Women on the verge

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  August 20, 2008

There are other differences among the women. They had, according to some members of the Zucker group, “a long discussion” about whether to punish Kerry — both for his support of Obama, and failure to speak up against what they saw as sexist treatment of Clinton — by voting for Senate challenger Ed O’Reilly at the state-party convention in early June. They couldn’t agree, so they decided to act independently.

This month, three members of the group — Lee, Fry, and Schuster — attended a big-dollar fundraiser for Obama. Their presence was used in the press by Kerry, Patrick, and others as evidence of the unification of the Clinton and Obama supporters. Some other members of the group, who are not yet giving to the Obama campaign, are bitter about the three women aiding the opposition, as they see it.

“We’re more powerful if we work in concert,” says Zucker. “But we are not a lockstep group.” For now, under the direction of Hunt, many of these women are turning away from both the presidential race and in-state campaigns, and instead going up to New Hampshire to work on former governor Jeanne Shaheen’s campaign for US Senate. Others are going to help Obama. Still others say the efforts should be focused on local races. Many said that what happens in Denver may dictate how aggressive, and how united, they will be.

Party problems
Then there’s the fact that a lot of Clinton women just aren’t ready to make nice with the Democratic Party, at the national or state level.

“The party was complicit,” says Feeney. “That was such an eye-opener to all of us — and we all looked back at moments from our own past when the party failed to stand up [to sexism].”

For many of them, the Clinton campaign was a “ ‘be a good girl’ experience,” as Zucker puts it — the sense that, after years of licking envelopes, knocking on doors, and, er, manning phone-banks for the Democrats, women remained unappreciated by the party.

“We are and should be a loyal and active part of the Democratic Party,” says Zucker, “but that shouldn’t be at the expense of having our voices counted.”

That goes well beyond the Obama-Clinton rift, to the failure of the state party to effectively address the lack of women in office — most glaringly in the quarter-century of all-male congressional representation.

Lee helped start an Emerge chapter in Massachusetts in part, she says, because the Democratic Party was not getting the job done itself. Jobin-Leeds says the same about her new programs.

“These efforts have traditionally happened outside the party,” agrees Stacey Monahan, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

But while they have issues with the party, their efforts are consciously partisan — which is a marked change from the long tradition in Massachusetts of boosting women and women’s issues through bipartisan and non-partisan efforts.

Those decades-old efforts include issue groups, such as Planned Parenthood or NARAL, which have steered clear of getting too involved with one party for fear of alienating the other.

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