It hasn't been a great couple of years for women, politically speaking. Large numbers of women feel that their rights are being set back by years — decades, even — and plenty of them are mad as hell about it.
Turns out, here in Austin, they aren't going to take it anymore.
Two prominent Austin women, Terri Givens and Dean Lofton, banded together in November 2012 with an idea: What if a political organization was created to address women's political issues in the city, state and beyond? A non-partisan, umbrella coalition that would give women a voice, as well as access to existing women's groups and opportunities for making their voices heard.
"Isn't it stunning that women make up over half the population, yet we're not close to equal representation in our government?" asks Dean Lofton, writer and public relations professional. "Aren't we all in shock at the many issues slipping backwards for women?"
Lofton and Givens, a professor/athlete/entrepreneur/activist, certainly are. So they set up a group they called Austin Women for Political Action, created a Facebook page and began inviting people they knew. The goal is to bring a diverse group of voices to the table, offer meetings and workshops, provide information on local organizations and activism opportunities — all to increase efforts and success on women's issues.
Austin Women for Political Action (AWPA) had its first meeting in January and its second meeting on February 2, where representatives from Capital Area Democratic Women, The League of Women Voters, Austin NOW, Planned Parenthood and the Travis County Commissioner's office spoke about issues, upcoming events, and how Austin women can lobby for the issues that matter to them. At the time of publishing this article, there are 213 members on the AWPA Facebook page and growing — all strictly through word of mouth.
Lize Burr, President of Capital Area Democratic Women, is one of those women who is unabashedly mad about the state of politics in Texas. "I think women wake up and they're so discouraged, they give up. But that's part of the plan — keeping us discouraged. We have to pick up from that and do something," she urges. "We have to stop being intimidated and take the fight to them. We need to let the politicians know that we're united, we're watching, and we're keeping score."
Yvonne Davis, a recently retired activist and volunteer, agrees. "There are lots of people who want to be involved, they just want to know how. My mother was an activist in civil rights and school integration. I didn't know it then, as a child, but I was becoming an activist too. We can all sit at home and say 'that shouldn't happen,' but it's time for action. If we want change, it begins with us."
"We can all sit at home and say 'that shouldn't happen,' but it's time for action. If we want change, it begins with us." - Yvonne Davis
Many opportunities for women (and men) to create that change were presented at the February meeting (see our listing below). Carrie Tilton-Jones of the Austin NOW (National Organization of Women) chapter introduced a Women's Community Center that she hopes to help found — a single place for Austinites to go to find pro-woman groups and events in the area, and to be an independent feminist voice looking out for Texas women on equal pay, child care and workplace equality.
"The feminism we practice in this town needs to be for all women," Tilton-Jones says. She invites the community to send suggestions for the new Women's Community Center, as well as your interest in learning more and getting involved.
"We need a new kind of politics," says Sarah Eckhardt, Travis County Commissioner of Precinct 2. Eckhardt spoke to the AWPA group about the importance of getting involved in the process, for women of all political parties and beliefs. She believes that the power of the AWPA group is that its members defy labels.
"Together, our voices will make a difference," says Lofton. The next AWPA meeting will be held on Sunday, March 3; anyone interested is invited to attend (please RSVP).
Upcoming opportunities for political action:
One Billion Rising
Thursday, February 14, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Texas State Capitol South Steps
On Valentine's Day, One Billion Rising invites a billion women to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to violence against women. Today, on the planet, a billion women—one of every three women on the planet—will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
Austin Women for Political Action Meeting
Sunday, March 3, 4 - 6 p.m.
2905 Scenic Drive, Austin 78703
Find out more about this group, as well as ways to get involved to make a difference for Texas women.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Lobby Day
Thursday, March 7, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Texas State Capitol Building
Join hundreds of Planned Parenthood supporters from across the state as they rally on the Capitol Lawn, meet with legislators, and build support for women's health in Texas.
Capital Area Democratic Women Blue Ribbon Lobby Day
Tuesday, April 9, 9:30 a.m.
Texas State Capitol Gallery
The first Blue Ribbon Lobby Day in Texas in 14 years,
Equal Pay Day Austin
Wednesday, April 17, 5:30-7:30 pm
LBJ School of Public Affairs, Sid Richardson Hall, Room 3.124
Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages. This date symbolizes how far into 2013 women must work to earn what men earned in 2012.