The Time for Women to Lead Is Now: a Letter from RI Democratic Women's Caucus Chair Liz Gledhill
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
The time for women to lead is now.
A few weeks ago, the Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus called for new leadership in the House and Senate. This week, two women answered that call: Senator Gayle Goldin has announced that she is running for Senate President, and Representative Lianna Cassar has announced she is considering a run for Speaker of the House. By demanding that women lead, we create a space in which women can feel empowered and supported when they challenge the status quo. The Women’s Caucus asks you to join us as we call on our elected officials to support bold, collaborative, and honest leadership in the General Assembly for 2021.
Our economy is in shambles. Women across Rhode Island are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Women hold a larger share of low-wage, front-line jobs--such as nursing home workers, care-givers, and educators. Women have also been laid off at higher rates than men. Even before the coronavirus public health emergency, women shared a disproportionate burden of childcare responsibilities than their male counterparts. The pandemic has exacerbated that burden to unsustainable levels.
Women of color are paid $0.62 for every dollar that white men are paid, yet the leadership in our House of Representatives has refused to consider an Equal Pay Bill that would help close the gender pay gap. Governor Gina Raimondo, in her October 8th editorial to the Washington Post, recognized the key to rebuilding our economy during this economic crisis is women. She said, “To build an equitable and resilient economy, let’s start with women.”
It’s a matter of health and safety for us all
The health and safety of RI residents should be at the forefront of every legislators’ political agenda. The top leadership of our general assembly have been largely absent since shutting down in late March, and have ignored repeated calls to reconvene. By doing so, they have failed to protect healthcare at a time when the people of Rhode Island need it most.
With the recent passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and rushed appointment of a conservative, anti-reproductive freedom, right-wing judge to fill her seat, the threat to reproductive health rights is in danger now more than ever. While here in Rhode Island we have codified our rights to safe and legal abortion with the Reproductive Privacy Act, we have no idea what effect a conservative court will have on a person’s right to bodily autonomy.
Countless advocates recognized the threat to reproductive freedom and felt the urgency in passing the Reproductive Privacy Act. Yet in 2018 Speaker Matiello said, “Roe v Wade is NOT going to be overturned. I think that’s a concern that’s not rooted in reality.” Had women relied on anti-choice top leadership who voted against passage of the RPA to protect their rights, they’d be staring down a Supreme Court that will stop at nothing to decimate the progress of the reproductive justice movement of the last sixty years.
Endorsed by the NRA with an A+ rating, both the Speaker of the House and the Senate President neglected the safety of our teachers, staff, and students in K-12 schools, where, despite the overwhelming opposition of their constituents, it remains legal to carry concealed guns onto school grounds. Since January, Rhode Island has seen a 52% increase in gun sales compared to sales in 2019, and it’s only October. Rhode Island deserves leaders that will put the health and safety of its residents first.
A Call for New Leaders Who Will Put Rhode Islanders First
Both Senator Goldin and Representative Cassar are unafraid to lead in this time of crisis. While men sharing their ambition publicly has not only been expected, but celebrated in our culture, women have not enjoyed the same privilege. To challenge the current Democratic leadership, who have had their power unchecked for decades, is in fact an act of bravery.
In 2018, we saw leaders in both chambers punish those legislators who dared push back against the status quo. Committee assignments were revoked, offices were taken away, and calls for justice were largely ignored. Speaker Matiello’s own campaign operatives recently admitted to hiring a private investigator to follow his opponent, an egregious violation of privacy that most Matiello foes have long suspected but were unable to confirm. Instead of a corrupt, dysfunctional toxic workplace that only serves those in charge, Rhode Islanders deserve a state legislature that operates as a true democracy, and serves all of us.
The results of the recent primary saw overwhelming support for new, progressive leadership in our general assembly. The voters have spoken, and they want a change.
Year after year, there is an expectation that men will lead the general assembly. Yet, it is the male top leadership who have failed to lead during this economic crisis. It is the men of the Senate and House leadership who have failed to protect healthcare during a historical pandemic. It is the male Senate President and House Speaker who have sided with the gun-lobby as children hide under desks during active-shooter drills. It was anti-choice men who failed to listen to the demands of 71% of Rhode Islanders who wanted to protect access to safe and legal abortion. And it is the men of the General Assembly top leadership who refuse to lead with integrity when given access to power.
If we want economic recovery, guaranteed healthcare, common sense gun safety, reproductive justice, and--most importantly--if we want integrity restored to the General Assembly, we must put women in the highest places of power. The time for women to lead is now.
Chair, Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus
An abbreviated version of this letter was published in the Providence Journal's "Letters to the Editor" section.