Election 2008: Add Women, Change Everything?

Change. It's the buzz word of 2008 -- the rallying cry heard loud and clear from voters of all political stripes. All along the campaign trail, each of our prospective political leaders has been trying to prove why he or she is the real bearer of change: Sen. Obama offers the hope for it, Sen. Clinton offers the experience to make it, and Sen. McCain offers himself as its walking, talking, physical incarnation. In their own special way, each candidate holds claim to the title prize of change-maker, but the truth is their declarations are ultimately false. Not one of them can or will deliver change on their own.

For all of us who are so eager to see a new America, a vibrant, just and truly representative country, it's exhilarating to see so many leaders take on the mantra of change. We live in a world which faces unprecedented obstacles -- many of which seem insurmountable -- and heroic leadership can offer the encouragement and inspiration we so desperately seek to imagine a world anew. But no single hero or heroine, no matter what their eloquence or experience, can make that change happen -- not even from the grand bully pulpit offered to our Presidential frontrunners. Leaders can set the stage, as did Roosevelt and Kennedy; they can be the foamy crest of a forceful wave. But the mighty wave of change can only form and swell through the power, momentum, and intensity of everyday people who are committed to propelling that change forward.

From the wintry mountains of New Hampshire to the Carolina coast, record numbers of voters have emphatically turned out for the Presidential primaries. Their participation alludes to an unprecedented opportunity for re-vitalizing our democracy and bringing about the large-scale, systemic change that our nation's populace is resoundingly demanding. I propose we use this unique opportunity by adding the one underutilized resource for change that our country has never tried: women.

At The White House Project, our official motto is "Add Women, Change Everything" -- and it's not just a sexy tagline. As I discovered when writing my book, Closing the Leadership Gap, research abounds with evidence that women bring about positive change in the political arena. Prominent research institutions, including Rutgers and American Universities, have spent decades studying the issue, and have concluded that women tend to include diverse viewpoints in decision making, have a broader conception of public policy, and offer new solutions. It's an assertion that we have seen play out time and again on the political stage.

Democratic and Republican women of the Senate meet monthly for dinner to discuss legislation across party lines. The bipartisan Congressional Women's Caucus was instrumental to passing critical legislation including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Child Support Enforcement Act. As Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson has said, "It wasn't that men were against these changes. They just hadn't considered the issue before because they hadn't experienced the problem in their won lives. As women have become a part of the system, that's changing."

Though they make up 51% of the population, women constitute only 16% of Congress and 23% of state legislators. Only 5% of the women serving in statewide elective offices are women of color. Of the 50 states, women lead a mere 8 of them as governors. And as of September 2007, among our nation's 100 largest cities, only 10 had women mayors. As we envision a different kind of country, invigorated by robust dialogue and diverse viewpoints, perhaps the change we so passionately seek can only be delivered by adding our nation's most untapped natural resource. If we add women, perhaps we truly can change everything.

As we get swept up in the media excitement and spirited debates of the Presidential election, we need to make a conscious effort to reassess our strategy for change. While a heroic leader can inspire us, he or she does not single-handedly create change. It is up to each of us to join together and become our nation's change-makers. For those who feel overwhelmed by this monumental task, I propose the following strategy: What if between now and November 4th each of us reached out to a qualified, capable, and passionate woman and encouraged her to run for office? What if you used your desire for change to help her win? What if she's your mother, your sister, your wife, or your best friend? What if she is you?

It's undeniably true: we need a President who can provide both the inspiration and experience to lead our nation into a new era. But most importantly, we need a movement of new voices and visions to swell our nationwide sentiment into a mighty wave of change. So far, there's one intervention that we have yet to try. For real change, an equal number of women leading alongside men might be the formula we need. 2008 has been a year of firsts. I say we give one more a try.


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