The fact that Mitt Romney was stunned by his defeat says much about his and others' blindness to the divergent forces that carried Barack Obama to victory. Imagine, too, the bitter truths they must confront as the nature of the electorate becomes clear. The demographic realities that shaped the victory gave joy to those of us who have been ignored, belittled, and targeted by the conservative right. The very women, youth, people of color, gays and lesbians they assumed to be at the margins of national politics had their revenge. And, yes, we voted for "liberal" causes, obvious rights that have been denied for too long by the people who saw the country through out-of-date lenses.
Women, in particular, claimed our rights in bold print. More women turned out to vote than men. We were the largest deciding block in Obama's victory (11 points over Romney). We left absolutely no doubt that we demand and deserve equal rights: equal pay, an end to pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, better family health care, paid leave, and broad access to contraception. At the top of the list: that government should have no part in a woman's reproductive decisions. Choice. It's what most women demand for all women. An exit poll revealed that Americans believe abortion should be legal by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent.
We had a great day. We won a solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. The national vote said it all.
The national vote, while worthy of high-fives all round, is hardly the end of our struggle for women's rights. When conservatives lose a decisive battle at the federal level, they don't go home and sulk. They redouble their efforts to force their cause at the state and local levels. And they've already made that clear in Ohio -- within a few days after the federal election the legislature defunded Planned Parenthood.
Facing vetoes from the White House and having no hope of stacking the Supreme Court, pro-life advocates will become much more aggressive at the state levels. Their targets: governors (30 Republicans), Republican-controlled legislatures, local governments and institutions, including hospital boards, PTAs, even library boards. And it is no surprise that they are particularly focused on judicial appointments.
Women proved to the nation our willingness to fight for our rights. We showed our force in checking the war on women. But don't be deceived, the war goes on. Only the battlefields change.
Consider some of their recent legislative gains across the nation. Parental disclosure. Ultrasound tests. Showing a woman the X-rays of her unborn. Pre-procedure lectures. Shutting down clinics by needlessly raising architectural standards. Forcing women further afield to find a clinic. The list goes on...
Extreme conservatives can't roll back Roe v. Wade, but they can and will try to crawl beneath the radar of broad publicity with seemingly innocuous ways to shame us, to deny our rights, our equality. They will count on our satisfaction in winning the White House to soon give way to apathy. To ignore their zeal is to risk forfeiting our hard-fought gains.
To exercise their power in ways which affect their lives and health, women must educate themselves about the values and policy views of decision makers at every level. In many cases, the decisions that have the biggest impact are likely to be made by officials holding offices that often would not attract much attention. Achieving and preserving fundamental rights is never easy, especially when opponents are willing to try any tactic to block our path.
The country is served well by national organizations, but today the greater need is at the state and local levels -- to make effective use of social media, grassroots efforts and traditional earned media to profile candidates and encourage women to be aware, to choose and to vote.
The best of these information groups include both Republicans and Democrats. They may not endorse candidates. Their objective is to keep vigilance over all manner of issues affecting women in that state, to share solid information and to demand accountability from those who threaten our rights.
The only way women will continue our advance toward equality and privacy is to be aware -- to take the time not just to understand the forces trying to take back our recent gains, but to make the time to fight back.
Kate Michelman is a renowned feminist, the president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.