Matriots Executive Director Elissa Schneider by Brian Kaiser

A More Perfect Union

We’ve seen this idea before. We just didn’t know it would take this long for it to come back.

In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized a convention for the rights of women in Seneca Falls, New York. Using the Declaration of Independence as a model, the participants wrote a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, outlining the case for women’s suffrage and participation in government. The convention concluded with the goal of securing equality for women through their enfranchisement. The Women’s Suffrage movement had began.

Now 170 years later, a group of Central Ohio women intend to make good on Stanton and Mott’s vision: those whose lives are affected by legislature and policy should have equal opportunities to craft that legislation. Despite the state being 51 percent female, women currently make up 22 percent of the Ohio General Assembly and only 14 percent of Ohio’s county commissioners.

“There’s a political stalemate that’s seizing our country and it’s defined by partisan rancor,” said Cox. “So we thought if the party system is not working well for us…what can we do to change that?”

“We’re the primary caregivers of our families and the chief consumers in our state. We feel like political representation—gender balance in politics—is sort of the final frontier for women’s leadership,” said Sally Crane Cox. Cox, along with five other women, attended the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. Gripped by the enthusiasm of the movement and the belief that better government is a one of proportional gender representation, the six women felt energized to be the change they wanted to see.

Ten days after the march, Cox hosted the group for dinner and discussion. Recognizing that money is a huge factor in political influence, the group decided to start a nonpartisan state political action committee with the mission of electing women to Ohio state and local offices who promote an economy in which women will prosper. Adopting the symbol of the powerful queen bee, the new PAC decided to call themselves the “Matriots.”

The Matriots kicked off a fundraising campaign on July 4 of last year, aiming to raise $400,000. Men, women, Republicans, Democrats, Independents—Cox was thrilled with the people stepping to the plate, many at the $2,000 “founding member level.”

“We obviously weren’t the only ones feeling that there was a need for an alternative to the present situation,” she said.

By the end-of-the-year deadline, the Matriots had surpassed their original goal—nearly doubling it, in fact, by an additional $350,000. Within a year, Crane, now serving as treasurer, and the Matriots were heading up the second-largest PAC in the state of Ohio. With their finances in shape, The Matriots hired an Executive director, started a committee to endorse candidates, and began their overall agenda to reshape the gender landscape of politics in Ohio.

“Our endorsed candidates are so passionate about the issues affecting their communities and have amazing inspiring stories of their own. We seek to tell those stories,” said Elissa Schneider, Executive Director for the Matriots. “We hold events such as Matriots Mondays to connect our candidates to our members and others interested in our work.”

Historically, women have not been a unified political force. (I learned this by flipping through the pages of my great-grandmother’s college yearbook which had pages devoted to both the Suffragette and Anti-Suffragette clubs.) With even greater political divisions today, how would the Matriots rally women around the flagpole, so to speak?

“There’s a political stalemate that’s seizing our country and it’s defined by partisan rancor,” said Cox. “So we thought if the party system is not working well for us…what can we do to change that?

Shedding political labels was the first step. The Matriots is a values-based organization centered on women’s economic prosperity and human and civil rights. With an emphasis on values, the PAC hopes to break through partisan politics and bridge divides.

“We currently have members in 25 Ohio counties and through our 88 Woman campaign, we seek to expand this reach and have at least one member in each of Ohio’s 88 counties,” says Schneider. “Our mission is resonating in both urban and rural areas.”

How does the Matriots’ “big tent” approach affect controversial issues, such as reproductive rights? The Matriots do not endorse candidates who are verbally or actively opposed to reproductive choice. Yet choice can mean many things. Women may find that they agree in upholding choice as the law of the land, or that they would never agree to a woman’s rights being taken away.

“We want to say [to women candidates], ‘Ok. You run. We’ll take care of the details,’ and give them the support they need,” said Cox.

“Somehow we’re trying to find a place and a space where we can have a conversation civilly and move forward,” said Cox.

Candidates who wish to be endorsed by the Matriots must apply for endorsement and demonstrate how they espouse the PAC’s values. In the upcoming November election, 34 candidates are Matriots-endorsed—mothers, grandmothers, new candidates, incumbents—representing various political affiliations and all sharing the belief that when women are represented fairly in government, the civic conversation changes and everyone benefits.

“Research has shown that women tend to govern a little differently than men in the sense that [women] are often more collaborative and will work across the aisle on issues that they care the most about, and that women care most about issues that directly impact families,” said Cox. “And that covers so much—healthcare, education, and paid leave that not only contribute to the well-being of women, but to our families and communities.”

For Cox, electing women to office is also about normalizing women running for office. Women have a more difficult time deciding to run for office, questioning their qualifications, deciding whether they can make the time commitment, or securing childcare during campaign time. Women who don’t win a first election tend to drop out of politics more often than men.

“We want to say [to women candidates], ‘Ok. You run. We’ll take care of the details,’ and give them the support they need,” said Cox.

What is the eventual goal? An Ohio in 2028 where at least 50 percent of elected offices are held by women.

“We envision a future where women have equality, influence and power,” said Schneider.

“Women candidates deserve more financial support. Politically, the more we engage, the more we achieve.”

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