Prominent women’s activists launch new economic initiative

September 18, 2013
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Several of Washington's most influential Democratic women are gathering at the Center for American Progress Wednesday to launch an ambitious new effort aimed at making women's economic prosperity as important to politicians as immigration reform and other key priorities.

The new initiative--“Fair Shot: A Plan for Women and Families to Get Ahead”-- faces an uphill climb. But it reflects a growing recognition that advocacy -- whether it's on immigration, gay rights, or other matters -- rarely gets politicians' attention unless they launch organized campaigns composed of broad coalitions.

That explains why Fair Shot's rollout features speakers not just from Planned Parenthood, but from the Service Employees International Union and American Women, a project of the Democratic political action committee EMILY's List. And Organizing for Action, the non-profit affiliated with President Obama, launched a new "Stand With Women" campaign that will include more than 100 events Wednesday night focused on women's issues.

In an interview Wednesday, Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden said she and others were trying to expand the discussion around women's issues beyond the issue of reproductive rights, which has dominated the political discussion and consumed much of the resources available for women's rights.

"First and foremost, what we’re trying to do in having a broad agenda is to solidify the women’s movement itself. In part because of the nature of the fights we’ve been having over the past few years," Tanden said, adding that  CAP and others remain committed to defending abortion rights. "But in order to have an affirmative agenda we actually believe among the most critical issues facing women, and where we lag behind in almost every industrialized country, is in the whole arena of workplace flexibility."

After the 2012 election, Tanden noted, politicians from both parties embraced the idea of passing immigration reform as a way to address the concerns of Latinos, a critical voting bloc.

"Immediately after the election there was a next step. How do we address the concerns of this group? Let’s pass immigration reform," she said. "We had a similar gender gap in the election, but there was no immediate next step."

One of the key organizers, CAP senior fellow Buffy Wicks, said the initiative will aim to galvanize significant grassroots support for issues ranging from equal pay to paid leave.

"It’s imperative that we have these conversations in kitchen tables around the country," said Wicks, who served as national director of Obama's reelection campaign's Operation Vote. She added that the groups participating in Fair Shot "have the capacity to push it out and have conversations in communities all around the country."

The White House has lent its imprimatur to the initiative: Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett kicked off the event this morning, saying that the Affordable Care Act has expanded women's health care coverage and women are increasingly the primary breadwinners in U.S. households. "But still, we’re not going to let these gains lull us into complacency. Because we still have a lot of work to do."

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a longtime women's rights advocate and the highest-ranking woman in Congress, delivered a keynote speech as well.

One of the biggest questions facing this new movement is whether it can move from a Democratic initiative to a bipartisan one. Wednesday's speaker lineup did not include a single elected Republican official.

"We hope that both Republicans and Democrats will look at this agenda as a way to address the concerns of women and families," Tanden said. "It’s our hope that this initiative will lead political leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to make more progress on these issues."

It may take a few prominent Republican backers -- a strategy the same-sex marriage movement has deployed on the state and national level -- to give the push higher altitude. Whether there's room for them at the table, however, remains to be seen.

After all, several important GOP politicians have been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, urging their party to embrace the issue or face political oblivion. And even with that boost, the bill remains on life support in the House.

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Sean Sullivan | September 18, 2013