The midterm elections could shatter the private men’s club of US politics and ensure there is a check on Donald Trump’s power, writes Susan Dalgety as she campaigns for Susan Wild in Pennsylvania, a state that has only elected seven women to Congress in 229 years.
I have met some amazing women on our road trip round the United States.
At 70, Cherie sold her house in Washington State, bought a fifth wheel – a very large caravan – and a truck to pull it, and set off to explore her country.
“I am going to keep going until I can’t drive anymore,” she laughed as we traded stories over our washing baskets in a campsite laundry room on the Jersey Shore.
“There is just so much to see, I had never been to the east coast before,” she said. “But it is too cold now, I am heading to Arizona for the winter. Get me some sun.”
Cindy is 81, but still loves driving her two classic cars, fast, round the roads of her home state, Pennsylvania. “I have a pearlescent white 1981 Corvette and shiny red 1996 Pontiac Firebird,” she says. “I just love my cars and I love driving.”
And then there is Frances, from Canada, who has spent the last few years working in China and is recently retired.
She could be pottering round her garden. Instead she is volunteering in the mid-term elections, here in Pennsylvania.
After a year of watching US politics – and Trump – from across the border, she decided “less talk and more action” was required.
So, she and her husband Bruce packed their bags and headed south. “We researched a lot to find the right seat and the right candidate, and once we had found this one, we decided to give our all for six weeks to help the Democrats win,” she explained, as we counted out leaflets together.
“As we head towards election day I know we have totally done the right thing – I am heartened by the Americans we meet, particularly the strength of their convictions on what the US means.
“And there are a lot of women volunteering on Susan Wild’s campaign for Congress. Young, old, middle-aged, we are all here because we want to help propel a Democrat, and a woman, into power.”
If Susan Wild is elected to Congress, she will make history, joining only a handful of women from the Keystone state who have made it to Washington DC.
Pennsylvania has a terrible record of gender (in-) equality. It may be the political heart of the United States – the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia in 1775 – but until now its politics have been strictly for men only.
There have been no women elected to the US Senate since the first senators, William Maclay and Robert Morris, won their seats in 1789.
There has never been a woman state governor. Only seven women have made it to the House of Representatives in 229 years, with three of them winning special elections to fill a vacancy after their husbands died.
And there are currently no Pennsylvanian women in the House, one of only 11 states where women are, at the moment, conspicuous by their absence.
This year there are eight women standing across the state. According to a recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, each one represents “a new era in Pennsylvania, and a chance for your vote to help make history” – a view echoed by Susan Wild, who is hoping that come Tuesday night she will be the new representative for the 7th Congressional district.
She says, “I do think that 2018 will be a breakthrough year. We have several women poised to win election and bring women’s voices into Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. I hope to see a Congress next January that is more representative of women in this country and also shows the diversity of our country more generally.”
And she is clear what her priorities will be if she is elected: “Health care would be my priority issue. It is essential that we protect against efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, undo protections for people with pre-existing conditions, impose an age tax on older Americans, and raise insurance premiums.”
According to Emily’s List, America’s leading organisation focused on electing Democratic female candidates, there is definitely a “sea change” coming to Washington.
This year has been designated the ‘Year of the Woman’, and President Trump could soon find himself facing scrutiny from a House of Representatives that looks like real America, and not a private men’s club.
Quite what Trump will make of this new reality remains to be seen, but if Nancy Pelosi is back in charge of the House, with a team of strong women behind her, the President could be in for a very hard time.
Writing this column in Susan Wild’s Bethlehem field office, the late autumn sun streaming through the shop front windows, surrounded by people quietly but determinedly preparing for the next four days, it is easy to be lulled into thinking this is just another mid-term election.
But it is much more important than that. The fate of American democracy, of world order, lies in the hands of the people who will vote on Tuesday.
If the Democrats fail to take control of the House of Representatives, Trump will be unleashed. With no checks and balances to keep his worst instincts under control, he will become even more monstrous.
He will continue to lie. At the moment, he makes an average of eight false or misleading claims a day. Unfettered, he will feel no compunction to ever tell the truth.
His intemperate language will give even more succour to the white supremacists who see him as a fellow traveller. A country divided by racism and fear of ‘the other’ could be rent asunder by the very man supposed to heal the nation.
And his demonisation of the media as “the enemy of the people” will surely get even more shrill, ending who knows where. Censorship is usually high up in every demagogue’s to-do list.
When America is in trouble, its people invariably turn to its Founding Fathers for advice. On Tuesday, they would do well to remind themselves of the Declaration of Independence.
Its words echo down the centuries ... “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a government and to provide new guards for their future security”.
The 18th century language may jar, but, now more than ever, America needs new guards for their future security. And hopefully a lot more of them will be women – including Susan Wild.