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Twenty Years Later: Anita Hill's Fight Is Still Ours

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This post was co-authored by Ellen R. Malcolm, EMILY's List Founder and Chair of the Board.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words -- and sometimes those words create a loud roar that changes the future of our country.

20 years ago today, Anita Hill's testimony in front of an all-male Judiciary Committee riveted women across the nation -- and galvanized them to action. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right, recalled repeatedly being asked why there weren't more women on the dais. "There are only two of us!" she'd answer. Women were furious -- and rightly so.

In the months after the hearings, membership in EMILY's List, the women's political network Ellen founded 27 years ago and Stephanie now leads, skyrocketed by 600%. We worked with women from all over the country to find and support a record number of women candidates, and 1992, the election following the Anita Hill hearings, became the legendary "Year of the Woman." Diane Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Carol Moseley Braun, and Patty Murray went to the US Senate, and 19 new Democratic women were elected to the House.
Two decades later, progress is substantial, but slow. Senator Patty Murray -- the "mom in tennis shoes" elected almost twenty years ago -- co-chairs the so-called "Super Committee" -- the only woman on perhaps the most high-status, high-stress assignment in Washington. Murray is also chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and one of only two women in the Senate leadership. A grandmother re-elected overwhelmingly last cycle, Murray is living proof that women's leadership matters in Washington.

But there's much work to be done. We remembered Anita Hill's dignified, stoic presence in front of the dais of men when we watched the hearings earlier this year on H.R. 3, the notorious anti-choice legislation passed by Boehner's Congress to try to eliminate Planned Parenthood, which included language attempting to redefine rape and subject women who had abortions to IRS audits. None of the Republican men on the committee asked how young women should go about making wise, healthy choices, without Planned Parenthood. None of them pointed out that no victim of rape or incest should ever be left without options. None of them said: this is unacceptable.

It had to wait until the bill came to the floor of the House for women like Jackie Speier of California and Gwen Moore of Wisconsin to speak up -- sharing experiences from their own lives mirrored in the experiences of millions of women throughout the country. And, as they were twenty years ago, women watching and listening were furious. And now--as they did then -- they are turning their anger into fuel. They are taking action.

EMILY's List has almost one million members -- 200,000 new members in the months since the Republican witch hunt on Planned Parenthood began. Pro-choice, Democratic women have run in four of the five special elections during that time, and two already serve in Congress. A historic number of women are running for the U.S. Senate, and we are poised to take back the House with extraordinary women. EMILY's List members have contributed, in just the last few months, a record $2 million dollars to women candidates across the country -- donations carrying with them the fervent hopes of women to see more faces like their own, more experiences like their own, and more priorities like their own represented in the House and Senate.

Will it be easy? No. Campaigns are always hard. And the right-wing that has again and again said eliminating Planned Parenthood is more important than jobs will do anything to keep these seats in their hands. But across the country, women are standing up and saying, no more. They're taking the plunge, and running for office. They're finding the extra time in the week to go door to door for the candidates who inspire them, and sending whatever extra they have in these tough economic times to those same women candidates. All these women inspire us. A few months after the Thomas hearings, Anita Hill reflected on her experiences. "I did what my conscience told me to do," she said, "and you cannot fail when you do that."

We honor Anita Hill today, and we pledge to honor her every day until Election Day, 2012 -- The Year of the Woman again.

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