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Young Women’s Political Empowerment Day

A Research Summary

The results of the 2016 Presidential Election were shocking, to put it mildly, for many people in the United States. After the blatant misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant rhetoric continuously spewed by Republican candidate Donald Trump, it was nearly unbelievable that he won the presidency. Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate, in her concession speech in the following hours perfectly addressed one of the largest concerns feminists had after this result: “And to all the little girls who are watching this: never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams” (Clinton). This statement flies in the face of the messages being sent by the current administration and is the message feminist groups should be sending to young women and girls. These current events inspired the Local Groups to dedicate our project to the political empowerment of young women.

The planning and organizing of the Local Group’s “Young Women’s Political Empowerment Day” had two distinct phases. The first phase decided what topics and issues were most relevant to the young women of the United States and the second phase planned specific events around these issues. As such, my research for the groups was split into two parts: one, to determine if voter turnout and voter registration should be a focus for our projects and two, to find appropriate venues for our events. This research paper will follow that process by first expanding on the research concerning voting statistics in the United States then moving into feminist event organizing. The research concludes that while women, in general, do not need significant time and energy dedicated to voter registration and turnout there is evidence that organizing spaces for women to learn about the United States system of government may encourage them to participate in the process.

Before delving into the statistics about voting demographics in the United States, I decided to look at the global trends analyzed in the Engaging the Electorate: Initiatives to Promote Voter Turnout From Around the World report written by Andrew Ellis, Maria Gratschew, Jon H. Pammett, and Erin Thiessen from the non-governmental organization (NGO) International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). This report takes all available data on democratic elections from over 180 countries between the years of 1945 and 2006. The report had two major findings in relation to voting in the United States. First, the preliminary data showed that the United States “like many other countries…suffers from declining voter turnout” (Ellis, Geatschew, Pammett, Thiessen 33) but did not analyze the turnout rates beyond this point. Second, the report showed that the United States also follow the global patterns that “countries where women gained the vote earlier tend to have higher turnout than those that made this reform more recently” (Ellis, Geatschew, Pammett, Thiessen 15). These trends show the United States to be an average nation in comparison to the rest of the democratic world but do not give us enough information on the gender specific voting statistics in the nation.

I then turned to the book Who Votes Now?: Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States by Jan E. Leighley and Nagler Jonathan. Chapter Two “Demographics of Turnout” of the book focuses on the long-term voting turnout patterns of the United States. Using data from the United States Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American National Elections Studies (NES), the authors showed that between the years 1972 and 2008 there was voter turnout decline but that “it has been slightly higher in some election years” (Leighley & Nagler 45), that women were more likely to vote than men, and that the wealthy were more likely to vote than those in poverty. These patterns were shown again the next year by the United States Census Bureau when Thom File authored a report titled “Who Votes? Congressional Elections and the American Electorate: 1978-2014”. This report preformed the same analysis along race, socioeconomic status, and age lines on the most recent data on non-presidential elections available in 2015. This report also expands on the fact that women register to vote at higher rates than men and the increase in the use of “alternative methods of voting” (File 13) over the past decade. Lastly, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) released a fact sheet on their analysis of voter turnout trends from the mid-1960’s, the earliest voting data available for the United States, to 2012. They also found the trend that women register to vote and vote at higher rates than men. However, they found slight differences for Asian/Pacific Islanders, who “in 2000…[had] men vote at slightly higher rates than women” (CAWP 2), and the older, 75 years old and up, voters, where “the pattern is reversed” (CAWP 2) completely.

After presenting this data to the Local Group, we decided that we would not focus on voter turnout or voter registration during our Political Empowerment Day. However, we did agree to have the paperwork needed to register to vote at the workshops for the young women who could register to vote but had not. Ultimately, we decided to have four workshops: “Government 101”, a presentation that focused on how local and federal government work; “How to Lobby a Legislator”, a workshop where a lobbyist from Planned Parenthood would teach how to lobby; “How to Jump Start Your Political Career”, a workshop focusing on internship opportunities; and “Ask a Woman Legislator”, a panel of two to five New Jersey women legislators to answer questions about their careers. Our group then shifted to organizing these events where I focused on finding spaces for these events.

As before, I started with the history of feminist organizing for historical context with the book The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics. The seventeenth chapter, “Feminist Organizing: What’s old, what’s new? History, Trends and Issues”, focuses on the history of feminist organizing and speculates on where it may be heading. Our project directly relates to the historic debate about whether feminists should work “inside out” where one is “working with or within the state” (Ewig & Ferree 420) or “outside in” where one works with grassroots campaigns. Our project aims to do both, first by empowering young girls to possible run for office and second by teaching them about government in general if they wish to challenge it. This led to Susan Bracken’s article “Understanding Program Planning Theory and Practice in a Feminist Community-Based Organization” which discussed some of the traditional problems feminist groups face such as the “paradox of agency – as members struggle with individual and collective agendas” (Bracken 124) or basic “technical issues such as how much to use spreadsheets in grant reports” (Bracken 127). However, these traditional problems do not appear to apply to our group at this current time.

There is some work that suggests that these challenges do not appear to apply to young feminists organizations because of a generational difference in activism. Julia Schuster makes this argument in her article “Invisible feminists? Social media and young women’s political participation” where she states “that social media serve[s] as a useful tool for the young women’s political activities” (Schuster 25) due to cost and accessibility; however, the use of the internet causes a break in communication between the “second” and “third” wave feminism and causes young feminist groups to have different challenges than their predecessors. Groups such as FRIDA The Young Feminist Fund and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development’s Young Feminist Activist Program have recognized this disconnect and responded by studying young feminist groups in their report Brave, Creative, Resilient: The Global State of Young Feminist Organizing. In this publication, they explore the common problems of young feminist organizations rather than feminist organizations in general. Their finding that young feminist groups have difficulty getting funding and spaces for their events is far more applicable to our group’s situation than the challenges faced by older feminist groups (FRIDA & AWRD 4). This report also suggests a solution that Sarah Frey focuses on in her community outreach. Many young feminist organizations work with local community groups, like the partnership Sarah Frey wants to forge with the Eastern Service Workers Association (ESWA), to get the space they need to put on their events.

Lastly, I researched ways feminist organizations have been attracting attendance to their events and how they judged their success. Betsy Sinclair, Margaret McConnell, and Melissa Michelson argue “that unlikely voters…can be moved to turn out with a brief face-to-face conversation at their home” (Sinclai, McConnell & Michelson 52). A similar thing can happen with our events if we canvas local areas for participants to attend workshops about political empowerment. More suggestions for engagement were found in Rayo Amirsoleymani’s research proposal “Planning for Public Participation and Community Engagement in Contemporary Feminist Art Programs” where she suggests engagement techniques such as “public participation” (Amirsoleymani 10) where the public takes part in the art. From this research, I knew I needed to find a place where our group could work with an already established group, an area that would be easy for the students to come to the events, and a place where students could engage with the presentations and workshops that would be done. From those criteria, I decided to contact the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) of Trenton, a well-established organization located near housing developments; the Trenton Public Library, another well-established organization but not as easy to get to for participants; the New Jersey State Museum, again another well-established organization that may be difficult to get to but much more engaging for the participants; and, as a last resort, the College of New Jersey, a location that would be difficult to get to but would be free for our group to utilize.

My research focused on voter statistics in the United States and how to choose a location for events that would maximize attendance. I found that for the past several decades women have been voting and registering to vote at higher rates then men. I also found that a good location for empowerment workshops must be easy to get to, engaging for the possible participants, and would be best if they were connected to a local group with ties to the community for maximum participant turnout. These results led the Local Group to decide against focusing on voter turnout during out Political Empowerment Day and to focus on local community groups with ties to the community rather than locations to find a venue for our event.

Work Cited

Amirsoleymani, Roya C. “Planning for Public Participation and Community Engagement in Contemporary Feminist Art Programs.” OU Library. University of Oregon, June 2013. Web.

Bracken, Susan J. “Understanding Program Planning Theory and Practice in a Feminist Community-Based Organization.” Adult Education Quarterly 61.2 (2011): 121-38.

Clinton, Hillary. “Concession Speech 2016.” 9 November 2016, Wyndham New Yorker Hotel, New York, NY. Concession Speech.

Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). “Gender Differences in Voter Turnout.” Fact Sheet. Rutgers University. New Brunswick, N.J. 2015 Web.

Ellis, Andrew, Gratschew, Maria, Pammett, Jon H., and Thiessen, Erin. Engaging the Electorate: Initiatives to Promote Voter Turnout From Around the World. Ed. Ivo Balinov, Sean W. Burges, Laura Chrabolowsky, David McGrane, Juraj Hocman, Kristina Lemon, and Svitozar Omelko. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2006. Print.

Ewig, Christina and Ferree, Myra M. “Feminist Organizing: What’s old, what’s new? History, Trends and Issues.” The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics. Ed. Georgina Waylen, Karen Celis, Johanna Kantola, S. Laurel Weldon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. 411-435. Print.

File, Thom. Who Votes? Congressional Elections and the American Electorate: 1978-2014. Washington, DC: Population Characteristics, U.S. Census Bureau, 2015. Print. P20-577.

FRIDA The Young Feminist Fund and Young Feminist Activist Program. Brave, Creative, Resilient: The Global State of Young Feminist Organizing. FRIDA and Association for Women’s Rights in Development, 2016. Print.

Leighley, Jan E., and Jonathan Nagler. “Demographics of Turnout.” Who Votes Now?: Demographics, Issues, Inequality, and Turnout in the United States. Princeton: Princeton U Pres, 2014. 16-51. Print.

Schuster, Julia. “Invisible feminists? Social media and young women’s political participation.” Political Science 65.1 (2013): 8-24.

Sinclair, Betsy, McConnell, Margaret, and Michelson, Melissa. “Local Canvassing: The Efficacy of Grassroots Voter Mobilization.” Political Communication 30.1 (2013): 42-57.

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