In the back of the Bookends and Beginnings bookstore, nestled in between the fiction and children’s sections, author Rebecca Sive spoke Saturday about the importance of electing women to positions of power – especially the presidency.

Sive is author of “Vote Her In: Your Guide to Electing our First Woman President,” which addresses the need for and plausibility of electing a female president and gives specific strategies for women to organize their communities on a grassroots level.

Sive felt devastated after the 2016 presidential election but knew that other people felt the same. At the record-breaking 2017 Chicago Women’s March, she said was struck by the amount of people “willing to act on their anger and on the desire to create some good out of something so bad.”

Sive’s background in community organization meant that her first reaction was to take action. She wrote “Vote Her In” as a manifesto for others who, after the 2016 election results, were ready to act.

“Vote Her In” author Rebecca Sive motions excitedly before Saturday’s event at local independent bookstore Bookends and Beginnings. (Photo by Leslie Bonilla / North by Northwestern)

“The lesson learned for me was… the importance of always being willing to organize and to fight for change,” Sive said. “To the extent that you don’t choose to do that, you will lose. People who don’t have your interests at heart aren’t going to pick up that flag for you.”

Community organizing is a broad term, but Sive broke the concept into three steps: finding people with similar views, agreeing on a course of action and implementing it. Although starting a movement may sound daunting, Sive argued that everyone is capable of contributing.

“We don’t need to wait for the experts to tell us what to do,” she said. “Each of us has a skill set that is applicable… There is a role for every single person that wants to be helpful.”

For some organizers, that role could involve public speaking. For others, it might involve door knocking, hosting community events, writing letters, or so on.

Taking action was a consistent theme throughout the evening. Sive recounted how, as a child, her mother wouldn’t let her sing along to the late Doris Day’s “Que Será, Será,” which means “what shall be, shall be” in English. The reason?

“You don’t wait for things to happen to you. You make them happen,” she said, to murmured “Mhm”’s and “That’s right”’s from the audience of fifteen, all women.

For Sive, the concept of a female president is game-changing. Though more women have become leaders on both a small and large scale, they remain just one of many. Woman still lack proportional representation in the highest positions of power – executive leadership, which includes the presidency.

Not everyone shares the same priority of electing a female president. An audience member shared that members of her advocacy group valued voting President Donald Trump out of office more than they did voting a woman into office. In other words, a local microcosm of the current nationwide debate over electability.

Sive argued that the female 2020 presidential candidates were indeed electable. Four of them—Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris—have never lost an election. Frontrunner Joe Biden has never lost a general election either, though he has been unsuccessful in his previous attempts to land the Democratic nomination.

“All of them are as skilled as you can possibly imagine in political work and governmental work,” she said. “Put the track records of those four women against some of the male candidates… you would find these people are much more qualified than these people.”

Sive called the number of qualified female candidates “an embarrassment of riches,” and said that Hillary Clinton's 3-million-ballot victory in the popular election was further proof that voters are ready for a female president.

Renee, an event attendee who declined to have her last name published, echoed that thought.
“I want to see in my lifetime a woman president,” she said, before clarifying her desire for a specifically black female president. “Women are the majority [of the population]. We’re multi-talented. We know how to run things, and we’re the best at doing that.”

The talk was cosponsored by Take the Lead Women, a nonprofit that advocates for gender parity in leadership and was a part of the fifth annual Evanston Literary Festival, which partners with local businesses like Bookends and Beginnings to host events on local literary culture. Michele Weldon, Take the Lead Women editorial lead and Northwestern assistant professor emerita, moderated the discussion.