What Do Women Want from the Next President?

Sarah Seltzer

Last week, we published a list of questions that might be asked at a "women's issues" debate. The Center for New Words has been putting this idea in action, hosting their own women's speakouts.

This election season, women
have been treated to endless talk about themselves: women candidates,
women voters, sexism in the media. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty
policy choices that affect real women’s lives, from daycare to immigration,
there’s been markedly less attention and far fewer headlines.

Last week, we published a list
of questions that would describe what a "women’s issues" debate
might look like. The Center for New Words has been putting this idea
in action, by hosting their own women’s speakouts, each one preceding
the actual presidential debates, in the same cities as those more publicized
discussions of the issues.

is What Women Want

aims to broadcast the collective voices of women, highlighting video
clips and quotations from the pre-debate speakouts as well as their
website, to package and send to the candidates and the mainstream media.

The final speakout was held
last night at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York. Speakers
covered a vast range of issues, from racial and economic justice to
equal pay in the professions.

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Women at the event said they
want the next president to…

Listen to compassionate

, author,
playwright and performance artists, spoke about the importance of the
next president listening to voices that have been branded as the "radical

"As far as we’ve come,
feminism is still perceived as radical and I want to know why that is?"
she asked. "Why is it radical to think that no one’s laws or violent
hands belong anywhere on our bodies?"

Bornstein said the "compassionate"
voices for social change on the left needed to be embraced by moderates,
the same way strong voices on the right wing fuel the energy of moderate

Be an inspirational leader.

New Media Director for La Raza Kety Esquivel said she longed for a president who
would bring out Americans’ best selves. "I’m inspired to ask for
the visionary leadership and integrity that generations before me have
known. In 32, 33 years of my life, I’ve yet to see a visionary leader
I can follow with all my heart," she said. She mentioned JFK, Abraham
Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Ghandi as the kind of leaders young
American women are longing to be inspired by.

Stand up for true racial

Carmen Van Kerckhove, publisher
and founder of Racialicious, spoke about the need for Americans
to acknowledge the persistence of racism.

"I want to live in a country
that doesn’t pretend all racial problems have disappeared simply because
we have a black man running for president," she said, and listed many
of the double-standards regarding race that have become so apparent
during this last election season.

"The same people who criticize
rappers for the misogyny in lyrics and hip-hop videos fail to
see the same sexism when they’re shielding their VP candidate from
reporters as though she’s a delicate flower."

Advocate for reproductive

Shelby Knox, activist and sex-education
, gave an
impassioned speech about reproductive justice.

"Young women want an end
to reproductive oppression, " she said. "We want social economic
political power to make responsible decisions." She asked the candidates
to "stop stoking the culture wars with our bodies."

Knox spoke out in favor of
a litany of reproductive justice goals, including lifting the global
gag rule, comprehensive sex ed, and health insurance that would "cover
the pill, and the ring, and the shot."

Heed the silenced voices
of immigrants.

Meagan Ortiz, who blogs as
Mamita Mala
spoke directly to Latina voters, urging them to go a step beyond pulling
the lever, and use activism and their words to press their agenda, to
make their voices heard in a nation that pushes them to the margins.

"There’s a reason barrack
Obama and John McCain have refused to talk about immigrants in any of
the debates," she said.

Look out for working moms.

"The bar is just way way
too low," in terms of improving the lives of working moms, said Besty Reed, executive editor at The Nation. Reed
noted that American women get the rawest deal of moms in all industrial
nations with no guaranteed paid maternity leave, and the idea of universal
childcare not universally accepted as a goal.

"They will tell us get behind
the bankers, I think we need to tell them to get behind us," she said.

Govern for, by, and of the

Feminist writer Amy Richards described the epiphany she had while
registering voters one summer. "I’m underserved if I live in a democracy
that’s not living up to its promise," she said. "We want America
to fulfill its promise to democracy. Democracy is government for the
people, government by the people. We can agree that the American government
belongs to the American people."

Pay attention to human rights
violations at home.

Luz Marina Rodriguez, representing SisterSong, spoke about using a human rights
framework to address the struggles of women of color in the US, and about
her hopes that a new president would acknowledge the way intersectional
oppressions weigh heavily on many Americans.

"The new president must pay
homage to indigenous nations upon whose land we walk, and acknowledge
that there are pockets of third world countries in the US, people
living in destitute conditions, suffering human rights violations in
our prisons, fosters care, homeless shelters, in the Lower Ninth Ward
after Katrina," she said.

At the end of the speakout,
women stood up to the Open Mic, and spoke about issues as varied as
Puerto Rican independence, prisoners’ rights, funding for public higher
education, and equity for underrepresented minorities in the workforce.

Jaclyn Friedman, Program Director
for the Center
for New Words
which sponsored the events, closed the night by saying that over the
last few speakouts, she’d learned "how much you have in common,
how many of these themes have come up over and over again." Friedman
said she was eager to organize many of the overlapping and interlocking
points made by women throughout the process. "I’m moved by the collective
voice that is evolving," she said.

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