Riding The Bus For Women

Celebrating Suffrage and Women Reps

Yesterday I accepted an invitation from my friend, Representative Alice Wolf, and spent the day riding a bus to celebrate the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage and to support four junior women legislators who have re-election fights this fall. You may have read the article about it in The Boston Globe today.

The idea was conceived by Rep. Pam Richardson from Framingham and headed up by Rep. Pat Haddad from Somerset, down by Fall River. Pat’s the senior ranking woman in the House of Representatives in the Commonwealth and the assistant majority whip. She’s got a great laugh, I learned, a kind voice and a generous heart. And she can heft big boxes of stuff even while wearing high heels. “I used to teach physical education,” she told me. My sense was she probably could do just about anything.

A lot of the organizing was done by two members of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, Priti Rao, the executive director, and Jessica Gibbons, the office manager. They quietly and competently made sure we got where we were supposed to go, left when we were supposed to leave (which was never easy) and had food, water and candy along the way.

Learning from the Senior Reps

I got to spend hours between stops with Kathi-Ann Reinstein, state rep from Revere, as well as my own beloved Alice Wolf from Cambridge. Listening to them talk with Pat Haddad about the work they do, comparing constituencies and their needs and hearing stories about issues they’d faced impressed me. You’ve got to have guts, a good sense of humor and compassion to do their jobs.

We drove out to Hudson to hold signs in a Sunday morning visibility for Rep. Kate Hogan, with whom we had a quick lunch afterward. She has enormous energy and wit and seemed to have a strong following, going by the number of thumbs up, beeping horns, and nodding heads I counted as folks drove by. We were joined there by Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante from Gloucester, who followed in her car because she had a constituent event to go to in the afternoon. Still, she took the time from her own hectic schedule to hold signs and support her sister legislators. I admire that.

Afterward, we shuttled off to Marlborough and met Rep. Danielle  Gregoire. She, her family and other volunteers stood with us as we commandeered a four-way intersection and waved to the cars that passed. The site was chosen because it was next to a memorial for Women Veterans, something I had never seen before, and which was quite moving. It made me wonder why there weren’t more of these monuments around, especially since all the statuary I’ve ever seen to remember veterans depicts only men.

Danielle, despite her own event, had shown up in Hudson for her colleague Kate Hudson, to support and hold signs for a sister legislator. Now that’s something when she’s facing a race of her own.

From there we traveled to Framingham for the dedication of a square to two women from Framingham who went to jail for picketing for women’s right to vote, an event made possible by Rep. Pam Richardson who had submitted the resolution to make it all happen, the kind of work that warms my heart. The square is right in front of a beautiful old building, Edgell Memorial Library and there I met many wonderful women, especially two senior women who’d been managing elected office and political life since I was in grade school.

The legislators on our bus were part of a panel of elected officials at the Library, women, who spoke about the mentors and role models they had who encouraged them to wade into the sometimes choppy waters of public service. I learned something I didn’t know: that nearly all of the women in the room had begun their public careers by serving on their local school boards.

This made me feel two things at once. School boards would make fertile ground for searching out and encouraging more women to run for office and I hoped somebody more influential than I had figured this out and was mentoring these women for higher office . But I also felt sad that this still is the principle path for women, who come to the school board on behalf of their children, when men come into public office from all sorts of backgrounds.

On our final stop in Bellingham, Rep. Jen Callahan put us to work canvassing. We knocked on doors with her, asking people to support her and giving them a bag of corn kernels to pop as a gift. That was cool. I’d never seen anyone do that before. If no one was home, we taped the popcorn, along with some literature, to the door. The bag said something clever like “I just popped by…”

These Legislators Work Hard—Yet Help Each Other

What impressed me most about all these women was how hard they worked. They did their legislative jobs to the utmost and then campaigned hard, not only for themselves, but for each other. The comaraderie, the sense of sisterhood was wonderful. I liked that a lot.

We have a long way to go to get to equity in Massachusetts. Right now we have 26 women out of 200 legislators, nowhere near the 51% that women make up of not only the population, but of registered voters.

It was worth spending a Sunday to see these junior and senior state representatives in action, standing up for one another to keep good women in office. I found each and every one of them impressive and wish I could vote for them all.

They give me hope.

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Posted in Political commentary.

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  1. Susan N Sep 14th 2010

    Why is Massachusetts, which is so far ahead of the rest of the country in many ways, so far behind when it comes to the number of women elected representatives?? Maybe it is just statistical fluctuation because the absolute numbers are so small!