Women of color making an impact on state politics
Kelley Bates | 8/18/2011, 1:22 p.m.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s daughter Sarah Patrick, Colette Phillips, City Councilor-at-Large Ayanna Pressley and journalist and activist Sarah Ann Shaw gathered July 21 at the historic League of Women for Community Service in Boston for the Women’s Pipeline for Change’s first community outreach. (Photo courtesy of Women’s Pipeline for Change)
It was 103 degrees of power in the room. It was a sweltering evening last month when I stepped into the historical League of Women for Community Service to celebrate women of color moving into positions of public power.
Underneath the chandeliers stood women of color of all ages, swinging fans by their faces as the sweat rolled down. The sweat masked tears as Doris Bunte, the first African American woman ever to serve in the Massachusetts Legislature, indulged us in the truth of what happened to her.
She told us she wasn’t mistreated for being black, but for being female in a male dominated Statehouse. Male elected officials tried to push her around, but she stood her ground and led her constituency with competence and grace.
Fast forward to today, and Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, the first woman sheriff in Massachusetts, spoke eloquently about women’s progress, but also about the ongoing challenge of women steeped in self-doubt when deciding to run for office.
She told of how the support to win is crucial in determining whether a woman runs or just stands in the shadows. Councilor Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color Boston city councilor stood in the same room next to Sheriff Cabral. Two firsts, and hopefully not the last.
There are now only two female Boston city councilors on the 13- member body. Only 24 percent of Massachusetts state legislators are women, and the 2011 Legislature has the lowest number of women serving since 1998. Women of color make up only two percent of our state Legislature.
A number of groups supporting women to run for office stood in that room with Bunte. They started an initiative called the Women’s Pipeline for Change to break down barriers that women of color face when seeking office. They awarded five women fellowships to study women of color in politics including the first female Asian mayor in Massachusetts, Lisa Wong, a 32-year-old daughter of Chinese immigrants.
Around her stood a group of young Asian women in their 20s and 30s, observing Wong as a beacon of hope in their political future. Unlike the days of Bunte, next to them, stood three men: state Rep. Jay Kaufman and Boston City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Tito Jackson, looking on, paying tribute, overjoyed to stand in support of the women around them.
It was unbearably hot inside that room, but no one wanted to leave. The promise of women of color taking their rightful place in politics and every hall of power was palpable like every bead of hearty sweat, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.
Kelly Bates is the executive director of Access Strategies Fund and an advisor to the Women’s Pipeline for Change.