At MGS Event, Rep. Wolf Tells Women: “You Have the Numbers to Make a Difference in Politics”
October 18, 2012
Ashley Francis, McCormack Graduate School
The Gerontology Institute and Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, both at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, and the Eastern Massachusetts Older Women’s League (OWL), a non-partisan group formed in 1980 to bring together mid-life and older women around common social, economic, and political concerns, cosponsored, "Women: Your Power, Your Issues, Your Election" on October 17. Over 40 women ranging from 20 to 80 years of age gathered in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library as featured guest speaker Alice K. Wolf, state representative from the 25th Middlesex District in Cambridge, discussed her experiences and perspective on women in politics.
As an immigrant and a self-proclaimed “mousy” teenager, Wolf knows that it can be difficult to realize the power you have, especially as a woman. However, after working her way up from school committee member to city councilor to vice mayor to mayor and finally to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1996, Wolf understands that each of us has power and each of us should use it.
Wolf explains that at the individual level we each have discretionary time and money. "If we choose to use these resources, we have the power to make and influence decisions. However, even more power is wielded when we come together, working alongside each other and educating one another." Ellen Bruce, director of the Gerontology Institute, member of the Eastern Massachusetts OWL chapter, explains, “Power to affect legislation happens when women act in one voice. With one voice we can get policymakers to listen."
However, Wolf warns that this voice will fade without generational education. The state representative explains that younger women may take issues for granted because of the work of older generations. Therefore, older generations must share their stories, reminding young women of their struggles. Wolf believes generational education is a key to perpetuating women’s efforts to be equal.
After all, women still have countless issues to address. Since Wolf was elected 16 years ago, the percentage of women in the legislature has not changed. Only one in four legislators is a woman, just as in 1996. Furthermore, Massachusetts has elected only one woman to Congress and has yet to see a woman senator. As Wolf laments, “Politics is a contact sport and men have very sharp elbows.” Despite women voting more frequently than men, men are still overrepresented in government.
With very few women in office, men are overwhelmingly making decisions about issues that face women. Wolf believes women need to be aware of the issues that face their gender and all elders. The longstanding advocate for women and older adults notes age discrimination, reproductive rights, fringe benefits, health care, and social security as some of the crucial issues to address.
Wolf believes it is feasible to find solutions to these issues, but she cautions that it takes time. As a state representative, Wolf has seen first-hand that change can take years, but she knows that when people care and use their power effectively it can happen. As Ellen Bruce explains, “Change doesn’t happen by chance. It works because people work to make it happen.”
You can work to make it happen by supporting the candidate you believe in, according to Wolf. "Understanding the issues and working for the candidate you trust will best address those issues; you are helping shape the future." Wolf believes women are empowered to drive change because, “We have the numbers to wield power, the numbers of older women, the numbers of younger women, the numbers to make a difference on issues of justice and human rights.” Wolf has used her career to make a difference on these issues and encouraged the audience to work with her, starting by supporting the candidates who will best stand for them in the upcoming election.