A recent Friday night found me and my fourteen year old daughter on the couch, Netflix cued up, and we are transported to Washington D.C. circa 2003. The characters created by Aaron Sorkin that populate the world of The West Wing make the hard decisions, walk the fine line between political expediency and ethics, and always take the high road.
Then-President Jed Bartlett spoke a line that went straight to my heart: “Complexity is not vice.”
Coming out of a bruising campaign cycle which revealed open wounds and caused others, this sentiment provides a balm--some element of healing. Despite the fact that our tv and internet understanding of the world want to offer us quick answers and even faster solutions, the truth is that difficult problems have difficult and complex solutions.
Eyes filled with tears, I turned to look at my daughter. But rather than overwhelmed with emotion, her jaw was set, and her gaze was determined.
This is a girl who makes it her business to participate in democracy through active engagement in local campaigns. She writes postcards to her state and local representatives. She has participated in two days of action in Chicago in the last year.
This is a girl who figured out a few months ago that her eighteenth birthday will fall just weeks after the 2020 Presidential election, and she was livid. And here she is, watching her aspirations on the screen, and yet I realized that there are very few characters that she can look to as a young woman and see who she’d like to become.
Frankly, real life doesn’t have that many examples either. There are just 83 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, making up just 19% of the total body. Only 21 of the 100 U.S. Senators are women, and even more startling, only 50 women have ever served in the Senate. Numbers on the state and local levels may be a bit more encouraging, but the data clearly shows that women are underrepresented in the government.
Regardless of a person’s political affiliation, we can all agree that in a representative government all of the people must be represented. But my daughter Annie is lucky. She is aware of the option to seek elected office even when our current system may not illustrate it, because she is the granddaughter of a pioneer.
My mother, Martha Edith Sermon Selders, Edie to all who knew her, was elected to represent the 9th district in Jackson County, MO in 1979. Her district encompassed Eastern Jackson County and her job was akin to representing Forgottonia in Springfield. Mom was proud to be the voice of her constituents, and over the years she served her local government in several other capacities. She taught us that serving others is a privilege and an honor and that calling someone a “politician” is not a disparaging remark but instead a symbol of service.
Pioneers like my mother helped open the door, but organizations like Ready To Run keep that door open so that others can find a path to public service as well. Western Illinois University, under the leadership of Dr. Janna Deitz, is the Illinois host institution for the national Ready to Run candidate recruitment and training program. The mission of this nonpartisan program is to promote women’s involvement in government by encouraging and training them to run for office and work on campaigns.
In fact, the organization will hold a training on Saturday June 3 at the WIU Quad Cities campus. For anyone interested in finding out more please see their webpage -- and let interested women know that there are currently fewer than 20 of 90 available spots left for this June training session.
Equipped with the knowledge of what has been accomplished by those who have come before them, and offered a clear path for the future, young women today like my Annie have lots of opportunities. Moreover, we need their intelligence, perspective, and hard work to address the complex problem of ensuring that our democracy is truly democratic. But complexity is not vice. This is good work. This is important work. This is worthy work.
Molly Selders is an English teacher at Macomb High School.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.