Vicki Slater talked women in Mississippi politics Monday and said she wants to fill a Mississippi ballot from top to bottom with women.
Slater, an attorney at law, discussed the history and future roles women have played in the state’s politics yesterday afternoon in Barnard Observatory.
In 2015, she ran for governor of Mississippi, a position a woman had not run for in more than three decades, and those who did run were not successful.
Slater lost in the Democratic primaries to Robert Gray, but that didn’t stop her from encouraging other females to be the first.
“A lot of times, when you think about women in politics in Mississippi, it’s women in the background doing things,” she said. “It’s women not in official positions, or maybe not in the highest position, sneaking in a word here or there.”
She said middle-class white women as a whole tend to be politically complacent, meaning while they may be in favor of something, they may not actually get out to vote for it, protest about it or stand up and speak about it.
“But this [presidential] election that happened in November of 2016 has lit a fire in so many women and men of all colors and ages,” Slater said. “I think it is just the shock that a presidential candidate might brag about sexually assaulting a women at any time in his life and still somehow become president.”
She said the presidential election was “so revealing of the sexism that still remains in our society” and a “huge eye-opener” on issues such as race, gender and sexual orientation.
“It just jolted us awake, like starting up a battery on a car that had been dead,” she said. “Reinvigorating something that had been laying dormant.”
Slater participated in the March on Washington back in January. While she was in the nation’s capital, Slater said she worried about the turnout for the Jackson rally. Her worry was put to rest when she discovered 3,500 people marched in Jackson.
“Not only do we have the opportunities – we’ve got the motivation and the energy there now,” she said. “As heart-breaking as November was, it was, at the same time, motivating.”
She said she wants people to stand up and not be intimidated anymore.
“I think we are living in a really exciting time, and I want to really encourage you to be bold,” she said.
Slater said people of this generation in Mississippi shouldn’t be uncomfortable or frightened to stand up for what they think.
“It’s not Jim Crow. It’s not more than these people [before us] faced,” she said. “We’re not running the risk of an assassin’s bullet or a lynching to the extent that everybody before us went through to get us here. So, how much farther can we go? How much more can we do and say that our grandmothers couldn’t say?”
Slater said there have been women throughout history who haven’t been willing to just remain silent, like Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Slater said there was a time during the civil rights movement called “Wednesdays in Mississippi.” These were days when women, both black and white, from all over the country flew to Jackson to meet in people’s houses and talk about civil rights and other current events. She said this was a way of uniting people, and she is considering beginning her own version of Wednesdays in Mississippi, opening the private meetings up to only Mississippians.
“It wasn’t out in the streets or in your face; it was just people to people connecting,” Slater said. “This is the way I really think that Mississippi will finally get over the hump in change.”
She said the issues are out of control because there is a lack of discussion, and talking about things would help change that.
Oxford resident Eunice Benton said she came to the lecture because she cares about women’s issues. She said she wants to find the strong women’s organizations in the state and connect them with an online presence.
She paraphrased Ms. Havisham’s words, a character created by author William Falkner, when describing her idea: “They knew it would take an old woman like me or children when you have to get something out of the common done.”
Slater said there should be more and more women in politics.
“We need to keep coming at them instead of backing off,” Slater said. “We’ve never gotten to the tipping point because we’ve always just backed off.”
Slater said the traditional roles of women to care for children and the household make them more qualified for public office.
“Who knows more about budgets, economics, consumer protection, health care, care-taking and education than women?,” she said. “Where [women’s] lives are is where it most directly intersects with government.”
Slater said instead of accepting defeat, women should build on their supporters and “triple their votes next time.” She said people will continue to doubt women in office, but that shouldn’t be a reason to back away from the fight.
Ellis Starkey is a volunteer for the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies.
She said Slater hit on many ideas about what needs to happen to increase women’s presence in politics. She agreed it’s more of a community effort now to build each other up, instead of a single woman working alone.
“I am dirt poor,” Starkey said. “I never thought I could be involved in politics in any way, but the way she spoke and the kind of resources she mentioned made it a lot more accessible for me.”
Slater said she will run for office again in the future but hasn’t decided what position yet.
“We should not become complacent. We shouldn’t get comfortable, and we shouldn’t get lazy,” Slater said. “I just want to fill up the ballot from top to bottom with women.”
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.