Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2

February 27, 2014 by

Winning Any Office (or Male-Dominated Environment)

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Rebecca Sive was a cofounder of the Jewish Fund for Justice, one of the founding organizers for EMILY’s List and was included in the book Feminists Who Changed America: 1963-1975. This is still only a small part of her résumé, but Sive has taken her knowledge, experience and passion for women’s rights and penned the book Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House” called by Publishers Weekly “a clear and persuasive roadmap to female political success.”

Sive’s book is both down-to-earth and invigorating as it champions women to move forward and gives concrete details on how to do so. She also supplies real-time advice from a host of powerhouse women in the worlds of politics, business and philanthropy. While her book is angled toward politics and running for office, Sive’s advice can be used in any other male-dominated environment.

Danica Davidson, a journalist whose writing on women’s rights and women’s issues has appeared in “Lilith,” “Ms.,” MTV and CNN, interviewed Sive.

Danica Davidson: How did you first get involved in feminism?

Rebecca Sive: I became a feminist after reading Sisterhood Is Powerful and The Dialectic of Sex while in college. In different ways, each was eye-opening, informative and inspirational. Although I had always been independent and a leader, these books put a face and a politics on my views, interests and political commitments.

My mother and father had taught my sister and me to be independent and to do good, so it was a relatively short step to becoming a feminist activist with these goals, once I learned about the women’s movement (around 1971). Before joining the American Jewish Committee — after graduate school — and co-founding the Jewish Fund for Justice several years later, I was a college and graduate school feminist activist.
I led a campaign (pre-Roe v. Wade) to provide contraception services at my college (Carleton College) health clinic. Before we succeeded — after organizing and running a campus-wide campaign — women students had to travel to a Planned Parenthood clinic 40 miles away. (Needless to say, it seemed that whatever the boy students needed was available!)

At the American Jewish Committee, I organized various women’s projects whose goals were to further collaboration among Jewish women and women of other ethnic groups. All the projects had a feminist focus. Among the projects was the Illinois Women’s Agenda, a coalition of over 70 organizations, including Jewish women’s organizations, such as the National Council of Jewish Women. This was the first modern women’s-movement-era coalition to advocate for economic security, women’s reproductive autonomy and other issues in the state. (An article I wrote about it is in this book: The Roads They Made: Women in Illinois History).

Another project was an exhibit on Illinois women’s history for the U.S. Bicentennial, which led to the re-appearance of a Jewish woman, Hannah Shapiro Glick, who started the historic 1910 garment workers’ strike in Chicago.

The Jewish Fund for Justice (JFJ) was an idea of Heather Booth’s and Si Kahn’s and maybe a couple others. We met for the first time at the Midwest Academy in Chicago, which hosted many progressive gatherings (and where I was trained by Heather as a community organizer). All of us had considerable social justice organizing experience. We knew the history of the American Jewish community’s commitment to social justice and wanted to institutionalize it among like-minded donors at a time — the Reagan era — when conservatives were trying to dismantle civil rights achievements.

DD: How do you think being Jewish helped shape your beliefs on social justice, feminism and leadership?

RS: I wasn’t raised in a Jewish home, but I learned about Judaism as a social justice commitment when I was in high school and in college. I learned more about Golda Meier, Hannah Solomon (founder of NCJW and a Chicagoan), Rosa Luxembourg and other Jewish women social justice activists while I was studying for my master’s degree, studying Jane Addams and the other progressive women leaders of that era. I was inspired by them to do what I could along the same lines.

After graduate school, when I was a consultant to the National Women’s Political Caucus during the fight for ERA ratification, a group of us (also including Heather Booth) founded the Midwest Women’s Center (see entry in the book, “Feminists Who Changed America”), and I became its first director. I met a lot of contemporary Jewish women leaders, including Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan. I worked with both of them, doing media relations, arranging speaking engagements, fundraising projects, etc.

DD: For people who haven’t read your new book, what do you reveal in Every Day is Election Day, and which powerful women did you interview?

RS: The book includes famous women such as U.S. Senators Klobuchar, Stabenow and Landrieu, as well as Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood of America, Frances Beinecke president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Melanne Verveer, first US ambassador for global women’s issues.

Jewish women include good friends and longtime colleagues of mine: Bettylu Saltzman, noted political activist and philanthropist; Ilana Rovner, the first woman to serve on the Seventh Circuit US Court of Appeals; Ellen Chesler, biographer of Margaret Sanger, and Jan Schakowsky, Member of Congress. (Here is what the New Jersey Jewish paper had to say: Activist, author urges women to lean into politics

As you know, women get involved in running for office, and otherwise engage in public leadership, because they care about issues. Consequently, the book explains how women can achieve their issue goals by becoming politically influential. It’s a step-by-step guide and includes a substantial resource section.     

DD: If someone doesn’t want to run for office, yet wants to make a difference in terms of social justice, what can they do?

RS: It’s for women who want to be public leaders for the public good, in whatever political capacity, e.g., elected, appointed, running an organization or campaign, or as an issue advocate or donor. There is no other inspirational practical guide for such women that is evocative of the lives of women of differing ethnic, racial and class backgrounds, who aren’t already famous–from the Upper East Side to a Delta shack, “from Mississippi to Manhattan,” as I say in my intro.

DD: You’ve talked about your passion for reproductive autonomy and economic security for women. With all the recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights and the fight still going on for equal pay, what are some concrete steps people can take on these issues?

RS: I recommend that every woman who cares about women’s reproductive autonomy and economic security join and financially support organizations that promote these goals; become an activist on these issues; support women candidates who support these issues; and make sure to speaks out, e.g. in the local newspaper, online, etc., about the importance of securing these rights.