On Saturday night, Daily Editor Zoë Ewing headed to CU Voting Week’s event, “Wendy Davis: Women in Politics.” The event was co-hosted by Columbia Political Review and Columbia University Democrats. Wendy Davis is a former Texas State senator, Fort Worth City Council. member, and Democratic candidate in the Texas gubernatorial election. She now runs a nonprofit focusing on social justice and political involvement, Deeds Not Words.
The first thing that struck me upon walking into the Roone Arledge Cinema Saturday night was the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It was a space that seemed to recognize what has been a tumultuous week in politics and sought to provide solace for everyone attending. As the audience filed in, I could see Wendy Davis seated in the front row. She was craning her neck to speak to the students sitting immediately behind her, actively engaging in animated conversation and seeming truly interested in what the students had to say.
The event began with the directors of Voting Week at Columbia, Shreya Sunderram, BC ’19, and Alice Hu, BC ’19, thanking Davis and the audience for attending the final event of their weeklong initiative to increase voter engagement on campus. Next, Gabriela Sagun, BC ’19, the president of Columbia Political Union, introduced Wendy Davis. Sagun spoke of Davis’s legacy fighting for social justice issues during her time on the Fort Worth City Council, as a Texas state senator, and as the Democratic nominee for governor of Texas. Sagun heralded the inspiration Davis has provided to young women across the country, especially during Davis’s famous 13-hour filibuster in 2013 opposing legislation limiting abortion services in Texas.
Davis opened her speech with an acknowledgment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, which had occurred only three hours prior to the event. She described watching the confirmation hearings: “I listened to white Republican male after white Republican male say the things they said and I honestly felt a rage.” She also mentioned the public outcry against Kavanaugh, and how many women felt disheartened when Kavanaugh was confirmed despite multiple allegations of sexual assault against him, saying, “weeks like the week we’ve gone through can definitely take the wind out of your sails.”
She then transitioned into speaking about her journey as a feminist, candidly acknowledging the evolution of her beliefs. She first ran for Fort Worth City Council at age 32, and when a newspaper then asked if she identified as a feminist, she said she wasn’t.
“I was buying into the pejorative value that had been pinned into that designation,” she explained. “I hadn’t appreciated that the fact I could run was because of the feminist warriors before me.” She also spoke of her life as a single mother living in a trailer community and attending community college, attributing her climb from poverty to the social services she had access to. Without the Planned Parenthood clinic near her house or the community college she attended, she would not have had access to affordable health care and education during that time of her life.
Davis also spoke about the 2016 presidential election, during which she campaigned for Hillary Clinton and “believed Hillary Clinton was going to be elected president.” Her hopes were that if Clinton were elected, progressives would be able to proactively push for further-left policies. Instead, Democrats are now on “constant defensive mode” against President Trump’s right-wing agenda. Davis listed the policies she had hoped would come to fruition, including raising the minimum wage, expanding health care for the working poor, increasing the availability of affordable childcare, providing better abortion and contraceptive services, and investing in better pre- and post-natal care. She contextualized each of these issues as feminist issues, describing the lack of affordable childcare in the United States as “the cement ceiling” and speaking of how high maternal mortality rates disproportionately affect women of color. She frequently cited statistics on racial, gender, and economic inequality in the United States, mentioning how women are two-thirds of minimum wage workers and over half of these women are working mothers.
A seasoned politician, Davis then spoke of the trials and tribulations of being a woman running for public office. She recalled being asked who would take care of her children if she won her city council race. She was also accused of abandoning her children when her mother took on some of her childcare responsibilities while she was serving in the Texas State Senate. Davis noted how both Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz were lauded for sacrificing time with their families to run for the United States Senate, illustrating a double standard between men and women in political campaigns. She remained optimistic, though, noting how more and more female candidates are now “bringing our real selves forward and not some contrived notion of who we’re supposed to be.” Instances of women bringing their “real selves forward” included women breastfeeding in campaign ads and black women campaigning with natural hair. Davis emphasized the importance of women “showing up for each other,” emphasizing: “it was black women who made Doug Jones’s election to the US Senate a reality in a deep red state.” She expressed hope that white women would rally behind women of color running for prominent seats, such as Stacey Abrams, Paulette Jordan, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Davis expressed her fears for the future. “With Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court today, the fears about Roe v. Wade will likely be realized,” she said. However, she also expressed her optimism: “what are we going to do to answer the question ‘are we there yet?’” She proposed three solutions for young women to take control of the future. First, organizing—“we’re going to tap into our anger and ride it for all it’s worth.” Second, voting in every election. Third, “we’re going to keep putting ourselves out on the line on the ballot in every level of government in every state across the country.”
The night concluded with Davis taking nine questions from the audience. One audience member asked about how women can present a unified front for women of diverse backgrounds. Davis responded that everyone is better served when there’s equal representation in politics. She explained how she was “heartened” by men protesting against Kavanaugh’s nomination, just as she was “when the Black Lives Matter movement took hold” and white people participated in its marches. She also reiterated that “the reason I won my Senate seat was because black women showed up for me,” and that white women must stand up against issues that disproportionately affect women of color, such as mass incarceration, felon disenfranchisement, and maternal mortality rates.
Audience members also inquired about what Davis wishes she could say to Senators Joe Manchin and Susan Collins, both of whom supported the Kavanaugh confirmation. Davis said that Manchin, a Democrat, is taking for granted that progressive voters will continue to support him after his vote. She said she admires Beto O’Rourke’s model of being “absolutely unequivocal about his progressive values,” and she thinks voters will respond better to that strategy than to Manchin crossing party lines. On Collins, Davis expressed her disappointment and said, “She had an opportunity to do right, and not only did not do it but gave a full-throated defense of this person being on the court.” Davis described listening to Collins’s speech as a “gut punch” and vowed that she will campaign for Collins’ opponent in 2020.
The last question was from Sunderram, who asked when Davis plans to run for office again. Davis’s response was unspecific but referred to how inspired she felt watching Hillary Clinton’s political journey. “It’s watching our role models bounce back that encourages us to do the same.”
Davis via Wikipedia