New report on women’s representation in 100 largest cities highlights importance of RCV, public campaign financing, term limits and support groups for women candidates

Feb 2023 Representation in Congress remains at less than 28% and systemic barriers such as inequitable campaign funding or our winner-take-all elections work to keep that percentage low. We cannot rely solely on encouraging more women to run. We need systemics reforms in addition to individual candidate support in order to effectively increase women’s representation. At this rate it would take 118 years to achieve parity.

10 Feb 2023, How Women Win Elections, by ALISSA BOMBARDIER SHAW in LA Progressive

Since the November midterm elections, we’ve already been reminded on at least two separate occasions of the ways ranked choice voting could solve issues born out of political polarization. From the costliest election of 2022 – the Georgia runoff election – to the time-consuming election for Speaker of the House of Representatives (requiring the most rounds of voting since 1859), the need for reforms like ranked choice voting is glaringly obvious.

But as Vice President Kamala Harris so aptly said, “The status of women is the status of democracy.” So, how did women do in 2022?

Midterms 2022: Bittersweet Outcomes for Women

First, the good news. The record for most women serving in Congress was once again broken, increasing from 147 (the record set during the previous 117th Congress) to 149. One seat was gained for women in the House of Representatives and the other in the Senate.

Black and Latinx women’s representation also increased in the House. In fact, there are now a record 27 Black women and 18 Latinx women. With losses for black female senatorial candidates Val Demings in Florida, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina and Krystle Matthews in South Carolina, there are still no Black women in the Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto barely held her Senate seat in Nevada by 0.5% of the vote, so we will continue to have one Latinx woman there. She also happens to be the only Latinx woman senator in our nation’s history elected to that bastion of white male privilege, which today is 76% male and 88% white.


We also saw some pretty significant progress for women’s representation in gubernatorial positions. There were 25 women who ran for governor this year and of those, 12 won. This puts us almost halfway to gender balance for governors — much closer to parity than ever, but with still a long way to go.


The last few elections sported headlines raving about another “Year of the Woman.” This phrase was first used to describe the 1992 U.S. Senate election where the number of women senators grew from a paltry two to a slightly less than paltry six. This phrase resurged again in 2018 when women won in record numbers, and has continued to be used in every election since.

But here’s why the results are so bittersweet. Don’t get me wrong, breaking records for the number of elected women is important, and shows real progress. However, even though the overall number of women in politics has increased, if we continue at this current rate, we won’t reach gender balance in governance for another 118 years! That is — not in any of our lifetimes.

Plus, calling it Year of the Woman is problematic for a myriad of reasons. The sentiment is summed up perfectly by the inspiring former Director of the Center for American Women in Politics Ruth Mandel and Professor Irwin Gertzog in 1992 when “The Year of the Woman” was coined:

“Naming a special year for women in politics seems quintessentially American — an encapsulation and packaging of a great process of social and political change into one year’s product. This year’s new product line is political woman. If she does not sell, or sells only in very limited quantities, we may not invest much in marketing her again. The political woman as fad, good for one year’s sales, then discounted or discarded.”

Having marginally broken a few records is not indicative of true progress. When we dub marginal progress as a “Year of the Woman,” we lose focus on the reality of the ever present barriers women face throughout the entirety of the political and electoral process. These women may have won their elections, but representation in Congress remains at less than 28% and systemic barriers such as inequitable campaign funding or our winner-take-all elections work to keep that percentage low.

So, what’s next?

If this election has taught us anything about what is needed to achieve gender balance in our governments, it is this: we cannot rely solely on encouraging more women to run. We need systemics reforms in addition to individual candidate support in order to effectively increase women’s representation.

This exact approach, called the twin-track approach, is what RepresentWomen identified as the central answer to Why Women Won in 2021 on the New York City Council. RepresentWomen released The Twin-Track Ecosystem in the 100 Largest Cities in October 2022 where we expanded upon and re-evaluated our NYC findings by researching: 1) women’s representation in the 100 largest cities in the U.S., and 2) which of the key ingredients to gender balance observed in NY City are also present in these cities. The report concludes with a list of guiding takeaways, aimed at changemakers interested in bringing the best practices and strategies that worked in New York City to other major cities.


The twin track approach consists first of the candidate track, in which women candidate groups (WCGs) like The New Majority NYC provide specific support to women candidates by recruiting, training, and generally navigating them through the election process.

The second component is the systems track which manifests as three reforms: ranked choice voting, term limits, and public financing/matching campaign funds programs that remove the barriers entrenched into our political systems.

On their own, both of these strategies can help to increase women’s representation. But, when these two tracks are used in tandem, there is even greater potential to open more and more doors for women. New York City was a prime example of this opportunity, with women’s representation jumping from holding 28% to 62% of seats on the city council (31 out of 51 seats).

Thus in its report, RepresentWomen names these four factors as the core of the twin-track approach for electing women: candidate groups (WCGs) and the above three electoral reforms. RepresentWomen also identifies several promising cities where some of the conditions that propelled women’s representation in New York are already present. The cities of San Francisco, Oakland, Denver, Long Beach, and Los Angeles are “​​good candidates for additional research, advocacy, and investment.” We provide a few recommendations based on the specific environment of each city.

To improve the level of women’s representation in cities where it has not been achieved:

From the report: “Moving forward, our first option is to focus on the cities that already have at least half of the twin-track factors present, but do not have parity at the local level: Los Angeles and San Francisco. In Los Angeles, there is an opportunity for ranked choice voting and a local women’s candidate group to be introduced. Though San Francisco technically already has all four twin-track factors, there is room for building on the infrastructure that is already there (RCV, term limits and public campaign financing) to ensure that more women are running and have the resources they need in each election, particularly in years following council turnover due to term limits.”

To sustain gender balance in cities where it has currently been achieved:

Denver and Long Beach would benefit from having ranked choice voting and local WCGs. Since both have small councils and term limits, women’s representation is likely to fluctuate in the future without additional support.”


Again and again, our democracy has failed to deliver on its promise of creating a voter-first, voter-driven system by keeping outdated voting systems, such as the winner-take-all rule, in place. As a result, our country’s political leaders do not adequately represent “We ALL the People,” and create policies and practices that do not meet the true needs of all Americans.

But we imagine a democracy where elected officials and appointed leaders are held accountable for creating legislative policies that ensure more women can runwinserve and lead in political positions. 

Alissa Bombardier Shaw is the Outreach Associate at RepresentWomen and assists with engagement, advocacy and communication. She is dedicated to promoting system reforms to achieve gender parity in all levels of government and create a truly representative democracy. She is published at DemocracySOS

When the people on the streets in Iran use the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the freedom they refer to is freedom from domination. Iranians are living under a regime that limits what they can say, how they dress, and how they may gather and organize. Their government is imprisoning, torturing, and killing people who are challenging domination and demanding freedom.

“Woman, Life, Freedom” resonates with the slogan of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” In that context, “liberty” also meant freedom from domination: domination by the church, domination by the rich, domination by the monarchy. (I’m listening to a book by Hilary Mantel about this now – does Steve like history by any chance?)

And yet in the present context, the idea of freedom is often used in ways that are anything but a call to challenge domination. In a second sense, freedom means “I should be able to dominate others.”  This mixing of ideas leads to the current morass where Kyle Rittenhouse’s freedom to walk into a crowd with a loaded assault rifle conflicted with his victims’ freedom to demonstrate peaceably. My freedom from threats to my health may not be compatible with your freedom to not get a vaccine.

In a Twitter thread in June 2022, Ethan Grey wrote:

You’ve watched the Republican Party champion the idea of “freedom” while you have also watched the same party openly assault various freedoms, like the freedom to vote, freedom to choose, freedom to marry who you want, and so on. If this has been a source of confusion, then your assessments of what Republicans mean by “freedom” were likely too generous. Here’s what they mean: 1. The freedom to tell people what to do. 2. Freedom from being told what to do. When Republicans talk about valuing “freedom,” they’re speaking of it in the sense that only people like them should ultimately possess it.

Or, as Frank Wilhoit put it, “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” (also more money/nearly all increases in income must be directed to the most wealthy – top 1%, talking about what they do, not what they say)

And of course, white people are the “in-group” Wilhoit refers to and they are Grey’s “people like them.” In his book White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea, Tyler Stovall does a deep dive into the ways that freedom in the U.S. context has always largely meant freedom for white people to do what they like to people of color, especially to Black people. Stoval argues that historically, “belief in one’s entitlement to freedom was a key component of white supremacy.” He quotes Isaiah Berlin as reminding us that “freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.”

Freedom as white freedom, and an entitlement to oppress others, goes back to the early days of capitalism. In Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, Cedric Robinson argued that capitalism has always been racial capitalism. One of the core ways those favoring capitalism have justified the dehumanization, brutalization, and exploitation of human beings, was by putting them outside the circle of those who deserved freedom.

John Locke’s 1689 book Two Treatises of Government is a foundational text here. Locke asks us to imagine a world where we are all totally independent of one another and where we make decisions about what kind of relationships we would “freely” agree to. He argues that of course rational people would choose a society based on private property and high levels of production, because that is just “rational.”

While he was helping create the founding ideas of freedom in the West, Locke was also invested in the slave trade and wrote the constitution for the Carolinas in the U.S. which included slavery. For many years philosophers looking at Locke have wished away those nasty parts of his biography. But in fact, they were the whole point. Locke was crafting a notion of freedom that would make the domination of others seem virtuous.

For him, land in the Americas belonged to white settlers, because Native people did not make it productive as God intended (with fences, crops in rows with farrows dug deep into the earth between them, which Indigenous found offensive). Black people could be enslaved because, just as you should not wait for a wild beast like a lion to attack you when you can know that it does not follow the light of reason and so can’t be expected to respect natural laws, similarly the people of Africa can be enslaved because they can’t be expected to act rationally. By “freedom” he meant the ability of those “rational” people (or people like him, in his class and with his powers) to do as they pleased.

Watching the Republican Party End

Why Must Americans Walk Life’s Tightrope Without a Safety Net?

(no major legislation besides defense bills in 40 years – greed/returns to the most wealthy is the only apparent foundation. Every developed country in the world has some variation on a free or low-cost national healthcare system, and free or subsidized higher education. 

In most developed countries homelessness is not a crisis; nobody goes bankrupt because somebody in their family got sick; and jobs pay well enough and have union pensions so people can retire after 30 or 40 years in the workforce and live comfortably for the rest of their lives.But not in America. Republican politicians have fought tooth-and-nail for generations to prevent any of those things from happening here.


merchants of death

Decrying the Merchants of Death


Locke starts his analysis by asking readers to forget about the fabric of social relationships that we are always enmeshed in, and he asks them to wish away history. If I am an autonomous rational individual who needs nothing from anyone, then the idea that I can use my stuff as I wish sort of makes sense. But once we get back to reality, and realize that we are born totally dependent on other human beings for our survival and that our survival requires cooperation in creating and fostering the health of the fabric of our shared reality, then it becomes clear that the notion of freedom as “no one gets to tell me what to do” does not help foster a just society.

This Lockean idea of freedom was given a boost by mid-20th century pro-capitalist thinkers Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman. They cemented for the public the idea that freedom for markets is somehow equivalent to human freedom. They argued that the freedom of those with money to do what they want with their money was the most important meaning of freedom.

This way of understanding freedom can be seen in the libertarian rantings of some of the worst of the current crop of billionaire robber barons. When the state of California required Tesla to protect its workers from Covid-19 by enacting some basic health measures, its CEO whined that the government was being fascist and imposing on his freedom.

In a 2009 article for the libertarian Cato Institute, PayPal founder and funder of Republican supporters of the Big Lie, Peter Thiel, argued for an “escape from politics” into a world where he hopes for a “single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.” In the same article, Thiel bemoaned women having the vote since he argued that they tend to vote in ways that restrict the freedom of people like himself.

Those on the side of white supremacy and racial capitalism are continuing to insist on their right to act without regard for others and to cast people of color outside the realm of those deserving freedom, legal protections, or consideration.

Freedom meaning “my right to do whatever I want” gains some of its rhetorical force from the fact that the same word is also used to fight against domination. It is noble to work to end domination. It is whiny and selfish to want to live in a world where one doesn’t need to take into account the needs of others. The astroturf “Tea Party” movement said that regulations on the kind of light bulbs that can be sold, in order to help save our planet from destruction, were an infringement on freedom. That absurd claim had cultural resonance because the word freedom carries a noble charge and because we have been trained to not see the fabric of relationships that connect us.

In the middle of the 20th century, authoritarian socialism provided a good foil for those wanting to make capitalism and freedom into synonyms. Lea Ypi spends the first part of her beautiful memoir of life growing up in Albania, Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History, exploring the lack of freedom that came from living under an authoritarian government that imprisoned people who disagreed with government decisions, and that did not allow for freedom of speech, assembly, or travel.

In the second half of her memoir she explores how, after the end of the country’s dictatorship, Albania ended up under the authoritarian rule of “market freedom.” Ypi’s family found itself enslaved and impoverished by its new master, the free market, which transformed many Albanians into economic refugees.

Commenting on the hollowness of the West’s claims about freedom, Ypi writes: “The West had spent decades criticizing the East for borders, funding campaigns to demand freedom of movement, condemning the immorality of states committed to restricting the right to exit. Our exiles used to be received as heroes. Now they were treated like criminals.” Ypi defends the socialist ideal that freedom should be grounded in the possibility of living well, free from domination. And she offers a searing critique of the idea that in capitalism money can cross borders freely, but billions of people cannot.

In How We Win the Civil War, Steve Phillips argues that the U.S. is living in a later phase of an unfinished civil war and remains divided between those who value white supremacy and those who value democracy. Many white people in the U.S. are entrenched in a fight to protect white supremacy as their old privileges and senses of themselves as being special and normative are being undermined by moves toward racial equality. As an old saying goes, “To those used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” Phillips argues that demographic realities make multiracial democracy within reach if we engage in enough of the right kind of organizing.

This fight over the meaning of freedom is part of the present civil war. Those on the side of white supremacy and racial capitalism are continuing to insist on their right to act without regard for others and to cast people of color outside the realm of those deserving freedom, legal protections, or consideration. But that other sense of freedom, as a challenge to domination, continues to have meaning and force in places like the Iranian call for “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Common Dreams


Cynthia Kaufman is the author of Challenging Power: Democracy and Accountability in a Fractured WorldGetting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope and Ideas for Action: Relevant Theory for Radical Change. She is the director of the Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action at De Anza College. She blogs at