Women Can’t Wait
By Rachel Byrne, Monongalia Can’t Wait Co-Captain
It’s no secret that the WV Can’t Wait and Stephen Smith for Governor campaign are changing the way that politics has historically worked. With a comprehensive platform, written with the input of West Virginians impacted by the policies, and a campaign turned into COVID-19 pandemic crisis management, it may not surprise you that the group of leaders working behind the scenes to make this campaign run is composed entirely of women. From volunteer coordinator to field director to finance director to campaign manager, and every position in between, the Smith Campaign for Governor is staffed with a woman and the innovative way that they are grassroots campaigning reflects just that.
Since the 2016 election cycle, we have heard a lot about women running for office. We’ve seen historic victories of women and women of color right here in West Virginia. Women and people of color can and should run for office, but for some people that’s not the only way to be active in politics. Women have played a prominent role in campaigns for decades: they were key strategic fundraisers, ran campaign communications, and were the majority of the volunteers on the campaign trail. We were and still are the phone-callers, the door-knockers, the friend-bringers, and the event-hosts. What is much rarer to see is women making strategic decisions for political campaigns in top leadership positions.
The Smith campaign team, however, is different, with women employed and working on all levels of the campaign. Look at the make-up of volunteers, donors, and with this unique movement, recruited candidates: the WV Can’t Wait campaign walks the walk. The campaign has more than half of their donations from women donors, their volunteer county, constituency, and neighborhood captains are predominantly women, and they have recruited, trained, and supported forty-seven women candidates up and down the ballot to run for elected offices under their WV Can’t Wait Pledge.
So why does all this matter? The campaign is not only prioritizing and putting forth plans on issues that haven’t been tackled in prior election cycles–protecting access to reproductive healthcare, affordable childcare, guaranteed paid leave, increased wage for minimum wage workers, equal pay for equal work, ending the tampon tax, and fighting for education–that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Smith’s union campaign staff, the first to be unionized in West Virginia history, knew the importance of not only bringing marginalized groups to the table, but offering them both a seat and pen to write the policies that their communities need. All of this isn’t just coincidental, there’s strong evidence to show that when women are given a seat at the table, policies are more likely to emphasize families, women, and minorities.
Too often laws are written, lobbied for, and voted on by the people least impacted by those very laws. We see photos of tables of rich, white, men making decisions on the rights of persons with ovaries, themselves never having to face the impact of those laws. We hear from politicians who tell us they have our best interests and appreciate the work we do to get them elected, but offer up our reproductive rights to play nicely with the opposition. With reproductive healthcare continuously on the chopping block in West Virginia and across the nation, the Smith Campaign wasn’t afraid to talk about the need for protections for reproductive healthcare in our state. With the support of his staff and many volunteers, Stephen sought and received the endorsement from reproductive healthcare groups like Planned Parenthood, a first in a West Virginia gubernatorial race. As a former patient of Planned Parenthood and advocate for reproductive healthcare, I find it refreshing to see a politician speak about the importance of comprehensive healthcare, which is absolutely critical.
If you’ve talked with Stephen Smith for more than a few minutes you’ll hear him talk about how politics in West Virginia has been played by the Good Old Boys Club and he’s right. Vote for the future of West Virginia, propelled forward by the planning and strategizing of West Virginian women.