Among the joys of travel are encounters with ordinary women living in extraordinary times who accomplish seemingly impossible things with minimal resources. Take the Kenyan village that Rich and I once visited on behalf of an American charity. Located close to ground zero of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the remote jungle village had lost half its men to disease, and most of the other males had departed to seek work, often disappearing forever. The women were left behind to figure out how to survive on their own.
The well-meaning charity gave them a bull, but — as the women later told us — that animal was of little use to them. The minute the charity’s representatives were gone, the village women sold the bull and bought a young cow to breed and provide milk. The milk money went to buy a sack of grain, which was sold off in smaller, more profitable quantities, with some held back to plant for themselves. With tremendous pride, they showed us their modest crops and small herd of cows. A calf was born during our stay in the village, and you can imagine how flattered Rich was to learn they’d named it after him.
On various assignments, Rich and I have spent time with Bosnian war widows, Salvadorian sewing collectives, and Kenyan women rescuing children from forced marriages to village elders. I've learned that in truly dire circumstances, it’s usually women who step up to do what needs to be done.
Now that my country is in dire political straits, I’m not surprised to find it’s our women who are mobilizing for action. A poll of 28,000 activists shows that 86 percent of those calling legislators are female, and 60 percent of those women are over the age of 46. Some 70% of people polled had participated in the Women’s March and/or travel ban protests, and 97% say they’re likely to protest publicly against the administration in the future.
These days, American women are everywhere, staging sit-ins, running for office, holding politicians accountable, registering voters, making the wheels of protest turn. I’ve spent the past year listening to Resisters, posting articles about their accomplishments, making videos about their work, and now writing a book called Women of the American Resistance.
Here’s what I’ve learned: It’s likely to take 11 million active resisters to achieve peaceful regime change in America. That’s based on research evaluating every major effort to overthrow or replace a government anywhere in the world since 1900. Non-violent civil resistance proved the most effective method, and no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population. In the US, 3.5% means 11 million people — approximately twice the number who engaged in the 2017 Women’s March and one sixth of the 65,844,610 people who voted Democrat in the 2016 presidential race. Clearly 3.5% is an achievable goal; in fact, since nobody knows how many people are currently active in the Resistance, it’s quite possible we’ve mobilized more than that already. Or maybe we’re poised at 10,999,999 and just need one more person to get up off the couch and push us over the tipping point.
And that’s why the subtitle of my book is You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For.
This book was written for the millions of progressive sympathizers who remain on the sidelines, unable to envision a role for themselves in the struggle. They are outraged and agonized but simply can’t connect with a specific task that seems meaningful and high-impact. The goal of this book is to transform those sympathetic onlookers into activists.
The book shares remarkable stories of ordinary women who have found extraordinary ways to address the challenges facing our nation. And it provides descriptions and contact details to connect readers with dozens of organizations seeking volunteers for fieldwork, online activities, and administrative support in offices, law firms, and clinics. Yes, you can make a difference — and these organizations are standing by to help you figure out how.
Altering the course of the ship of state is never easy, and it's going to require all hands on deck, starting now. This can't wait for a more convenient time, or the excitement of the run-up to the 2020 election, or for some leader to come along and save us, like Prince Charming rescuing us from the tower. We need to rescue ourselves.
Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For is now available for preorder as a Kindle e-book. The initial deep discount of 99 cents for the Kindle edition will continue until after the Women's March, in honor of all those who are mobilizing.
This book is the result of more than my research into the post-election upheaval and conversations with progressives working for change. Writing the book drew on perspective I've gained in a lifetime of travel to places where people faced challenges we Americans can scarcely imagine — for instance spending nearly the entire twentieth century under the successive rule of tyrants from the Russian Empire, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union, as so much of Eastern Europe did.
A Bosnian women once told me that when the four-year Siege of Sarajevo broke out in 1992, she was utterly blindsided. “We were a modern European country,” she said. “It was literally unthinkable.” Progressive Americans cannot claim that we don't see trouble coming from the current administration. The question is, what are we prepared to do about it?
Women of the American Resistance: You Are the One We Have Been Waiting For
Publication date: January 5, 2018
Formats: Paperback and Kindle
All revenues from book sales: Donated to Planned Parenthood
This post is an excerpt from my new book, Women of the American Resistance, which will be published in January 2018.
If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably already enjoyed a good chuckle watching this video of California Congresswoman Maxine Waters in her legendary run-in with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
To dodge her question about why he hadn’t responded to her letter to him regarding the president’s ties to Russia, Mnuchin launched into a tap dance of meaningless verbiage, no doubt hoping to run out the clock so Waters would lose the rest of her opportunity to speak. Invoking House procedural rules, a stony-faced Waters kept repeating, “Reclaiming my time” until he was forced to yield the floor to her. It was a marvelous moment that instantly went viral, launching countless news stories, memes, and t-shirts, to say nothing of Mykal Kilgore’s now-famous gospel music video.
“Reclaiming my time” has become a catchphrase among Resisters who resonate with Waters’ sharp criticism of the current Republican administration. Millennials speak of her fondly as “Auntie Maxine” and praise her for “throwing shade,” a phrase that puzzled Waters at first. “I had to ask my grandchildren, ‘What does it mean? I threw shade?’” she said. (Translation: it’s black and Latino gay slang that means a public expression of contempt.)
Actress Rose McGowan speaks at the Women's Convention, her first public appearance after alleging that Harvey Weinstein raped her in 1997. Her theme: "I have been slut-shamed, I've been harassed, I am you."
Reclaiming Our Time at the Women's Convention
In October of 2017, the phrase “Reclaiming Our Time” became the theme of the Women’s Convention in Detroit, organized by the leaders of the Women’s March, attended by 4,000 people, and featuring a list of remarkable speakers, including Waters.
“In the halls of this convention,” wrote Monica Davey in the New York Times, “which at times had the mood of a raucous campaign rally, women were tackling a broad and sprawling list of issues, including Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, threats to the environment, mass incarceration, reproductive rights, workplace rules, the accessibility of child care, treatment of immigrants, protections for transgender people and more… Yet for all the disparate topics at this meeting, one thread ran through them all: opposition to the [new] administration and a pointed focus on elections next year.”
One of the co-organizers of the convention, EMILY’s List, is tackling the election issue head on. Founded in 1985, the organization takes its name from the acronym “Early Money Is Like Yeast,” a reference to the financial backing it provides to female, pro-choice Democratic candidates. “EMILY's List wins elections,” says their website. “Since our founding, we have helped elect over 100 pro-choice Democratic women to the House, 23 to the Senate, 12 to governors' seats, and hundreds of women to state and local office. EMILY's List has also become one of the largest financial resources for minority women seeking federal office.” Since the 2016 election more than 20,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List to explore the idea of running for office — a giant leap forward from the 920 who’d contacted them in the previous two years.
"This is unprecedented,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List and one of the speakers at the Women’s Convention. “Women continue stepping up and demanding to be at the decision-making table – here in Michigan and in every other state across the country. This is a surge of grassroots energy unlike anything we've ever seen. We've spent more than 30 years preparing for this kind of moment, and we're ready to channel this energy into wins for women up and down the ballot, not just in 2018 but for the years and generations to come … I want every woman who's ever wondered whether she can really make a difference to know that she's not alone. They are part of a wave of now more than 20,000 women getting ready to run and change the face of politics. We at EMILY's List and our community of over five million members have your back."
Financing a campaign can be especially challenging for non-white female candidates. “Black women are one of the most active political constituencies in the nation, yet they are severely underrepresented in federal, state, and local government, according to a new study,” reported Theodore Johnson of MSNBC in 2014. “Within the black community, women make up over 52% of the population, represent nearly 60% of the electorate, and turn out to vote at a rate nearly 10% higher than men.”
The Democratic party is "too male, too pale, too stale," said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York, when she spoke at the Women's Convention.
At the Women’s Convention, “the wide-ranging discussion frequently turned to criticism of the Democratic party, and how it can better support black women voters and black women candidates,” wrote Catherine Pearson in the Huffington Post. “Panelists called the party ‘out of touch’ and said it would not be enough to simply replace white male legislators with white women. ‘The Democratic party is too male,’ said Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York and the first woman of color to hold citywide office in the city. ‘It’s too pale and too stale.’”
I haven’t heard Waters comment directly on James’s remark, but I suspect she’d agree. “With a prominent platform and a withering side-eye,” wrote Christina Cauterucci in Slate, “Waters has embodied the unadulterated rage and indignation many have felt watching incompetent white men try to drive America off a xenophobic cliff … While Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer make chummy jokes about pens, Waters has loudly refused to legitimize [the president’s] leadership, calling him a “so-called president” in an interview with the Associated Press. ‘I don't see myself meeting with him, sitting down with him, believing anything he would say, or even respecting anything he would say,’ she continued.” And that, my friends, is throwing shade.