I want to thank and praise all the branches that reached out and encouraged people to become informed and vote in the 2018 midterm election. We had branches that held candidate forums, passed out literature at tables, and sent letters to the editor. We had individuals who participated in many ways including canvassing, rallying, contributing, and even waving from bridges. We suffered through a confusing and discouraging ballot that lumped unrelated issues together in the amendments, even though many of us protested against this.
No matter the outcome of this election, I feel that we need to reach out to people who do not understand why we take the positions that we do. They may not agree with us, but perhaps we can encourage them to understand and not to condemn. We will also need to avoid condemning them, while explaining why we do not agree with them. No one says this is going to be easy, but I believe that it is the only way to achieve lasting change. It should be our “long game.”
I keep the AAUW Public Policy Priorities close and refer to them constantly. As a reminder, the biennial action priorities are 1) to support a strong system of public education that promotes gender fairness, equity, and diversity; 2) to achieve economic self-sufficiency for all women; 3) to guarantee equality, individual rights, and social justice for a diverse society.
Some people do not understand the importance of a strong system of public education. We understand that it is important to assure a high-quality education to everyone, and to promote civic unity and involvement. Some people may not realize the importance of economic security not only for women, but for everyone. The existence of a huge chasm between the very rich and the very poor is damaging to our sense of national unity, our democracy, and is even bad for business. Some people do not remember the harm that desperate women encountered before abortion was legal. There will always be desperate women, women who have very good reasons for not wanting to bear a child that may even have been conceived without their consent.
How shall we reach out to them? One model is an issue forum. It might be easiest to start with a program related to a recognized social problem such as the lack of affordable housing or violence in communities. We could join with other organizations who are interested in trying to solve these problems. The gender pay gap is also widely recognized, and AAUW has committed to helping eradicate it. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a project of a national organization, National Issues Forums, which is an opportunity for him civil discourse about pressing social and political issues of the day. To quote the guide, “forum participants engage in deliberation, which is simply weighing options for action against things held commonly valuable.” Possibly, AAUW’s educated-women approach might be a good fit for such a project. Take a look at http://www.nifi.org.
A recent article in Time magazine asked, “is there a middle ground on moral issues such as slavery?” This points out the limitations of compromise. AAUW does have positions on which we cannot back down. But we can listen to the other side and find out why they are so opposed to our positions. We need to collect stories of people who suffered from social injustice and the lack of equal rights. In many cases I believe that rights are denied to people who are not seen as equivalent human beings. Stories can help us see “the other” as a real person and not a caricature. Many of us can look back over our lives to see the changes that stories have made in our perceptions of people who are different from ourselves.
I have mentioned some ways in which we could become engaged with community members, but we are not giving up on the political process. We need to find some way to be visible to our legislative representatives on a continuing basis. I will be looking into this and seeking advice for you. They need to know that AAUW is a source of well-thought-out positions and civil advocacy.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these ideas.