“Do you believe women have a right to pay equity? Do you believe women have the right to feel safe in their workplace and in their own homes? Do you believe women have the right to safeguard their reproductive health?” asked Dutchess County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Elisa Sumner. On Oct. 2, the Dutchess County Democratic Committee hosted a rally for women’s equality at Vassar, inviting four Democratic candidates working on the Women’s Equality Act to speak to students and town residents. Working with the Vassar Democrats, the event featured speeches by Assembly members and candidates Didi Barrett and Frank Skartados, State Senator Terry Gipson and a keynote speech by candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, the only woman running for state-wide office in New York. The rally served as a method of informing students about the Women’s Equality Act and the need to register to vote as New York residents. The rally was also a platform upon which candidates generally promoted the re-election of Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democratic candidates.
The speakers used this venue to address their belief in the power of youth activism in politics, particularly activism within student bodies, and to galvanize students to register to vote within New York, as the elections remain contentious in the state and specifically within this region. In an attempt to inspire Vassar students to political action, Hochul recounted her service as vice president of the Syracuse University student body and as a student activist. She told students that she was critical in persuading the board of trustees to divest from South Africa due to apartheid, as well as protests against the rising prices at the college bookstore. Hochul noted, “[Students] have the tremendous power to effect change.” She also advised, “If people tell you that you cannot do something, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Along with encouraging students to become political agents of change on campus, the candidates sought to connect campus activism with general political engagement. Hochul told the crowd, “It’s state houses all over this country, [and] there are governors and state legislators who want to roll back the progress we have seen. That is why there is an urgency right now that in the New York state we are saying ‘no we are not going backwards like our opponents…we are not going there.’” Senator Terry Gipson then connected Democrats’ commitment to bolstering progressive programming with the upcoming election. He implored listeners, “Every single one of you grab every single person you can when it comes time to vote on November 4.”
The key platform that the candidates sought to rally participants around was the latest iteration of the Women’s Equality Act in the state government. The legislation has 10 points that the authors and co-sponsors believe will assist in expediting gender equality, the largest of which include “prohibition of differential pay because of sex,” regulations protecting reproductive rights and domestic violence reporting prosecutions. Hochul specifically noted that a version of this bill failed to pass in the state government last year, by two votes.
This previous history of partisan failure prompted Democratic candidates to adopt this piece of legislation as a centerpiece of their election campaigns. As Gipson said in reference to Roe v. Wade, “It is amazing to me that every single one of us up here has an opponent [who] is in denial of the truth. The truth is that since 1973 across the entire country, women have had the choice to make their own reproductive healthcare choices.”
Alongside reproductive rights, the bill’s attempts at wage equity were also placed in a partisan context that highlighted the perceived strengths of the Democratic Party. Barrett remarked, “We can’t expect that my son and my daughter as they go through their careers will always get paid the same. We can’t expect that they’ll be protected by the law in the workplace and in their homes and in other situations, because one is a man and one is a woman.”
Hochul placed this reality within a partisan context when she noted that in a recent attempt to pass pay equity legislation in the United States Congress, through the Paycheck Fairness Act, failed as no Republicans agreed to cosponsor the bill. “Who would have thought that in 2014 we would still be having to talk about whether or not women should get paid the same as men. I am appalled by that. I am appalled by that. Women, you know your worth; you know that you are worth the same as every man sitting next to you in your classroom and office, you know it in your heart,” she remarked. “Unfortunately we need our government to step in and make sure that it occurs because it’s not occurring the way it should be.”
The 10-point legislative attempt at gender equality and the rally set to promote gender equity then served as a mechanism through which candidates promoted the Democratic Party and specifically the re-election campaign of Governor Cuomo. The candidates made the connection by inextricably tying the fate Women’s Equality Act with that of the Governor. Speaking to the issue of wage inequity, The candidate for Lieutenant Governor explained, “Andrew Cuomo is launching his second term, and I’m so proud of this, [by] making the Women’s Equality Agenda the cornerstone of our next agenda starting in January.”
She continued, “What we are going to do now, for the next 30-some days, is to continue to get the message out about how our governor has transformed the state of New York in three and a half years.” Hochul then discussed the Governor’s actions in regards to lowering the state deficit, slowly increasing employment rates following the economic recession and the continued protection of women’s reproductive rights.
The candidates also devoted time within their speech to highlight how they believe that Democratic principles already displayed by the governor, when coupled with his pledge to the Women’s Equality Act and his selection of Hochul as a running mate, will be the only safeguard of economic upturn and women’s rights.
The event closed by informing students that voting Democrat on Election Day in the gubernatorial race alone will not suffice in serving as women’s rights activist or ally. Gipson warned the audience, “If we do not succeed, if all of us up here on this stage do not succeed in November, this Women’s Equality Act is in grave danger of not getting done and we cannot take that risk.”