Why Democratic Unity Is Nothing Without Women

Women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we need to be treated that way.

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Let's face it; women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. We are the activists, the fighters, and the energy. Women launched the post-inauguration march that demonstrated to the world that Americans would not just roll over and accept rule from a party that lost the vote of our people.

Together, women serve as a collective igniting force that energizes the underrepresented, the ignored, and the silenced, because we too are still fighting for the most fundamental rights in the 21st century. We too must constantly defend our bodies, claim our autonomy, and protest our exclusion from both the table and the menu. If any lesson is learned from the election of President Donald Trump to the Oval Office, it is that this party needs to reconsider the vision that we have for the future. Unfortunately, I'm not sure our current leadership understands that.

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Earlier this year, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders and DNC chairman Tom Perez took the opportunity to embark on a much-needed "Unity Tour," on which they laid out their forecast for the future of the Democratic Party. These efforts, especially in the wake of the divisive 2016 election, are a vital part of how we move forward. Our party is fractured, and we need to make every possible effort to come together to defeat congressional Republicans' dangerous agenda — whether Donald Trump remains their leader or not.

However, their Unity Tour did not include any high-profile female representatives, which gave the impression that fixing the economy is only a man's job. Women are not just 52 percent of the population, they're also business owners, CEOs, and bankers. Women are more likely to manage household finances than men are.

In fact, women are also very savvy financial leaders. Even before we were allowed to hold jobs in the public sphere, we were entrusted with balancing the family budget and stretching every dollar. After the Wall Street bailout, FDIC chair Sheila Bair and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren pushed for stronger regulations and more oversight over the reckless entities that had plunged our economy into crisis. The SEC has been led by four women consecutively, and Janet Yellen is proving to be a trustworthy steward of the Federal Reserve.

There are plenty of strong female leaders who are making a splash on the national stage who would have been great additions to the conversation. Elizabeth Warren can get under Trump's skin like no one else. Kamala Harris delivered one of the only significant victories for the Democrats in 2016.

Women serve as a collective igniting force that energizes the underrepresented, the ignored, and the silenced.

Perhaps if a woman had been included on the tour, these two men would have been more careful about campaigning with a candidate who toes the line on a woman's right to choose. Maybe there would have been more alarm at the prospect that Republicans are currently trying to charge women more for health care because of our biology. Or maybe there would have been deeper discussions about how we can increase the diversity in our leadership because women still only make up 20 percent of the representative governing body of our nation.

Yes, the intention of Mr. Perez and Senator Sanders to focus in on the economic issues is laudable, but we should not assume that they are gender-exclusive.

Fixing our economy and protecting the rights of women go hand in hand.

When women are empowered to demand higher wages, they spend more money in our economy. When they can keep their jobs after giving birth and afford child care, they spend those wages to support their families.

Our economy is stronger when women are empowered.

Yes, we want a higher minimum wage, health care for all, and affordable college tuition, but we also want the right to control our bodies, to be paid the same as men, and to be equally represented. Our economic futures are intrinsically tied to our right to choose when and if we get pregnant.

Having control over my own body meant I could graduate from college, get a master's degree, become a homeowner, help run the family business, and run for office on the timeline that I chose. Men don't have to worry about the career consequences of getting pregnant.

To be clear, I'm not saying that the divide in the party between progressivism and pragmatism is not worth evaluating, but women need to be at that table too.

A Unity Tour that lacks representation from half the world's population and the backbone of the Democratic Party is not complete. It is important that the men in charge of our party acknowledge the privilege of always being at the table and use that power to bring women up with them. Every issue is a women's issue, period. If we're truly going to be united, we must always have a place at the bargaining table.

The men in Democratic leadership need to rededicate themselves to giving women a seat at the table. The values we have espoused as a party on reproductive rights, equal pay, and other gender-equitable measures cannot be compromised. Give women a voice. Let us help draft the plan for a more prosperous economic future where our rights and our bodies are respected.

"Donald Trump did not win the election — the Democrats lost the election!" Bernie Sanders said to a Miami crowd on the Unity Tour. "That means rebuilding the Democratic Party, making it a grassroots party, a party from the bottom on up!" What he needs to realize is that women ARE the grassroots, and they're only getting more energized. Right now, an "unprecedented" number of women are planning to run for office in the wake of Trump's presidency. I want it to be clear to these women that they are our future leaders — and I shouldn't have to write an op-ed to tell them that.

California assemblymember Cristina Garcia is the chair of the California Legislative Women's Caucus and a champion for women and girls in her state. She is the author of the bill to repeal the tampon tax and recently introduced legislation to redefine rape to include "stealthing" in California.

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