The Portland Alliance, March 2004
As January's Roe vs. Wade anniversary celebrations came to an end,
about ninety pro-choice Oregonians kept up the momentum by attending
the Oregon Women's Caucus Research and Education Fund (OWCREF) 2004
Campaign School on January 24-25. Pro-choice candidates, staffers and
activists attended workshops and a networking brunch held at a donated
space in the Portland World Trade Center.
Ignited by Congress' failure to pass the Equal Rights Amendment
in 1970, women serving in the Oregon Legislature acted on their
conviction that true gender equality requires equal political
representation by forming The Oregon Women's Political Caucus (OWPC)
and holding legislative session campaign schools. This year's Campaign
School featured successful campaign professionals giving advice on the
practicalities of running a campaign and discussing current legislative
issues. Saturday began at an early 8:30am with welcoming remarks
by U.S. Representative Darlene Hooley which preceded a pro-choice
debriefing by Maura Roche, lobbyist and co-chair of the Pro-Choice
Coalition of Oregon. Ms. Roche's overview of Oregon's legislative
situation on reproductive health stressed the growth in anti-choice
usage of so-called "fetal rights" bills, a theme reiterated by keynote
speaker Lisa Horowitz, Director of the NARAL ProChoice America
Foundation, "Abortion foes have stopped trying so hard for a federal
amendment and now go for state-by-state control." Fueled by the
tragic Laci Peterson case, anti-choice advocates are seeking more and
more restrictions on choice via passage of legislation that gives
personhood to fetuses. Breakout sessions on talking about choice taught
participants the most effective speaking points and strategies for
confronting the coming onslaught of fetal rights proposals.
In the afternoon, educational seminars were divided into
roughly four tracks of information determined by the various human
resource needs of campaigns; activists, campaign staff, managers and
candidates. While open to men, there were few in attendance and fewer
still slated as presenters. "The goal of the school is to train
people, candidates, staffers and other activists, on how to manage and
have a successful campaign," says Nancy Freitas, the 2004 Campaign
School Coordinator. "A lot of women don't get that training, but women
are used to working behind the scenes. One of the school's goals is to
increase women's participation and to encourage them to get into the
political process at whatever level they're comfortable with."
Women make up 14 percent of the United States Senate, low for a
developed country and embarrassing compared to Sweden's 45 percent.
Oregon seems to have taken a momentary slip from its normally
progressive position on women's political equality for, as speaker Lisa
Horowitz noted, there are currently no women serving in Oregon's
Supreme Court. From a state once hailed by Newsweek as having the
"least sexist laws in state government," the backslide is perturbing.
As is often stressed regarding issues of reproductive choice, women's
political participation needs to move forward while remaining ever
vigilant about maintaining past successes.
Sunday's activities began with three final workshops on
lobbying, campaign life, and using the Internet to campaign, a lecture
where Howard Dean's name ruled, for better and worse, as the example of
the moment. An early afternoon Mentor Brunch provided the opportunity
for people to do some crucial networking and allowed school
participants to connect with women who hold offices locally. "The
Mentor Brunch alone is always one of my favorite things because we
recruit elected officials so there's at least one elected woman at each
table. People can sit and talk to Senator Kate Brown and other elected
women face to face," states OWCREF co-chair and workshop presenter
Barbara Smith Warner.
A post-brunch interactive panel discussion featuring among
other guests former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts was a highlight of
the weekend. Governor Roberts shared inspirational stories and spoke
about how the media deemed her taking the governor's chair a 'sudden'
success when in truth Roberts had held numerous public offices spanning
a twenty-seven year career. "It was sudden to them because they didn't
see me coming because I wasn't a tall white guy. You need to understand
that women's leadership is very hard for the present media to see."
As it turns out, promoting women's advancement in leadership
positions is an integral part of how the Oregon Women's Caucus Research
and Education Fund conducts its internal organizing affairs. The
informal progression of the school has been so that every two years the
OWCREF board comes together to hire a new Campaign School Coordinator,
who in turn will help with the selection of the next board and the next
Campaign School Coordinator. In this way, leadership roles are rotated
amongst women who serve as Campaign School Coordinators only once and
who may then move into new positions as board members. Most women,
involved with organizing the school are former workshop presenters and
the rotation of responsibilities seems to be working very well for a
group that comes together once every two years for the sole purpose of
organizing the Campaign School.
That women's interests are better served by female lawmakers
has been confirmed time and again as women across the country have
introduced, fought for, and won legislation to eliminate sex
discrimination and to meet women's changing needs. Protecting women's
eroding reproductive rights and gaining freedom from institutionalized
discrimination against lesbians and gays are currently hot issues for
Oregon's female office holders, campaign workers and activists. The
Oregon Women's Caucus Research and Education Fund Campaign School
kicked off the 2004 legislative year with a triumphant call to arms and
a sobering reminder that prior successes can easily be undone if women
do not constantly exercise their hard-won right to political inclusion.
S.M. Berg is an activist and freelance writer in Portland
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