Book Excerpt: Vote Her In

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14 mins read

Vote Her In addresses the unrealized dream of millions of American women: electing our first woman president. It makes the case for the urgency of women attaining equal executive power at all levels, including the presidency, and offers a comprehensive strategy for every woman to be a part of this campaign—the most important of our lifetimes. 

Copyright ©2018 by The Sive Group, Inc. Images based on photography by Rebecca Sive of posters from the 2017 Chicago Women’s March.

Chapter 9: Hear Us Holler

A young woman marcher proclaimed on her sign ESTOY AQUÍ CON LA FUERZA DE MILES DE PERSONAS. NO ME SUBESTIMES. HERE TO STAY! B.O. (referencing Barack Obama). Translation: “I am here with the force of thousands of people. Do not underestimate me.” Another woman’s sign read SAME PENCILS. SAME EXAMS. HEAR US HOLLER. SAME SCORES. SAME CAREERS.  CENTS TO HIS DOLLAR. Her last statement is a point well worth repeating!

When I think about hollering or speaking as loudly and forcefully as possible—in this case, about electing our first woman president—I think about all of the fearless women I have read about who serve as courageous examples of women leading. Happily, of late, there are a lot more of them to read about and admire than there used to be. Fearless women are experiencing a moment in the marches they organize, the speeches they give, the actions they take, and the political campaigns they launch—so often against great odds. This moment is also being celebrated in the publication of many new books for both women and girls, often presented in formats that celebrate these women with strong images and vibrant colors. I love paging through them, and I can’t seem to resist buying them, especially those for girls and teenagers.

My favorite of these new books so far is from the Real Lives series, called Fearless Women: Courageous Females Who Refused to Be Denied. I love everything about it, from the title to the colors to the selection of women portrayed. Affirming my Chicago pride, I cheered for the appearance of two Chicago-rooted heroines of mine on consecutive pages: the justly famous Jane Addams, whose fearless life story I shared in chapter 4, and the unjustly unfamous guitarist and gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was an inspiration to Elvis Presley and many other rock-and-roll stars. After reading those two pages, I returned to the book’s table of contents and saw that the authors had moved beyond the tried-and-true famous and fearless to highlight the noteworthy but obscure. I previously had heard of just seventeen of the fifty-four women included in the book!

Chelsea Clinton did the same in her book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. Its title was inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who spoke against the 2017 confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, only to be interrupted and then silenced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Later, during remarks following the confirmation vote, McConnell said that Warren “was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” These words were immediately adopted by women’s rights activists, sparking the #ShePersisted movement, which champions women who keep working to break down barriers, despite being silenced or ignored.

In her book, Clinton celebrates heroic women such as Clara Lemlich, a labor organizer; Claudette Colvin, a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama, who refused to give up her seat on a bus months before Rosa Parks did the same; and Virginia Apgar, a doctor who created the Apgar score to measure newborn babies’ health. Though these women are unknown to too many of us, they share a legacy of accomplishment that could justifiably be celebrated in a hundred more books. Whether famous or newly recognized, these women refused to be denied their right to be heard, and the lesson from their stories is clear: holler loudly about what is to be done, and then work hard to get it done.

So I read, and read again, the biographies of unheralded women who have made our world better. I think about who these women were beyond their now-celebrated public lives. I think about the paths they chose moving from obscurity to recognition. What forks in the road did they encounter along the way? How did they decide which one to take? How did they sustain their courage to holler?

For some of these answers, I turn to women who I’ve heard holler. During my political organizing career, I have worked alongside dozens of them. Like so many other accomplished women, most were born into ordinary families. Perhaps no one in their families had hollered before they did. Most will likely remain unknown. But no matter. It is the significance of their speech and their accomplishments—changing women’s lives for the better—that matters.

Copyright ©2018 by The Sive Group, Inc. Images based on photography by Rebecca Sive of posters from the 2017 Chicago Women’s March.

Every woman we can learn from, we should learn from. We are about to elect a woman president, and as any savvy political or community organizer would instruct, sharing other women’s stories motivates action. Here are the instructive, hollering stories of three women from my political organizing life.

They are Gale Cincotta, Nancy Je.erson, and Sol Flores. All three grew up in Chicago, home to too many unsung feminist heroines.

Cincotta, now deceased, was a community activist who fought redlining, an invidious banking practice in racially changing neighborhoods that discriminatorily inhibits minority homeowners from obtaining a mortgage. I worked with her early in my career when I was the lead organizer and spokesperson for a coalition of organizations lobbying for legislation to improve the lives of Illinois women, including the Equal Rights Amendment (the still-not-ratified constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee equal rights to all citizens, regardless of sex), as well as measures to advance women’s economic status. I recruited Cincotta to be a spokesperson for a constituency of women often assumed not to be part of women’s movement activities: the blue- and pink-collar women of Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods. She was inspiring in every way imaginable.

Jefferson, also now deceased, lived in a predominately black neighborhood and spent her life countering the notion that she and her neighbors had “no control over their lives,” according to a student who interviewed her. “She attacked the institutions that perpetuated that [notion] with a vengeance,” he said. I worked closely with Jefferson on the 1982-1983 campaign to elect the first African American mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. Jefferson, along with other African American Chicagoans, considered that political campaign to be akin to the Civil Rights Movement because it crystalized the fight for the causes they, often led by Jefferson, had always championed—equal opportunity in every domain of life, including housing, education, and jobs—decades after the Great Migration to Chicago began.

For over fifteen years, Flores, a former student of mine, has led an organization that helps homeless Hispanic youth better their lives. In 2017, Flores jumped into the 2018 Illinois Democratic primary to run for the US House of Representatives when her district’s incumbent announced he was stepping down and simultaneously endorsed a male colleague. She hollered throughout the campaign about the importance of women running for offce and her commitment to creating policy solutions to significant problems facing women and girls, such as sexual assault. Flores lost the race, but her courage in telling her own story was a momentous victory. “[It] reflects another shift in strategy where women candidates embrace their experiences and perspectives as women as an electoral asset, instead of treating their gender as a hurdle to overcome on the campaign trail,” Kelly Dittmar, a CAWP scholar, wrote. Talk about hollering!

If we were to ask Cincotta, Jefferson, or Flores why they led fights for justice, each would tell you that her fight began with outrage at an injustice that necessitated hollering about its wrongheadedness. Hollering begat action that mitigated injustice, and persistence yielded the defeat of powerful enemies. When faced with the worst obstacles, these women hollered back, knowing that even the worst can usually be overcome, even if it might take a while.

Every woman can stand up and say, “Hear us holler!” Maybe once you holler, you’ll become famous. Maybe you won’t. But you will be heard. And in being heard, you will matter, regardless of how small your circle is. Hear me out on this one: when I began my political organizing career, I learned about the power of hollering in small groups. For instance, the collective that wrote the Chicago Women’s Directory/ Guía para las Mujeres de Chicago included just seven women. But look at the impact we had—we published in Spanish as well as English, and we reached women all over the city, in part through free distribution of the book, which we underwrote ourselves. With the rise of the internet, virtually every woman now has her very own worldwide printing press, which she can use when hollering about electing our first woman president.

Of course, Cincotta, Jefferson, and Flores would likely remind us that there is power and righteousness (and safety) in our large movement. Think about the wise marcher who proclaimed I AM HERE WITH THE FORCE OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ME. Listening to my friends who holler, I hear this righteousness, untempered by fear because they are doing the right thing. You can, too.

However, remember this important truth as you holler: maybe, despite all your hollering, our first woman president won’t do everything you want her to do. Maybe she will endorse some policies that you don’t like or that you think are bad for women. Maybe she will accept money from corporations you don’t like or from individuals who are anti-feminist. Maybe she will say she is not a feminist—that she is not a woman president but just a president. No matter: she will be our woman president because we hollered for her. For what is a greater reason to holler than to eliminate the inequality that electing her will begin to end? It’s time to say to the world: hear us holler!

Copyright ©2018 by The Sive Group, Inc. Images based on photography by Rebecca Sive of posters from the 2017 Chicago Women’s March.

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Rebecca Sive is the author of VOTE HER IN: Your Guide to Electing Our First Woman President and EVERY DAY IS ELECTION DAY: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. She is the co-producer and co-host of the #VoteHerIn podcast –a joint production with Two Broads Talking Politics, the influential podcast for progressive political activists named one of the 15 best political podcasts by Marie Claire magazine.

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