Thirty years ago, Ellen Malcolm started a revolution. At the time, Malcolm was working at a nonprofit and was, like a lot of us, sick of men dominating national politics. So she founded Emily's List, a group (now a PAC) dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to state and national office. Emily's List won its very first race when Barbara Mikulski was elected to the Senate from Maryland in 1986, and since then it's helped more than 100 women be elected to the House, 19 to the Senate, 11 to governors' seats, and hundreds more to state and local office. The list of success stories is a pantheon of Lenny's political heroes, including Carol Moseley Braun, Mazie Hirono, Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and, of course, Hillary Clinton.
In fact, Emily's List is now so powerful that Bernie Sanders took a swipe at it last week, claiming that the PAC had declined to endorse Lucy Flores, a woman running for the House of Representatives in Nevada, because Flores is a Sanders supporter. (Emily's List is backing Susie Lee, Flores's opponent.) "We've endorsed women who are supporting Hillary and women who are supporting Bernie, which he knows perfectly well," says Jess McIntosh, vice president of communications for Emily's List. "It's a weird tactic for someone who bills themselves as a progressive champion to attack an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice women."
Perhaps now we can get back to the issues.
Malcolm just released a memoir, When Women Win: Emily's List and the Rise of Women in American Politics. She calls herself "an unlikely activist," but this woman is a warrior. Malcolm started messing with the status quo early on, when she led the fight for women to wear pants on campus at Hollins College in Virginia as an undergraduate. This work came full circle in 1993, when Senators Mikulski and Moseley Braun, both of whom Malcolm helped to elect, were the first women to wear pants on the Senate floor. (Pants are clearly part of the revolution).
I spoke with Malcolm over the phone about the political power of American women, whether all vaginas deserve votes, and what she is going to do the day after Hillary Clinton is elected.
Mikki Halpin: Why is it important to have pro-choice Democratic women in office?
Ellen Malcolm: Well, first of all, it's ridiculous to exclude women from office, which is essentially what happened in the old days. You miss out on a lot of talent when you don't let people serve. But beyond that, women have very different life experiences and perspectives. They care about issues that support women and families. It's not surprising that after 1992, the "Year of the Woman," when five women were elected to the Senate, we had a huge increase in funding for breast-cancer research. In that same vein, Barbara Mikulski used her position on the appropriations committee to essentially force the National Institutes of Health to include women in research trials on strokes and heart disease. Up until then, they had only studied men. When women are in office, women win.
MH: Is this an argument that we should always vote for women, no matter what?
EM: I would never vote for a candidate just because she's a woman. I've spent my entire adult life actively trying to get women in office, and I would never vote for a woman just because she's a woman. This question tends to come up for progressives when the Democratic male and female candidates are pretty similar on the issues. We are a progressive party overall. So in cases like that, all things being equal — and I'm saying equal — if you care about diversity and you believe in a representative democracy, you should choose the woman. Right now, women are over 50 percent of the population, and we're only 18 percent of our Congress. That is a failure of representative democracy. We do not have enough women represented in top offices in this country, or legislative offices for that matter. I think the government would work better if we had more women in office.