President Obama effectively delivered a call to action on Tuesday as he gave his farewell address in Chicago.“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy,” he said. “Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy: citizen.
“That is what our democracy demands. It needs you, not just when there is an election, not just when your own narrow interests are at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.
“If you are tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.
“Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”
Listen up, Garden State gals. Because while research shows that women in government make for the creation of more transparent, inclusive and accessible public policies, we are not yet doing what our President has asked of us.
According to year-end data from the Center for American Women and Politics, a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, women represent very little of those in New Jersey’s county and municipal elected offices.
There are 21 counties in New Jersey.
Just seven (Bergen, Morris, Burlington, Cape May, Monmouth and Union) counties currently have more than one-third women freeholders, with Essex County in the lead at 44 percent.
Sussex and Warren counties do not have any women on their freeholder boards.
Just five (Mercer, Sussex, Union, and Burlington) counties currently have more than 20 percent female mayors serving their counties, with Hunterdon County in the lead at 27 percent.
Morris County has less than 3 percent female mayors, while Cumberland County has zero.
And finally, just five (Union, Camden, Hudson, Middlesex and Cape May) counties have over a quarter of women city or town council members, with Mercer County being the only county to have more than one-third.
Women comprise less than 15 percent of city or town council seats in both Atlantic and Cumberland counties.
“New Jersey has made significant strides in recent years at the state legislative level, where we’re now 11th in the country for women’s representation,” Jean Sinzdak, associate director of CAWP, said. “Unfortunately, in most counties, women lag far behind. Where county party chairs hold the keys to ballot lines, they have the power to position women to win and create government that better reflects the population.”
CAWP seeks to change that with Ready to Run New Jersey, a conference held on March 10and 11 at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Ready to Run is a national network of non-partisan campaign training programs committed to electing more women to public office and encouraging more women to become more actively involved in political issues.
For the past 18 years, Ready to Run New Jersey has trained over 2,500 women to become public leaders in the state by covering how to raise campaign funds, position oneself for elected office, navigate the political party structure, launch and organize a campaign, reach and mobilize voters, and craft an appropriate and inspiring message for both print and public speaking.
Its conference in March will feature ample networking opportunities and educational roundtables, as well as interactive media training for television and public appearances and information on digital and social media outreach; campaign development; public board or commission appointments; building political relationships to gain party support; legislative advocacy; the cultivation of media relationships; recruiting and motivating a finance committee; and more.
Speakers and educators will include Tara Dowdell, founder of the Tara Dowdell Group; Lizette Delgado-Polanco, vice chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee; Christine Jahnke, founder of Positive Communications; Candace L. Straight, former co-chair of the New Jersey Republican State Committee; Senator Loretta Weinberg, majority leader, New Jersey Senate; and Jeannine LaRue, Kaufman Zita Group.
Ready to Run New Jersey will also host Diversity Initiative programs on Friday, March 10 in hopes of increasing the participation of women of color in state politics.
Women everywhere can start sooner by participating in the Women’s March on New Jersey next Saturday, January 21st, from 10am to 1pm. Beginning at the War Memorial in Trenton, the rally will be held in solidarity with the marchers in Washington, D.C. and at the over 170 sister marches being held nationwide and globally to collectively send the message that all civil and human rights are to be upheld and protected by the U.S. government. Attendees are encouraged to wear purple as a symbol of dignity and unity once chosen by the suffragists in both England and America.
As President Obama said on Tuesday: “Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.”
See you there.