RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Women Lead the Way in 2018

Welcome back! It’s 2018 and time for the first “Rural Routes” column of the year. In my last column of 2017, I was all full of angst about gerrymandering — the art/science of drawing boundaries for political office in a way that made it impossible for true competitors to vie for votes. It seemed the challenge was insurmountable — if your Democrat household has been sliced into a heavily Republican district, your vote is useless, a spit in the wind. With elections guaranteed, there was no need for good candidates to make good campaigns and address our issues.

Activating the gerrymandered district is difficult because people give up and just don’t vote at all. They forget their history, give up that civil right and responsibility; they just stay home.

But 2017 was destined to be a year to defy old expectations. On Dec. 12, the Doug Jones victory in Alabama flipped a Senate seat from R to D. Take a look at a map of the districts in Alabama — the state represented by six Rs and one D, by the way. Check out Alabama District 7, with a chunk in the west and a sneaky snake to the south and another to the northeast, District 7 is a classic gerrymander. Confirmed by a Republican team after the 2010 census, it was drawn to contain the African-Americans, and does a good job, circling most black voters in the state.

So, District 7 will always elect candidates favoring black issues while in the other 6 districts black votes don’t matter. But, this time, the strategy failed. Jones won because people in all the districts got out and voted! Specifically, black people voted, in all their districts. And to put a finer point on it, black women voted, said NO to the possibility that Roy Moore, an old racist pedophile, would represent them in Congress.

That win should create a story for all future political races in America. If your party wants to win, start now to build bridges with the marginalized. This does not mean, by the way, that the old structures will die and the old powerful cast out. That fear, as old as Adam and Eve, never took into account the power of change through participation. But it does mean that the powerful need to step up to care for the marginalized. In the case of voting, it means that powerful voters need to help preserve the rights of non-powerful voters.

There’s a pattern to the important stories of 2017. Women and minorities are finding their voices and their strategies. Maybe the key was to kick off the year with The Women’s March in January. It was shocking to see who turned up at that event. With pink pussy hats on our heads, I ran into one neighbor after another. A few months later, five of us met at a restaurant in town and started to organize our own local progressive organization.

Fortunately, the work has been going on for decades, so there are models and active participants. One of the ascending organizations is Emily’s List, founded in 1985 to elect progressive women and fight the challenges against legalized abortion. With slogans like “Elect Women, Drive Change” and “Reject Apathy and the Status Quo,” they are claiming more than 25,000 new female candidates for the future and 900 wins in the past.

This year, there will be another march, on Jan. 20. As bitter cold grips the nation, only the hardiest will get out, but we will be there. After all, we have a movement now, and groups to support us. And we are sharing our stories.

For the first time, women are being heard on the subject of sexual abuse. In early October, the first Harvey Weinstein sexual assault accusations came forward. Within a month, the New York Times ran a list of 49 powerful men that had stepped down from their positions, admitting rape and sexual harassment. The #metoo movement, trying to make their point for a decade, finally has become significant enough that Time magazine named the founders, self-proclaimed “Silence Breakers” as person of the year.

Another major 2017 story, again led by women, featured Native American tribes and their fight against the frackers/polluters wanting to run pipelines near tribal lands. Arguing that the pipeline can pollute water sources, Sioux elder LaDonna Brave Bull Allard established Standing Rock camp as a center for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance; over the summer, thousands of people joined her. First covered by alternative media Democracy Now! and Mother Jones, the Dakota Access Pipeline story quickly gained traction with international media, who saw the legitimacy of Sioux Tribe demands in a way that American media, dominated as it is by Big Oil, ignored.

So the next great American story is about women. Preparing for the 2020 elections, we’ll be celebrating 100 years of women and the vote. The first American story — about pioneers winning the battles of wilderness, extracting prosperity, dominating resources, including people, doesn’t work any more. It’s time for new stories, and 2017 has shown the way.

Margot Ford McMillen farms near Fulton, Mo., and co-hosts “Farm and Fiddle” on sustainable ag issues on KOPN 89.5 FM in Columbia, Mo. Her latest book is The Golden Lane: How Missouri Women Gained the Vote and Changed History. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 2, 2018

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