislators, giving them the power in numbers to tackle unaddressed issues affecting their community.
That's only one of the countless initiatives taken by community members of She Should Run, which has been strengthening women's position in politics since their start in 2006. To find out more about the organization or to donate, check out their website by clicking here!