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    Women's interests best served by female lawmakers

    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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    Published on: 2005-02-23 (1584 reads)

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