EDITORIAL: What did marchers want?

THE SURPRISE WAS GONE at this year’s Women’s March in Hudson January 20. In its replacement was a sense of purpose.

Last year it looked at first like the gathering might have a modest turnout but the crowd kept growing at 7th Street Park and then filled Warren Street for blocks. At this year’s Women’s March the demonstrators–more of them than last year–arrived earlier, cheered a series of speakers and then, as if on cue before the last speakers could finish, headed for the street, eager to have their say.

Call it protest etiquette in the age of Trump. Listening wasn’t enough. Participants seemed to want direct engagement. The mood was set by the call-and-response chants and the signs that brightened the line of march. Any uncertainty a year ago about what might happen has disappeared in the wake of what has. And though the president was the butt of jokes and anger, the focus of the speakers and many marchers was elsewhere, in particular on the need for more women in positions of political power.

Do we need more women in government? It depends on how good a job you think men have done. But accepting opinion as fact produces a fake science approach to the real world dilemma: half the population has unequal representation in making critical decisions about our communities, our state and our nation. Consider a few facts.

Women are not the majority in Columbia County. Really. Unlike the state of New York and the whole United States of America, this county has slightly fewer women than men, 426 fewer as of the 2010 census and the percentage remains in favor of men in recent estimates. You wouldn’t know that from the Women’s March.

The difference is a fraction of a percent–50.3% men versus 49.7% women–and provides little guidance on how closely the gender split in our population tracks with the role women actually play in local government.

The Columbia County Board of Supervisors serves as both the legislative and executive arms of county government. The supervisors of each of the 18 towns in the county also serves as a member of the Board of Supervisors along with five supervisors from Hudson. The county has a $150-million budget.

There are 23 members on that board. Five of them are women. Put another way, women comprise just 9% of the membership of the county’s governing body.

One of the places where people here, regardless of gender, get experience in how government works is by serving on a town or village board. Each of the 18 towns of the county has four Town Board seats, which come up for election every two or four years, depending on the town. There are 72 town board seats in total around the county. Women hold 21 of them. That’s 29%. Four towns have no women members at all.

There’s one place where women are the only elected officials representing the county and that’s the state legislature. State Senator Kathy Marchione was elected to serve the 43rd District, which includes all of Columbia County. Assemblymember Didi Barrett represents parts of the county but is currently our only representative in the Assembly after the Assembly members from the two other districts in the county resigned to take different government positions.

Candidates have already begun to seek the vacant seats. It’s not clear whether any women will enter those races. They should.

Recruiting women as candidates was a theme of speakers at the Women’s March last Saturday. Two of them recently won races when few expected them to prevail–county Coroner Cricket Coleman, MD, and new Greenport Supervisor Kathy Eldridge. Dr. Coleman acknowledged that the prospect of a waging a public campaign was “terrifying” but she overcame her fears. She won by a wide margin.

The arguments for discouraging women from seeking political office, or excluding them altogether, are as old as patriarchy itself. Yet no candidate, man or woman, should claim he or she is entitled to hold office based exclusively on gender. But as last week’s march made clear, there are a lot of people of voting age in this county who believe the time is long overdue when women share equally in the burdens and pride governing our democracy.

Here’s where you start that task:

Village Elections: Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Federal Primary Election: Tuesday, June 26, 2018

State and Local Primary Election: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 (subject to change by the state legislature)

General Election: Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Comments are closed.