When it comes to women in politics, Pennsylvania’s statistics paint a grim picture: The state ranks 49th in the country for gender parity for women holding elected office (only Mississippi lags behind us). And out of 28 legislators currently representing part of Allegheny County in the General Assembly, only one is a woman.
But on November 8 — one year after Donald Trump was elected president — four local women leaders announced a new political action committee that they hope will mobilize more women to run for office.
Joining the ranks of She Runs SWPA and national organizations like She Should Run, Women for The Future (WTF) Pittsburgh was founded by former Pittsburgh City Council candidate Ashleigh Deemer; Wilkinsburg Mayor-elect Marita Garrett; outgoing City Council member Natalia Rudiak and Allegheny County Controller and former State Representative Chelsa Wagner to financially support progressive female candidates, share fundraising best practices and disrupt the boys’ club of Pennsylvania politics.
“The past year has been like a moment of reckoning for our country,” says Rudiak. “We wanted to make a statement that women are rising up.”
And they have reason to. According to the Femisphere Report released this year by the Women and Girls Foundation, 77 percent of Pittsburgh families in poverty are headed by single mothers whose economic security is thwarted by a dearth of quality childcare, transportation and jobs. And on a national scale, women grapple daily with issues ranging from student loan debt and lack of paid parental leave to sexual harassment and domestic violence.
But, Rudiak notes, “These issues aren’t being addressed by majority male bodies in politics.”
She and the other WTF founders believe the solution to these systemic problems lies in representation. Put simply, when more women hold positions of power, women’s lives improve.
Regardless of party affiliation, female legislators prioritize issues affecting women, families and children more than their male counterparts, and they vote more consistently in favor of environmental protections in both the House and Senate.
“It’s been shown that women are basically better at reaching compromise,” says Wagner. “Having more women in office doesn’t just benefit women — it benefits everyone.”
According to Garrett, this is particularly true for Black women, who have always been on the frontlines in the fight for justice and equity.
“It’s beyond time we pool resources together to elect more of us and have multiple seats at these tables,” she says.
Deemer understands firsthand how bundling financial resources can free up candidates’ time, allowing them to focus on facilitating real change.
Reflecting on her own bid for office, she says, “My team and I exceeded our fundraising goals, but it was harder than it had to be. Some donors and allies chose to sit this race out, because it was easier than upsetting establishment leaders who supported my opponent. WTF can provide the financial support women need to overcome similar challenges, listen to voters, communicate their vision — and win.”
The WTF launch — dubbed a “Her-storic Evening”— will be held on Monday, Dec. 11. The event will kick off at 5 p.m. with food and wine at Dinette in East Liberty, and the party will move to Ace Hotel from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets range from $49 for the party to $149 for the complete package.
Every aspect of the evening was deliberately chosen to showcase women’s talents.
For example, the co-founders say Dinette’s chef-owner Sonja Finn embodies female leadership. Finn adopted a no-tipping policy for the restaurant last summer, pays her staff a living wage and offers health insurance — a rarity in the restaurant industry.
Entertainment will include performances by Jacquea Mae, DJs from GirlFx and Future is Female, who formed at the Girls Rock! Pittsburgh summer camp.
But the event isn’t the only way to support the initiative.
“Every bit helps — even $5 a month,” says Rudiak. “Sixty dollars can pay for hundreds of yard signs or dozens of pieces of mail.”
Wagner adds that getting new people — including male allies — involved by hosting parties in their homes is essential to their grassroots fundraising model: “It’s really creating that big tent and trying to bring in people who have never written a political check in their life.”