By Laura Haight
Yes, I believe we can. The remarks that follow were delivered at the January 9, 2023 meeting. They are reprinted here with some editing.
The best of times and the worst of times. I think that adequately describes how it has felt to be a blue dot in this red state for the past few years. While at the national level we have reclaimed the presidency, held onto the Senate, beaten back a presumptive red wave into a trickle, here in South Carolina we have foundered.
As Democrats, we now have two battles to fight: getting candidates elected against overwhelming odds, and combating the apathy and disengagement of disgruntled voters who – not unfairly – ask “why bother.”
So, what can we as Democratic Women do?
Deepen Connections for current members. Our involvement with DWGC should go beyond a monthly lunch. Although we would love to see a turnout like this every month! We’ll be developing strong, thought provoking programs that address important issues and viewpoints. These will, I believe, be can’t-miss events that you’ll want to bring friends to. And with each we will work to have an activism component – something you can do with information you’ve gained to have a positive impact on policy or in our community. Our program chair is developing new methods to solicit ideas from the membership. You will have a role in helping to develop these next-level events.
Expand our membership and increase diversity with new outreach programs. To grow, we need new energy and new ideas. We need to have younger members to guide us in how to reach and engage their community. We not only have to attract these younger (boy I hate using that term) women, but we have to hold on to them – with affirmative actions that can help change the dynamics. That will be the sole mission of our new Outreach committee. Outreach will work closely with the Events committee to organize listening activities (maybe a glass of wine or two, also) designed to meet people where they are and introduce them to DWGC, and fundraising which will develop more ways for us to raise what we need to support the mission.
Provide opportunities for activism. Look around you. This is a lot of WOMEN POWER. I want us to harness that power to be more committed, more engaged and more dedicated to make change happen locally and statewide. Some of that will come through education, some of it from advocacy, some from showing up, and some from speaking up. We will work hard, providing hands-on support as well as material assistance to Democratic candidates, but we must also participate in the policy arena – standing up for progressive policies and making our voices heard – not only to our Legislative officials but to voters across the Upstate.
Be visible in the community, give Democratic women a home. Do you have a “Proud Democrat” sticker or GCDP magnet on your car? Did you put a candidate sign on your lawn in the last cycle? I think you see where I’m going. Kate Franch and I were having coffee downtown and a woman who was leaving the restaurant stopped by our table. She leaned over and whispered very low: “I just wanted you to know that I’m a Democrat too.” This happens frequently to me. How many disenfranchised Democrats are flying under the radar because they don’t believe there’s a community for them here? A few years ago, under Linda Hardman’s leadership, we put a group together that spent a damn hot Saturday afternoon building a Habitat house. We can do more things in the community as a group, wearing a DWGC t-shirt, manning a table with a DWGC banner while registering voters and connecting with new Dems.
Spread the word. Social media is today’s town square. We must be more active on it. And not just our organization but our members. Currently we have a private Facebook group. Our most prolific poster is Rep. Wendell Jones, whose name I saw on the attendee list. Few other members are posting. And worse, we are only talking to ourselves because our private group does not permit sharing. I understand why we began that but I am going to make a pitch that we create a public group where real conversations can take place and where members can SHARE posts they find compelling or significant , which will exponentially increase our opportunities to reach and engage new people. We also need to have a presence on Instagram and Twitter. And I encourage all members to use their voice to write Letters to the Editor or Op-Eds. We can’t underestimate how important these communication tools are to our growth.
I am excited to be working with what I believe will be a great team that will help us reach these objectives. And I’d like to introduce them.
Monica Hughey, first vice president and chair of Programs, is Director of Strategic Communications at Public Education Partners, She has both a PhD in Biological Sciences from USC and an MBA from the Moore School of Business.
Everyone knows Peggy Schotsch, but I’m still going to ask her to stand up. Peggy has been a committed member of the board of DWGC and an active member for several years. This year, as second vice president, she’s taking on membership. The more we know about our members, the more likely we are to develop productive ways of getting them involved and working toward our common goals.
Valerie Brooks-Madden is our treasurer. She’s just attained her PhD in Business with a focus on HR. She works at GE Power and is Chairman of the Board of the Rolling Green Community. As treasurer, she’ll work hand in hand with other board members to ensure that we can fund new initiatives and that we harness the power of new technology.
Lucille Herwald is another board member who needs no introduction. Lucille’s communications skills and artistic talents are on display in content, publications, and other assets used by the DWGC, the county party and other organizations. She also will chair the publicity committee to help us find more ways to engage and educate members.
Jen Boffey will lead the Outreach committee. Jen is new to Greenville, having moved from Florida last summer. She’s a mom, a business owner, and a life coach.
Evelyn Nocella will head the Advocacy and Community Engagement committee. Evelyn has been a GCDP precinct leader and, for the past three years, chair of the North Greenville County Democrats.
Linda Hardman, of course, a former president of DWGC, will continue in her role as chair of the Legislative committee.
Jeannette Jacobs will lead the bylaws committee. I believe the bylaws should be re-evaluated with each incoming leadership change. Jeanette will lead that effort and keep us on track.
Linda Derector is a native New Yorker who knows how to throw a party – as anyone who attended our holiday drop in at her home two years ago knows. She’ll be managing our Events and Meetings committee.
Abbie Collins, will lead our fundraising activities.
Sadie Carter will be leading the Social Connection committee, which is a revamping of what used to be Telephone. She’ll be reaching out to members who have major life milestones or the passing of loved ones. We’ll set up a method for members to notify her of these events. This is something I know some members have wanted attention brought to for some time.
Although she is not a member of the board, I want to give a shout out to Paula Catterall. Paula suggested the coffees at the very first DWGC meeting I attended. Since then she has run with the idea, seamlessly making them happen consistently and providing a fun social event that brings Democratic Women together in camaraderie and fellowship, and a love of good pastry!
That’s a lot of WOMAN POWER and I want to personally thank all the board and committee members for their time and commitment and for all the hard work they will put in over the next two years. But they cannot do it alone. We need teams to be effective. I am encouraging all of you to get involved actively with these committees.
Yes, as Greenville Democrats, we’ve had a rough couple of years. But when I look around this room – men and women – I see doctors, attorneys, elected officials, advocates, educators, scientists, visionaries, nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, writers, artists, volunteers and philanthropists. I see influence and experience.
I don’t see anyone who’s ready to pack away their Obama “Yes We Can” buttons. So let’s pull together and – along with all our Democratic organizations – roll up our sleeves, take some steps forward, and harness our WOMAN POWER to make some waves in this red sea.
Let’s WOMAN UP!