For the last two years, a local woman has traveled thousands of miles by car and air to visit 23 states where she took part in ensuring women's voices were heard on the national, state and local government levels. She recently passed the gavel to her predecessor and now she gathers the various documents that mark her presidency for the U.S. Library of Congress as she prepares for a different role in achieving the same goal: advocating gender equality for women in elected offices.
Susanna French of Marshall County completed her two-year term as president of the National Federation of Democratic Women (NFDW) and said she's proud of the achievements realized by the organization during her term including the creation of three new statewide Democratic women's organizations (Louisiana, Alabama and Nevada), creating a scholarship and an internship opportunity for young women (under 25) at Emerge America (which offers training for those interested in running for an elected office) and the creation of National Lobby Day by the Women in Blue Committee.
French said the NFDW is the umbrella organization for statewide Democratic women's groups, structured under the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and recognized as the women's grassroots constituency voice of the party, which is why the NFDW is awarded three seats on the DNC with the NFDW president also having a seat on the executive committee throughout her term. She presided over the organization and her personal commitment was to grow the organization with more younger women and added state federations. She noted that during her time, the biggest eye-opener was how vastly different the political atmosphere is from one state to the next.
"There's certainly still more growth, there's still states that don't have organized Democratic women's organizations. In Kentucky, the Kentucky Democratic Party has an ex-officio seat for the president of the Kentucky Democratic women but not all states have that. There are still some states where their Democratic women's organizations are recognized by state parties but they are not provided a voting seat at the table in their party structure," she said.
French said Michigan recently fielded a Democratic woman as its nominee for every constitutional office and they all won: governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and director of education ,and even the state's Democratic organization is chaired by a woman.
"They are killing it. It certainly has been nice to travel to other states and see the successes they have had in recruiting Democratic women and supporting Democratic women and Democratic candidates who support women," she said. "In 2018 we had a lot of success from Democratic women across the nation and it became 'The Year of the Woman' because we elected so many new women to Congress and offices across the nation, but we are still pretty miserable in our ranking worldwide in electing women to office -- not just Democrats, but women in general."
"We climbed 29 spots in the world after the Nov. 2018 election because we had done such a great job, which sounds really wonderful but we still rank 79th worldwide and that's just unacceptable to me that the greatest country in the world and the most progressive country in the world ranks that poorly in electing women to office," she added. "Gender equality for women in elected office is definitely my calling card."
Among the perks of the position with NFDW was the opportunity to meet with many highly-respected elected officials, French said, people she wouldn't have otherwise met. When asked who stood out, French said Stacey Abrams "because she's so relatable and she says things like, 'If I can do it, anybody can do it,' and I just love that about her."
Abrams was the first black female nominee from a major party to run for governor of any state when she entered the 2018 governor's race in Georgia, which she lost to Brian Kemp (R).
"One of my dearest friends is Virgie Rollins with the DNC Black Caucus, which is a powerful group," she added. "She is in the room with a lot of people of influence and important people and she always just pulled me right along and put me in rooms where I was clearly out of my league, but she never let me play small or let me feel that way. You just can't do it by yourself in anything and I certainly did not do it by myself or without the help of mentorship."
French said she would absolutely take on the role again if she could, but she's definitely not bowing out. For the next two years she will remain on the NFDW executive board as a voting seat as the immediate past president and then serve another two-year term as past president. In the meantime, she's gathering all of her speeches, correspondence, official statements and letters, press releases and programs which name her as a guest or featured speaker of the event--all of those items will be shipped to the U.S. Library of Congress to become part of the official record. In the near future, she said, anyone could walk into the Library of Congress and type her name into the search box to view the many documents on which her name is engraved.
French issued a message to the young women who are weary sitting on the sidelines and have a thirst for enacting change and policies firsthand: "Get involved and don't let anybody tell you you can't. There will always be people that try to discourage younger people from getting involved because they have new ideas that are sometimes uncomfortable to someone who's been around for a long time. But I would encourage young women to ignore that, do it anyway and cement their place."