By Claire Altschuler
Donald Trump's election was a life-altering event for many Americans. Those who supported him felt validated and optimistic, while those who opposed him found the results hard to accept.
"It was the highlight of my life," said Cyndi Love of Scottsdale, Ariz., a Trump campaign volunteer. Nicki Weiss, a social worker from New York City said, "The sense of our world having changed reminds me of how I felt with 9/11."
While men as well as women say the election deeply affected their lives, it is hard to overstate the impact it has had on women. An estimated 4.5 million Americans, mostly female, joined the Women's March the day after Donald Trump's inauguration. Since then, many have taken up political activism for the first time with profound effects on their work and personal lives.
Some women are rethinking how they allocate their time and energy to have more for political activities. Others are joining grass-roots groups and finding new career paths, including running for office, to further causes they believe in. Along the way, women are learning more about themselves and their communities and discovering new ways to balance work, family and a newfound commitment to their country.
The day after the election, Sharon Adams Poore, a 58-year-old product manager for a publishing company, said she noticed "utter silence" on her regular train commute from her home in South Hamilton, Mass., to her Boston office. That morning, she says, "there was a solemnness" she'd never felt before.
Poore has always had an interest in politics, particularly local issues that affect her family, the environment and animal rights. But the 2016 election, and especially her participation in the Women's March with her 20-year-old daughter, Madison, reignited her commitment to national causes.
Since the march, Poore has renewed her lapsed newspaper subscription in order to be better informed. And, like a lot of other women, she has been voting with her pocketbook. A grass-roots effort called #GrabYourWallet, which began as a social media reaction to the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has grown into a consumer movement targeting Trump-owned companies, sellers of Trump-brand merchandise, and companies with executives or board members who publicly supported Trump. The numbers change daily, but a recent check of the grabyourwallet.org website lists over 50 companies in the activists' crosshairs.
Gina Perez, a 43-year-old mother of two in Ames, Iowa, and an IT professional for the Iowa Department of Transportation, decided to run for her local school board after the election. She says she was shocked by Trump's victory, but "I felt like I had no room to complain if I was not going to work toward fixing it." Perez's husband is from Puerto Rico, and she says she is concerned about possible racism targeting him or her sons.
According to a recent poll by The Washington Post, political activism is catching on among women. Forty percent of Democratic women said they intend to become more politically active in 2017, as compared with 27 percent of Democratic men. Among Republicans, though, the men outnumbered women: 17 percent of women and 26 percent of men plan to increase their involvement.
Still, many Republican women are energized.
Lisa Vranicar-Patton, 50, of East Berlin, Penn., is a small business owner and longtime supporter of Donald Trump. She said Trump's win has motivated conservatives, and "the energy and enthusiasm is being used again to support our (elected representatives) and judicial candidates."
Candidate-training programs also are reporting an upsurge in enrollment. Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and head of Ready to Run, a national training program for female candidates, says interest in the program "is unlike anything we've seen before." Registrations are coming in about three times faster than usual, and many would-be candidates are being placed on waiting lists. "There is a new energy," Sinzdak says. Women who had not been politically active say they "cannot sit on the sidelines anymore."
Christine Lui Chen, a 36-year-old from Bridgewater, N.J., and a first-generation Asian-American, says she was inspired to run for state Senate after participating in the Women's March. Chen, a Democrat, says her campaign provides an example for her 6-year-old daughter and demonstrates that "we create our own possibilities." If Chen wins, she will be the first woman since 1987 and the first Asian-American ever to be elected to the seat.
Women also are joining grass-roots groups in droves. In the wake of the election, neighbors and friends from both the left and the right are coming together to promote causes they believe in. Many are relying on the Indivisible Guide, a tool kit for political activism, to learn how to reach out to elected representatives. According to its website, Indivisible includes nearly 6,000 groups, with every state and congressional district represented.
Established political organizations, such as the League of Women Voters (LWV), are witnessing increased interest as well. Jesse Burns, executive director of LWV New Jersey, says the nonpartisan group has "seen a huge upswell in membership" since the election.
And women say they are donating more to political causes and candidates. Cynthia Love, a recording secretary for the Paradise Valley, Ariz., chapter of the National Federation of Republican Women, says she has been donating to candidates committed to the president's agenda. Gloria Falzer of Montclair, N.J., has been giving more to Planned Parenthood and to Democratic candidates running in special elections.
Engagement spans all age groups. Abby Schreiber, a 28-year-old New Yorker, disagrees with the image of younger people as apathetic, citing movements they were instrumental in starting, like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. But the 2016 election and the Women's March have increased their focus, she says. "This generation is mobilized and is speaking out."
Whether making calls to Congress or running for office, women are finding ways to fit political activism into already busy lives. Monic Behnken, a 44-year-old sociology professor at Iowa State University, mother of two, and a candidate for her local school board, says she hadn't run before because she was too busy. But that changed after the election. "When I woke up on (Nov. 9) ... I realized I'm really not that busy. This was something I needed to make time for."