RI Democratic Party Seeks to Muzzle Women: Sign the Petition!

Editor’s Note: The following call to action comes from the Chair of the Rhode Island Women’s Caucus, an activist network that spearheaded Rhode Island’s landmark 2019 legislation protecting reproductive rights.

Early last week, the Rhode Democratic State Party released changes to their bylaws that would severely inhibit the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus. Our official statement on the proposed changes can be found here, but in summary the Caucus would not be allowed to speak, raise funds, organize or participate in democracy in any meaningful way.

Elizabeth Gledhill, Rhode Island Women’s Democratic Caucus Chair, urges women activists to support the Caucus as they fight against new legislation that would restrict their ability to fundraise and advocate independently. (Photo credit: Elizabeth Gledhill)

We are the branch of our state’s Democratic Party specifically working to engage, recruit, train, and support women candidates. Our members fill the halls of the State House in support of legislation critical to the vitality of Rhode Island women and hundreds of our volunteers canvass neighborhoods in support of women candidates each election cycle. We have demonstrated our ability to mobilize and elect democratic women and their allies. Yet, the party leadership distances itself from us at every opportunity.

It is as though our priorities, rooted in the values outlined in the Democratic platform, are somehow in conflict with the leaders of the State party. One need look no further than this years legislative session, where a 26 year battle to codify Roe v. Wade in our supposed “blue state” finally ended with passage of The Reproductive Privacy Act, despite “no” votes from our democratic Speaker. 

In lieu of endorsing a queer democratic woman incumbent in 2018, our party chose instead to endorse a man who just months before had been registered as a republican. It took weeks of public shaming, and pictures resurfacing of the candidate wearing a MAGA hat at a Trump rally just months before, before the party reluctantly rescinded their endorsement. The party says that their new bylaws are more in line with the DNC charter, yet they included nothing in their revisions that would prevent them from committing such an egregious violation of democratic principle again. In a move away from financial discretion, the Party also increased their expenditure limit from $2500 to $25,000, allowing leadership to authorize enormous campaign expenses without the permission of his executive committee. This suggested amendment comes just weeks after The Providence Journal broke a story that revealed over $219,000 had been spent out of the party PAC since January, most of which was spent on food and wine. In an election year so critical to protecting our Democracy, should democrats be spending donations on dining out, or supporting viable candidates?

Hours before our general membership meeting this week, I received a call from a woman, a stranger to me, who advised me that she had a message from a man, who had “a message from leadership” [Chair Joseph McNamara], and she was directed to share this message on their behalf. The message was that the Chair “wanted to negotiate”, as if the terms of governance were hostages in a bitter custody battle between the patriarchy and women. The paltry offer was an at-large seat on our 220+ member State Committee, in lieu of meaningful amendments to a deeply flawed and confusing bylaws document. What’s more, the other four Caucuses were not being offered representation on the committee (LGBTQ, Veterans, We’re ABLE, and The Black Caucus) leaving one to believe the concession was nothing more than crumbs thrown to its most valuable asset.

The Mike Pence rule (also known as the “Billy Graham rule”) does not apply in the Women’s Caucus. If the Democratic Chair wants to negotiate, he will need to do it from a seat at the table we’ve built for ourselves. 

We ask that you show your support in opposition to these bylaws by doing the following:

Rules created to stifle women’s voices silence us all and set a dangerous precedent for our party. We hope people will join us in the fight for something better.

Rhode Island Women’s Caucus of the Democratic Party (Photo credit: Elizabeth Gledhill)

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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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