The six presidential candidates who recently debated in Iowa reminded Edith Barksdale Sloan of the politicians who founded this country.
"Not because they are great visionaries like some of those people were," the Consumer Products Safety Commissioner told a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 200 politically ambitious women at the District Building Saturday. "But because they are all white males as were our founding fathers.
"After 204 years, that doesn't say much for our progress as women, as minorities or as a nation. If we wait around for the male establishment to hand us a power, the picture may be the same 204 years from now."
Sloan and several other politically savvy women discussed strategies for breaking into the male-dominated political arena at the "Women Take Your Power" seminar, sponsored by the D.C. City Coalition for Women.
"We want to introduce you to women who have taken power to show you it can be done," explained Coalition spokeswoman Debbie Maher. "We want to teach skills and further strengthen the network of women in the area."
Political power won't be handed to American women, said Sloan. "Don't be afraid to seek or demand a position you know your entitled to," she said. "Don't be afraid of ambition -- it's not ugly.
"As my mother used to say, 'Darling, you have to be the cream because you can't afford to be the milk.' We just have to be more prepared, more skilled and more articulate. . . that's the key to our achievement."
Women's involvement in policy making decisions can both improve the quality of life and change the image of the "self-motivated" politican, said District Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis.
"It's necessary for women to take some personal responsibility for pressing social and economic problems," she said. "When you're involved, you begin to change the view of the public with respect to women and politics."
"Women have a perspective that men have not yet received," added Gray Panther activitst Thelma V. Rutherford, who also serves on the D.C. Commission on Licensure to Practice the Healing Arts.
Becoming a commissioner is "a great education," said Rutherford, who urged women to learn Roberts Rules of Order "so you can stop a vote when you see it's going the wrong way.
"As a commissioner I have a chance to influence policy, and it's a good training field for political involvement. Remember that when we (women) are not around, the (men) are making decisions for us."
The A B C D & Es for women interested in taking power, said the District's Acting Inspector General Joyce Blalock are "awareness, boldness, competence, diligence and energy.
"Awareness and self-assessment are extremely important," she noted. "Discover your strengths and minimize your weak points. Challenge yourself, raise your expectations, be imaginative and flexible and be aware that you can and will learn."
She urged women to seek jobs in nontraditional fields and to round out their credentials by volunteering, getting degrees and writing articles for publication.
Women have an immediate opportunity to take power by becoming a delegate to the upcoming Republican and Democratic national conventions, said Betty King. As co-chair of the D.C. delegation to the Democratic National Conference, King noted that her party's policy requires that half of all elected delegates and alternates be women.
In addition to chosing a party candidate, "the national conventions provide an opportunity for women to come together to have a voice in framing party policy," she noted. "You get a sense of the dynamics of politics and can focus atention on women with a great deal of success in the national political arena."
Noticing that some audience members frowned when a television crew turned on bright lights, District Councilwoman Hilda Mason said with a laugh, "You've got to get used to the lights.
"You have to be comfortable making speeches," said Mason, who added that she overcame her fear by "finding a friendly eye and keeping on smiling and talking.
"You should have clear in your head where you are. People want to hear from a candidate what have you done and what you stand for. Get out and do your leg work for yourself -- you can't let others do it for you."
Use media to spread your message, advised Roberta Weiiner, public information officer for the president's advisory committee for women.
"The power of the media is great, but it is accessible power and we can use it," said Weiner, noting that she once "demythified" Walter Cronkite by calling him with a story idea which he used in a broadcast.
"We control the media. They've got a lot of pages and air-time to fill -- they can fill it with us."
Learn to write press releases and hold press conferences, she advised, by "finding the uniqueness, specialness and improtance of your message. Read newspapers and watch television news to find reporters who are sympathetic to your issue."