I Witness Herstory: Masada Disenhouse

I Witness Herstory invites women to submit their reactions and experiences to developments locally, nationally and globally that effect women. The collection of these submissions will be used in future WMC programs to help educate and inspire current and future generations on the experiences of women.

Currently, we are collecting reactions from local women activists and leaders concerning President Biden’s new administration, the most diverse administration in US history. Over the next few weeks we will post reactions to this historic moment in American government.

Want to help the Women’s Museum of California document women’s reactions and experiences living through historic moments? Submit your I Witness Herstory story here

What is your reaction to the women proposed/confirmed for Biden’s cabinet and to those appointed to his administration?

The intentional way President Biden is ensuring that his cabinet and staff include diverse voices and perspectives that are representative of the people of this country makes me hopeful. As does just knowing that today’s kids watching the White House are seeing a strong Black woman as Vice President.

It’s a strong start that promises to deliver more than superficial representation and more than just empty rhetoric in addressing the multiple key issues facing us. However, much will depend on how much authority Biden’s Cabinet and staff are able to exercise. Will their voice matter? Will they be able to bring a truly different perspective? Will policy be different because they’re there? Will they be able to shake up the power dynamics of what has been an Old Boys Club?

Of course, as we’re celebrating, we know that we still have a ways to go to achieve equality, and that we need to aim higher. A woman has never been President, or Secretary of Defense, or even Chief of Staff. And we need to get to a point when a Cabinet that is 50% women, or even 100% (channeling RBG!), is not an anomaly that warrants commentary, but just another day at the White House.

What added value do you think women bring to governing? What added value do you think BIPOC women bring to governing?

Without real representation of women and BIPOC in government – bringing their perspectives, lived experiences and leadership – our system of government will never be a functioning democracy. The fact that we have such unequal representation now is an ongoing indication of the unbalanced power dynamics in our society.

These voices have been missing from the conversations that directly impact their own lives. Those rooms full of white men talking about women’s reproductive issues and immigrants’ rights need to be delegated to the history books, pronto.

Additionally, as anyone who’s worked with community organizations that provide services or advocate for civil rights and justice knows, the people doing the work, not seeking the spotlight but striving for a better world for themselves and their families, are primarily women. Women are the backbone of volunteering and service. That’s why I am confident that with more women in leadership in Washington, the things I care most about – such as climate change, racial justice, universal health care, and yes, world peace – are more likely to be on the front burner.

What specific things do you want the Biden administration to do for women?

Oh, about a million different things, like ensuring women get equal pay for equal work, asserting women’s rights to full control of their bodies and reproductive choices, and visibilizing and celebrating queer and trans women.

But I mostly want him to start with the things that will improve lives for all Americans, including women. And because of the way patriarchy, racism, and inequality have historically been part of the very fabric of this nation, it won’t be easy. But it’s absolutely imperative in order to ensure each American child really has equal opportunity to advance, prosper, be healthy, and follow their dreams. If Biden doesn’t strike hard at these underlying inequities, nothing else his presidency accomplishes will matter. For me those are:

1) Significantly reduce income and wealth inequality. As long as the bottom 50% of Americans has basically zero wealth while the top 10% has 70%, men have more wealth than women, and white people have more wealth than BIPOC, we won’t be able to solve any of our other issues.

2) Deliver on Racial Justice. Even while COVID swept the country, our democracy tottered on the brink, and white supremacy was inflamed by the White House, this year saw the biggest mobilizations ever in the U.S. demanding Racial Justice. Too little has been done, and this really is the moment for a comprehensive equity agenda that includes criminal justice reform and addressing police brutality and systemic inequities and widespread discrimination in housing, healthcare, and voting rights.  

3) Stop climate change. We’ve known about this threat to humanity and how to solve it since before I was born (I’m 52), and it’s long past time to act. What’s been missing is the political will. We must stop burning fossil fuels, transition to renewable energy, build out transit, and ensure that funds are invested in the vulnerable communities who are impacted most by pollution and climate change.

4) Rein in the COVID crisis AND Establish Universal Health Care: Take all those common sense steps that Anthony Fauci wanted us to take many months ago. Also, why isn’t it more of a scandal that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have some form of universal health care? Fix that.

Get things done, President Biden, and I’ll be first in line to recognize you as a Big ***** Deal.

Masada Disenhouse is a founding member of SanDiego350. She has organized San Diego’s largest climate mobilizations and is passionate about empowering people to organize, advocate, campaign and build grassroots political power together. Prior to SanDiego350, Masada worked for 350.org where she managed staff and programs to support the growth and development of the over 150 local 350 affiliates in 350’s U.S. network. 

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