It was a yard sign, that mundane and overrated weapon of Chicago’s pugnacious street politics.
For Celina Villanueva, it became a telling symbol of the challenges women face in politics.
Villanueva, an accomplished, Chicago-based political operative and organizer, has worked the political hustings at the state, county and city levels.
One day back when she was managing her first campaign, she was working alone in the office. A precinct captain walked in asked for some yard signs. She told him they were not ready for distribution.
I want them now, he said. She said “no.”
I am taking them now, he said. She said “no.”
“I’m 5’4’’, a short little Mexican girl from Little Village,” Villanueva told me the other day. “The man was a foot taller than me. He got in my face, stared me down.”
“He thought he would use his machismo,” she added, “to intimidate me. No one ever prepared me for how to deal with that, as a woman in politics.”
Women in politics get little training, mentoring or encouragement, she said. They grapple with sexism, unequal pay and lack access and resources that men enjoy. And now Villanueva and a group of other women in the politics and policy arenas are launching an online campaign for change.
Over a recent dinner, they vented about one big question: Are there any women running for Illinois governor?
They posted the answer — “No!” — along with an “open letter” that is “demanding change.”
They wrote: “We are disturbed that of all the Democratic candidates running for Illinois governor, zero are women. Zero.”
The eight aspirants for the gubernatorial nomination are all men. Six are white. None are openly LGBT.
How bad is it? O Thursday, the one women in a leadership position in the state Legislature, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, whose authority repeatedly was undermined by Gov. Bruce Rauner, announced she is quitting the job — and the Senate.
Springfield is historically dysfunctional, weighted down with too much testosterone. Illinois politics desperately needs a woman’s touch.
It’s about more than the governor’s race, Villanueva said. “This is a bigger, systemic issue,” she argues. “It’s a problem overall, particularly that not enough women of color are involved in the political process.”
The group wants to “send a message to the leadership, across the board, but also to the base of the Democratic Party,” said Joanna Klonsky, a political communications consultant who primarily works with progressive Democrats.
They want a “concerted effort” to recruit, train and engage women in electoral politics at all levels.
President Donald Trump’s election has activated Democratic women as never before, shows a new study sponsored by Politico, American University and Loyola Marymount University. Yet, the authors report, women “in both parties remain significantly less likely than men to have thought about running for office — even after Trump’s victory.”
Their study states that it “uncovered a large gender gap in political ambition.” For example, when asked if they had ever considered running for office, 23 percent of women had, compared to 38 percent of men.
Unlike other states, Illinois has no formal pipeline or training ground for candidates and political professionals, Klonsky said. Unlike men, women are not encouraged to consider politics at a young age.
No offense to supportive male politicos, but women are the best judges of gender-based issues like reproductive choice and pay equity, she added. “We need women in leadership and in every room where decisions are being made about us. We need to be at the table.”
Women who want to join them can go to: arethereanywomenrunningforilgovernor.com
I asked Villanueva: Did the precinct captain get his yard signs?
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