“Soul-searching” and a call to action
The Thursday night “State of the Woman” gathering at Phyllis Hanfling’s apartment in Denver was supposed to be a happy occasion — a celebration of the historic political gains of women across the U.S.
Instead? Well, you know: Hillary Clinton lost. Donald Trump won. The nation’s highest glass ceiling endured, still unbroken after 240 years.
“It was a shock for everyone,” Hanfling said.
And the erstwhile celebration, sponsored by Emerge Colorado, became part group therapy, and part call to action.
“We had to turn around and do a lot of soul-searching,” said Jenny Willford, executive director of the group, which recruits and trains women to run for Democratic office.
More than 50 women — and a handful of men — attended the gathering, which featured remarks from a star-studded cast of women who are elected Democrats.
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former Denver Deputy Mayor Cary Kennedy and former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis delivered a variation of the same message: This wasn’t what they’d hoped for — but it was progress. And now is not the time to give up.
“We have to recognize that this is progress,” said Kennedy, a rumored potential candidate for governor in 2018. “I know it’s incremental and it’s not what we wanted. … But my (teenage) daughter’s generation is going to expect to see a woman on that highest stage every election going forward.”
The speakers reflected at length on the apparent contradiction: On the one hand, an American woman won the popular vote for the first time in history. On the other, she lost to a man whose comments about women represented the very thing they felt they were fighting against.
In the most infamous incident, Trump was caught on a leaked 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape boasting about kissing and groping women without permission.
For Kennedy, the election hit home hardest when thinking about her teenage son and daughter and what she had taught them about the pressures and objectification young girls face.
“We woke up on the day after the election and we had elected a man who validates it — and says it’s OK,” Kennedy said.
For Davis, who campaigned for Clinton as a surrogate, the election was a lesson in how emotions can motivate voters.
Trump, she said, appealed to the emotions of the white working class — offering hope in the face of their economic fears and supplying targets for their frustration, whether it was immigrants or free trade.
Obama, before him, offered a different brand of hope, but it was an emotional appeal to voters’ hearts nonetheless.
Clinton, she said, tried to offer a message of love, but it didn’t connect.
“Now Donald Trump has to govern,” said Davis, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Texas governor in 2014.
“Now Donald Trump has to prove that he’s going to improve their lives. My bet is that he’s not going to do that.”
The challenge for Democrats and women, then: calling him out if he fails to deliver.
“We can’t be so disappointed in our loss that we allow ourselves to be discouraged and go silently into the night — because, believe me, that’s what they want us to do,” Davis said.
In Colorado women did well overall: The state voted for Clinton, elected seven of the eight female candidates backed by Emerge Colorado, and remains a national leader in gender equality at the Statehouse.
But women still lost ground. Willford said 42 percent of the legislature was female before the election. On Jan. 1, that falls to 38 percent.