Check out those crowds! Here’s what it’s like to be at the historic Women’s March on Washington today.
Mandi Wright/Detroit Free Press
Rosemary Bayer had a good role model when, at the age of 58, she decided to get a second full-time job: running for the state Senate.
“My grandpa was 75 when someone wanted to sign him up for free meal delivery,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Meals on Wheels?’ That’s a great idea. I can deliver for you on Tuesdays and Thursdays.’”
Public service was a touchstone for her family. Bayer’s father — Frederick (Greg) Bayer — was the longtime mayor of New Baltimore and her mother, Mary Ann Bayer, was president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
But, it was the 2016 election in which controversial New York businessman and reality television star Donald Trump won the presidency over Democrat Hillary Clinton that delivered the final blow for the Beverly Hills businesswoman and Democrat.
“I kind of knew things were getting bad, but needed to get that last push,” she said. “It was such a crushing blow for us. The first thing I did was start a group. I called my friends after we could talk out loud again, and before I knew it, 150 people had joined.”
On this one-year anniversary of the Women’s March, which brought more than 4 million activists together in Washington D.C. and 500 cities across the nation to demonstrate for women’s rights and against the new Trump administration the day after he was inaugurated, Bayer is among at least 80 Michigan women who have decided to transform that energy into something more tangible: a run for state or federal office.
Compare that to the last time the state and U.S. House of Representatives, the state Senate and statewide offices were up for election in 2016 and 2014, when only 28 women had filed to run for those offices by this time in the election cycle.
It’s a trend that is being replicated across the country.
“It’s clear we’re in unprecedented times, with unprecedented opportunities. Since the election in 2016, 26,000 women have signed up with us,” said Emily Cain, the executive director of Emily’s List, a Washington D.C.-based organization that recruits, trains and financially supports female candidates for state and federal offices. “In all of the 2016 election cycle, 920 women reached out to us.”
The movement started started bubbling with Trump’s election in 2016, grew into the Women’s March two months later and burgeoned into a resistance movement that will fill ballots across the nation on Nov. 6. In Michigan, the two special elections for vacant seats in the state House of Representatives last year were won by women —Democrats Tanesha Yancey of Harper Woods and Sarah Cambensy of Marquette.
“I did go to the women’s march and then started attending grassroots events,” said Laurie Pohutsky, a 28-year-old Livonia Democrat who is running for the state House of Representatives this year. “There was just this huge groundswell of grassroots support and I wanted to be part of that in the most profound way. And the way to do that for me is running for office.”
Both Bayer and Pohutsky are employed in the sciences — Bayer in information technology and Pohutsky as a lab technician at an Ann Arbor biotech firm — and both attended the Science March in Washington D.C. in March. They became even more concerned when the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord and started cutting regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency.
“I went to the marches. I made my protest drum, but I knew I could do more,” Bayer said. “In my work in education, I work with girls and technology and talk about the peer pressure they get because it’s not cool to be in technical fields. So the opportunity to be with so many other people who all know that we’re doing the right thing, it just moves you into a whole different space.”
The timing is ripe for women in 2018, especially with the #metoo movement, in which women have become emboldened to speak out against sexual harassment and assault perpetrated by powerful men in the business, entertainment and political worlds. In the seat that was held by former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, who resigned last year after it was revealed that he paid a $27,000 settlement to a staffer who claimed Conyers had sexually harassed her, at least five women’s names have been mentioned as possible candidates to replace him.
“It’s almost like a snowball with what happened with the election and then the me too movement. More women are using their voices to speak up and it’s inspiring more women to step into leadership roles,” said Shannon Garrett, a Holland resident and one of the founders of Vote Run Lead, a national organization that trains women in how to run for office.
It’s not just Democratic women catching the campaigning bug. Dawn Crandall, president of the Michigan Excellence in Public Service Series, which trains Republican women who want to run for office, has seen her biggest class to date with 14 people who want to either run for office or work on political campaigns taking her six-month series of classes.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the results of the presidential election or if they feel they need to provide some counterbalance because they see so many Democratic women running,” she said. “But conservative voices matter too. Women on the Republican side are saying ‘What about my voice?’ ”
Anne Hill is one of those voices. The 62-year-old DeWitt Township Republican and retired businesswoman narrowly lost a re-election bid for the Clinton County Board of Commissioners in 2016 and was one of the first candidates to sign up for the 2018 election cycle as a candidate for the state House of Representatives.
“I think there is enthusiasm across the board. We still have the residual energy from both sides after the last presidential election,” she said. “I have some people who are very strong Republicans and they’re not fond of the president’s tweets and they see some negative things. But then there are people who say, ‘if it had been a different candidate, we wouldn’t see the potential for the changes that are happening.’ ”
Lena Epstein, a Bloomfield Hills businesswoman and cochair of Trump’s campaign in Michigan in 2016, was inspired to run for office — first for the U.S. Senate, then switching to the 11th Congressional District race — after Trump’s victory, especially in Michigan, where voters traditionally had voted for Democrats in presidential years, but narrowly turned red in 2016.
“When the Iran nuclear deal was passed, I looked at my husband, Eric, and said enough is enough,” she said, referring to the 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S., that put limits on Iran’s nuclear energy program and that she felt would endanger the country. “That’s what increased my level of political involvement, but I didn’t make the decision to run until Donald J. Trump was elected president.
In Michigan, Democratic women are leading the way among announced candidates. Of the 42 women who have filed for the state House of Representatives, 29 are Democrats. In the state Senate, where all 38 seats are up for grabs, 13 of the 19 women who have filed to run are Democrats. And for the U.S. House of Representatives, 10 of the 13 women who have either filed or are seriously considering a congressional campaign are Democrats.
The climate seems right. Democrats have made significant gains in elections in Virginia, New Jersey, Alabama and Wisconsin in recent months, Trump’s approval ratings are stuck in the mid- to high-30s, and polls are showing that Democratic chances for gains in state and federal offices are climbing.
They’ll be helped by a growing number of groups dedicated to getting Democrats elected, from the Indivisibles throughout the state to nationally focused Emily’s List and Run For Something to organizations such as Fems for Dems, the brainchild of Lori Goldman, a Bloomfield Township woman who was watching her kids ski last winter at Mt. Brighton and started compiling a list of friends who might want to become politically active.
She compiled a list of 500 women that has since grown to 1,500 members, mostly in Oakland County, who are knocking on doors, working phone banks and meeting with candidates to see who best fits their agenda. Many were involved in the grassroots petition drive to get an anti-gerrymandering proposal on the November ballot to change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn.
“I figured before we could effect change, we had to getwomen off their asses, off their couches and get them involved in political process,” she said.
It was an unlikely path for the 58-year-old mother of three.
“I didn’t even vote for most of my life. But then my boyfriend at the time was a fan of George Bush and so I voted for George Bush,” Goldman said. “But now my passion is to get fellow women involved and not just let their husband or boyfriend dictate what’s going on.”
For the Women’s March last year, she said she got a 15-person bus and invited 14 of her best friends to go to Washington. She said “it was the most empowering thing … I don’t know why it took me so long to wake up and say ‘yes, I have a right to have a say and see what’s going on with my elected officials.’ ”
Then, after the 2016 elections, Goldman decided to take it a step further.
“When you get to a certain point in your life, you’ve bought everything you need for your house. The friends that you do have, you spend a lot of time working out, having lunch and shopping for new Prada bags,” she said. “But that wasn’t enough to get you out of bed in the morning.”
Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, [email protected] or on Twitter @michpoligal
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