The women’s vote is going to get a lot of attention in 2012, and for good reason, since candidates are going to need to fight to earn every vote they get.
In the midterm election of 2010, and for the first time since 1982, more women checked the box for the Republican candidate over the Democratic candidate when they cast their vote. That wasn’t a fluke – it was the result of lots of hard work and the concern of women about the state of the country and the families and friends they love.
While fewer women overall are serving in Congress than before 2010, running for office isn’t the only way to get involved. Increasingly, women are upping their participation in lots of ways, including opening up their checkbooks for candidates they support. Yet the largest growth in participation is in grassroots political activities, and women finding new and sustainable ways to hold their elected officials accountable.
One group, Liberty Lunch, invited me to speak to them in Lincoln, Nebraska in May – and I found out why this effort is one worth growing.
What started as an experiment among girlfriends over lunch has turned into a force of nature, where public officials clamor to be invited to speak and convince these women to back their policy agendas. Their efforts have created a group of savvy, politically active citizens who aren’t afraid to throw their collective voices into the fray. Recently, they even pooled resources to run an ad against Senator Ben Nelson in response to the “Cornhusker kickbacks” he received, because they were so outraged by what seemed like their Senator taking a bribe for a policy Nebraskans didn’t want.
After the 2008 election and subsequent financial crisis, Liberty Lunch founders Kathleen Allan, Debra Evnan and Lisa Froehlich were alarmed with how the new administration approached major issues—they felt there was too little community input or involvement. They wanted to make sure their girlfriends were well educated about the policy decisions being made on the local, state and national levels that would affect their lives in significant ways. "We started Liberty Lunch because of our deep concern for the future of this country—we want our children and grandchildren to be able to live the American dream, just as we have." Allan said. "We wondered if we were the only ones who felt this way…we found out we are not alone. Changing hearts and minds starts with being educated about the facts."
Kathleen and Debra initially gathered about 25 women who shared their desire to promote patriotism and conservative ideals and support our military to discuss current issues. In two years, the monthly luncheons have grown to crowds of nearly 150. These women aren’t die-hard GOP faithful—they are local women concerned about their country, their families, and the future, and they decided it was time to get more involved and become more informed.
They've covered cap-and-trade, Afghanistan, Homeland Security, and the economy in an environment that discourages political bickering or attacking, encouraging respectful discussion. They recently started a book club exploring both liberal and conservative perspectives, and are planning a study of the Constitution this summer.
Liberty Lunch has become so popular that it has attracted both the governor and lieutenant governor of Nebraska, along with Representative Steve King and State Attorney General Jon Bruning.
At the local country club where they meet, topics of conversation are far from parenting tips or cooking secrets—these women are determined to be educated, informed, and active citizens who play central roles in Lincoln's major policy debates. Men often ask if an exception can be made to let them sit in—who wouldn’t want to hear from the governor—but the answer is always, “no.” This group is by women, for women, and the force they’ve created is becoming more and more important politically.
The best part about Liberty Lunch is that it isn’t exclusive, expensive, or elaborate. When I spoke last month, I was most impressed by how engaged these women have become through a simple grassroots effort a few friends started.
This idea can, and should, be replicated across the country, so those women who might not be ready to run can still be active and educated—and you can help start the movement. It’s as easy as having a few friends and a local representative to your home for iced tea—ask questions and share ideas.
“I always explain this at every meeting,” Allan says, “We are not about partisan politics or personal attacks. We focus on policy. We don't fundraise or endorse candidates, and we're not affiliated with any party or group. We're just women who love America. I believe women can have great influence. If we find our voices and use our power, we can get our country back on the right track."