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Organized Women at the Democratic Convention

While women faded into the background at the Republican Convention, they were front and center at the Democrats’. Women were everywhere, and not just sitting in the seats.

Women were roughly half of the delegates because Democratic Party rules require equal division by sex.  The Republicans do not have such a requirement. The parties no longer provide demographic data so one cannot easily make a comparison. There are ways to count the women (e.g. names on the delegate rosters) but they take a lot of time.

The Democrats have held daytime meetings of different demographic groups since the 1970s. Initially they were forums to debate issues. They evolved into rallies to pump up the troops. The number has increased every convention (there were 14 in 2012 and 16 in 2016) and now includes “rural,” “disability,” and “veterans.”

Most met for two hours on two different days. These meetings were open to the public, though delegates entered through separate doors and sat in separate sections. The women’s caucus still attracts the biggest audience though the numbers have gone down over the decades. The two women’s meetings this year had roughly 500 each in attendance; the next largest was the black caucus with roughly 200. Ironically, these meetings were held in rooms that were cold and dark, making it unpleasant to sit for two hours and hard to take photographs. The other meetings were in better spaces.

In 1976-1984 and again in 1992, the Presidential candidate(s) addressed the women’s caucus; in other years the wife was sent to rouse the women for her husband. This year no one came from Hillary’s campaign, or the Obama administration, though there were plenty Members of Congress and other notables. Hillary hasn’t spoken to the women’s caucus since 2004. The highest ranking speaker at the 2016 women’s caucus was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Unlike Cleveland, where I struggled to find meetings of women to attend, in Philadelphia there were too many. Most of them had entered their event information into a calendar created by DemList, a private, two-person-one-dog operation devoted to promoting the Democratic Party. In its calendar I counted more events of, by and for women than any other single group. LGBT events came in second. Indeed there were more events aimed at women each day of the Democratic Convention than on all the days of the Republican Convention.

Some were predictable: Emily’s List, NOW and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund all sold tickets and raised money at large receptions. Some were not. The Nuns on the Bus held meetings at the end of each night’s convention meeting to talk about wealth and income inequality. (When did they sleep?)

There were training sessions for women running for office, meet-and-greets with Hillary staff for those who want to work on her campaign, and separate events for Jewish Women and Women of Color.

Some of these groups, and many others, were among the 50+ tables in the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC) where advocates pushed their proposals. In addition to the groups already mentioned, there were tables for The Women’s Center of Montgomery County, the National Women’s Political Caucus, The Women’s National Democratic Club, Black Girls Vote,

and the Lesbian Political Action Committee.

Pink was pervasive inside the PCC and out. Inside, young women in pink t-shirts carried petitions for Planned Parenthood Action Fund or the Feminist Majority Fund. Outside, CodePink did their usual zap actions.

Although organized women were quite active inside and outside of the convention, women’s place in the Democratic Party could be seen in the numerous speakers and entertainers. Someone should do a count and see how close it is to 50-50. Women’s issues were also common, ranging from equal pay, to trafficking, to control of one’s body. These weren’t sideshows, but were central concerns throughout the convention.

Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web.  Her stories were initially posted at www.seniorwomen.com

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