Vice Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party Genevieve Williams sat down with JULIE to discuss her new position, the future of the party, her experiences running for office, and women’s rights.
Williams is the Chair of the Newton County Central Committee, the Fifth Vice President of the Missouri Federated Democratic Women’s Club, and is the Secretary of the Emily Newell Blair Women’s Democratic Club of Joplin.
You were recently elected as Vice-Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party. Can you tell us about what some of your roles and responsibilities will be in that position?
As far as the duties that are spelled out in the Missouri Democratic Party by-laws, the Vice Chair is basically to serve in place of the Chair if they are absent or unable to fulfill their duties and to kind of serve at the pleasure of the Chair. So, it really kind of varies from Chair to Chair and Vice Chair to Vice Chair how involved you are or what you’re expected to do. The other thing, which is actually spelled out in the by-laws of the Democratic National Committee, is that the Vice Chair of Missouri then goes to the DNC as well. It gives you a vote on the DNC for Missouri. So, we will be able to cast a vote in the upcoming election for DNC Chair.
Please tell us why you will be good for this position and what you can bring to it?
Absolutely. I ran and was elected as a representative of both Millennials and Progressives as somebody who caucused for Senator Bernie Sanders in the Missouri Democratic Presidential Preference Primary. But also, I am somebody who represents rural Missouri. We usually try to make sure we have a mix in the leadership of the Democratic Party in Missouri of people from St. Louis and Kansas City and Columbia but also people from what we call outstate which is basically anywhere that’s not within 40 miles of I-70. So definitely I’ll be bringing that rural perspective. Something that I have been working really hard on is to reach out to people throughout the state, because one thing that’s clear to us as a party is we do need to do better everywhere. It’s not just urban areas of Missouri, and it’s not just rural areas of Missouri. Our message didn’t reach the people it should have been reaching or it fell on deaf ears.
What goals do you have for the party in the next year or two?
The GOP is kind of like kids that have been given the key to the candy store right now and are what’s called the political trifecta in Missouri, meaning they have the Governor and the House and Senate as well. In the federal system, they also have the political trifecta. So, Missouri is definitely going to be very much at the legislative mercy of the GOP. And so, I think after two years of their unfettered, disastrous fiscal policies and history of attacking civil liberties, I think Missourians will be ready for a change. So right now, I think the Democratic Party has been handed a reverse mandate, and you can pretty much quote me on this: “We got our ass handed to us this year.” We know that. It’s not a secret. So, we’re definitely looking at new strategies and bolstering existing strategies that were successful. Pretty much everything is on the table right now, but the one thing we do know is that we must be the opposition and keep the GOP in check. And then we have to be ready to offer Missourians a pretty stark contrast in 2018. Hopefully, they’ll be ready to have some adults in the room by then.
You recently lost to incumbent Billy Long in the bid for Missouri’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Do you plan to run again?
At this point, I am planning to run again. I’m in the exploratory period right now. I think we all are. It’s been exciting already to see how 2018 will shape up throughout the state because I’ve seen a lot of people announce their campaigns.
As a left-leaning candidate from SWMO, a woman, and at only 29-years-old, you have some unique challenges. How do you intend to overcome those challenges?
I think all the things you mentioned are strengths as much as things that are unusual about me as a candidate. I am a Millennial – I hate being called that, we all do – but we are the largest generation, at this point, on Earth, and we are facing a lot of issues. We’re looking at a lot of issues that are affecting us, and issues that are going to be our problem. And instead of waiting to be given a seat at the table, I think Millennials throughout a lot of sectors like business and the nonprofit sector and then politics are pulling up a chair and sitting down and saying, “I’m ready to get started solving these problems.” Because I really, firmly believe that it is our America that we’re going to live in. There are a lot of issues where the repercussions or benefits kick in 10 to 15 years down the road, so I think we have a right to be there now while the decisions are being made.
And as a woman, we are severely underrepresented in the halls of the power, not just in D.C., but in Jefferson City and the capitals throughout the country. One thing I talk a lot about is encouraging other women to run for office and talking about reaching out to women because we’re much less likely to be self-starters. When political candidates are studied, whether they are successful or not, men are much more likely to just kind of take it upon themselves and go run for office. Women have to be asked an average of three times before they actually take it seriously, because we don’t really see ourselves as leaders. And I’ve given speeches before about this. We don’t see ourselves as leaders because we don’t see ourselves in our leaders. I don’t have a lot of female role models in politics. I have some, but if you sit and think about some of your heroes and some of those in areas of diplomacy, they have been so male dominated for so long. We’re just now looking at the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage. Women were running for office actually before we were granted the right to vote, but it’s still pretty new. So, it’s something that I encourage. Especially now that our rights are under assault, it’s more important than ever that women get up and be active in whatever way that looks like – whether it’s marching in the streets or calling your representatives or running for office – we have to encourage each other. It can be difficult to try and recruit female candidates. It can be difficult to convince even some of the most qualified women to see themselves as ready to take on a role like that.
Another thing I talk a lot about is imposter syndrome. We seem to have this idea – so many women and some men, frankly – where we think someone is going to figure us out. That we’re not qualified to do whatever it is we want to do. And if you look at even applying for jobs, not even running for office, women are much less likely to apply for a job that they don’t meet all the qualifications than a man is of the same level of qualifications. So, something I encourage is not just to speaking to that young woman who is considering running for office, but speaking to her support network. You have to be supportive and you have to be encouraging because there are so many moments of doubt and so many moments of thinking, “I’m crazy for doing this.” It’s something that we have to work together to overcome as a group, because it’s really difficult to overcome that on your own without a support network.
Can you tell us about your positions on women’s rights?
I am ardently pro-choice. I’m really upset with a lot of the things the Missouri GOP is doing. It kind of remains to be seen what’s going to happen on the national scale, but I am extremely concerned. As a woman and as a human being, not only am I concerned about the attacking of abortion rights, but also just general reproductive health care and the witch hunt that’s going on with Planned Parenthood in the last two years. Which is not new, but sort of has been inflamed by past fake news. But it’s a difficult thing to do in Southwest Missouri to stand up and say, “I support a woman’s right to choose, and it’s not my business, and it’s not the government’s business.” But I think it’s important that in these really red areas we do put a human face on women’s rights and say, “You know, people who are pro-choice don’t just exist in the ether or on the coasts.” I think sometimes it’s not just about choice, it’s about access to care, and I’m really worried about the ACA right now. It’s such a huge win for women and for the country to have that. I think it’s 21 different procedures protected as far as co-pay and out of pocket costs through the ACA. I mean, there was a rush on IUDs and other forms of semi-permanent, long lasting birth control after Trump was elected kind of the way there was a rush on guns every time Obama made a speech. Women are worried. So, I’m taking that role very seriously. I’m speaking for a lot of women that maybe don’t feel so comfortable standing up and being so vocal about it. I take that very seriously.
Can you talk about any backlash you have faced being a public figure standing up for issues that are somewhat unpopular in Southwest Missouri?
There’s that saying, “You’ll never eat lunch in this town again.” I can’t really say that that is true, but it definitely makes it more difficult. I can tell you, I could never get a job in Southwest Missouri. Or there are certain things I know I could never do again that just are not going to be part of my life because I’ve made this decision. And there’s a certain amount of unease because there are some threats and behaviors that are sort of concerning. But I think really, as much as there are funny or interesting or horrifying anecdotes about my experience, what really struck me is people have been very neighborly.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would like to say if anybody is interested in running for office for the Democrats, I would be glad for them to contact me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.