By MARSHA MERCER
The infinitely quotable Shirley Chisholm once said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Chisholm spoke from experience. She shattered the lock good old boys had on power in 1968 when she became the first black woman elected to Congress.
Four years later, she blazed a trail as the first black candidate to run for president in a major party.
Chisholm died in 2005, but her advice still resonates.
In her first campaign, for a seat on city council in Cincinnati, Tamaya Dennard used the hashtag #bringafoldingchair – and won. When she raised her right hand to take the oath of office Tuesday, Dennard’s left was resting on a red folding chair. The picture went viral.
We’re likely to see many folding chairs – figuratively, at least – as women’s opposition to President Donald Trump moves from the streets to the campaign trail.
Since the Women’s March on Washington and cities around the nation last January, record numbers of women have lined up to run for elective office – most as Democrats.
Nearly 50 women around the country are potential candidates for the U.S. Senate and nearly 400 women for the House, according to a tally based on news reports and political web sites by the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University. With filing deadlines still ahead, changes are likely.
The center counts 20 women candidates for the U.S. House in Virginia, including six Democrats eager to take on Rep. Dave Brat, R-7th. The Democratic primary is June 12.
Women have been gaining strength in Congress at, well, glacial speed. There were 21 women senators until Tuesday when Tina Smith of Minnesota made it 22, a new record. Five are Republicans, 17 Democrats.
Smith, a Democrat, is the former state lieutenant governor. She was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to fill the rest of Sen. Al Franken’s term after he resigned following allegations of sexual misbehavior.
In the U.S. House, 84 of 435 members are women, slightly less than 20 percent.
Women make up 51 percent of the population, and their under-representation in Congress is appalling. But an incremental gain is still a gain. In 1993, there were only two women senators.
Minnesota is the fourth state to have two women senators, along with California, New Hampshire and Washington. Two states – Mississippi and Vermont – have never elected a woman to either the House or the Senate, according to the Center for Women and Politics.
Today’s women candidates owe a debt of gratitude not only to high-profile leaders like Chisholm but to state legislators and others who struggled in decades past for political and professional equality.
In 1980, six of the nine women members of the Virginia General Assembly said on the record that “attitudes held by certain of their male colleagues make work difficult or at times affect legislation,” The Washington Post reported.
A woman lobbyist reported an unwelcome kiss on an elevator and a delegate from Northern Virginia recalled a fellow lawmaker asking her to sit on his lap. When she refused, he said her attitude wouldn’t get her far in Richmond.
The male legislators laughed and shrugged off the newspaper story: “Much ado about nothing,” one said.
Another seemed to anticipate today’s “fake news” claims, although with a better vocabulary. “This is creating the news out of half-truths, innuendo and the wishful thinking of some paranoid individuals,” he said.
In 1991, Anita Hill appeared at Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing and accused him of making unwanted advances in the workplace.
Women watching the hearing on TV were infuriated – and motivated – by the way the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee treated Hill. The 1992 election became known as the Year of the Woman when record numbers of women were elected to Congress.
Some say 2018 will be another Year of the Woman. An early indication may be turnout for the next Women’s March on Washington and in cities nationwide Jan. 20.
In Minnesota, Smith has announced she’ll run for a full Senate term in November. In a sign of the times, her potential challengers include two Republican women.
State Sen. Karin Horsley is already on the campaign trail, and former presidential contender and former Rep. Michelle Bachmann is considering a run.
Bring your folding chair.
©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.