In , she moved with her husband to a small house in a rural enclave southwest of Austin with simpler plans: One day last February, she changed those plans. Zwiener was surfing Facebook after finalizing color samples for her living room—sea foam, navy, cornflower—when she saw a picture of her state representative, Jason Isaac, smiling at a local chamber of commerce gala.
Zwiener never got around to painting her living room. Zwiener is part of a grassroots movement that could change America. Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.
Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in , potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in , according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff. Experienced female political operatives are striking out on their own, creating new organizations independent from the party apparatus to raise money, marshal volunteers and assist candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance child care with campaigns.
But outside the Beltway, a transformation has already begun. In dozens of interviews with TIME, progressive women described undergoing a metamorphosis. In , they were ordinary voters. In , they became activists, spurred by the bitter defeat of the first major female presidential candidate at the hands of a self-described pussy grabber.
Now, in , these doctors and mothers and teachers and executives are jumping into the arena and bringing new energy to a Democratic Party sorely in need of fresh faces. About four times as many Democratic women are running for House seats as Republican women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics; in the Senate, the ratio is 2 to 1.
But not all women vote Democratic—not by a long shot. Among white women without a college education, the gulf was even larger: For starters, the movement is driven not just by revulsion for Trump but also by some of the same forces that helped elect him: Although a majority of white women in Alabama voted for Moore even after he was accused of preying on teenage girls, many others who typically vote Republican stayed home in disgust.
That trend, coupled with a massive turnout of black women, helped Democratic candidate Doug Jones spring an upset.
But their goals are bigger and broader than simply shifting the balance of power in Congress. Like all political transformations, this one sprang from dozens of small private choices. For years, the hardest thing about getting women elected has been getting women to decide to run. But sometime over the past year, while lying awake at night or comforting a crying friend or in hushed conversations with their spouse, each of these women came to the same conclusion.
They could no longer pin their hopes on icons like Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren to represent half the American population. Instead, they would step up and do it themselves. Furious women have marched by the millions, tangled congressional phone lines for weeks and released a torrent of sexual-misconduct allegations that continue to reverberate through Hollywood, Washington and Silicon Valley.
On election night, Zwiener watched the returns with two lesbian friends; by the following morning, she was helping them plan to hastily marry, fearing the Trump Administration would target LGBTQ couples. The morning after the election, in Glen Allen, Va. In Yorba Linda, Calif. One of her first patients of the day was a 4-year-old with a brain tumor whose mother, a nail-salon worker, could afford health insurance only because of the Affordable Care Act.
Mai Khanh Tran fled Saigon at age 9, worked through Harvard as a janitor and started her own pediatrics practice. Spanberger, 38, dressed her three young daughters in bright yellow T-shirts so they could find each other if they got separated among the throngs on the National Mall.
For women old and young, the marches—which drew some 4 million participants, likely the largest single-day protest in U. Weeks later, Spanberger recalls, she heard something unusual on her baby monitor. Skeptics wondered if the people who marched would go home and sink back into their ordinary lives. Instead, they began to lobby their local representatives. Celinda Lake surveyed 28, activists who contacted Congress last year through a calling service on their cell phones: For some of those women, the idea of male Representatives trying to strip health care from millions of families spurred the transformation from activist into candidate.
When Reichert voted for an early version of it in committee anyway, Schrier decided to run for his seat. Two months pregnant and fighting morning sickness, Zwiener canvassed on college campuses for hours at a time with nothing in her stomach but Pedialyte. Tran cut down her patient hours and explained to her 5-year-old why she had to miss her ballet recitals.
Jennifer Carroll Foy gave birth to premature twins on the campaign trail, then won a seat in the Virginia house of delegates. When one woman runs, others often follow. Underwood, who has a pre-existing condition called supraventricular tachycardia, which keeps her heart from maintaining a normal rhythm, then went a step further. She encouraged a high school acquaintance, Anne Stava-Murray, to launch a bid for the Illinois house of representatives.
She knew about horses and mules, not fundraising and media strategy. Going it alone, she might have given up early, daunted by the logistics. A new network of women-led grassroots groups are giving Zwiener and others like her the tools to hire staff, raise money and get their campaigns off the ground.
Many of the women who built this new progressive infrastructure are the same ones who spent trying to stop Trump. Catherine Vaughan, a former field organizer for Clinton in Ohio, co-founded Flippable, which aims to turn state legislatures blue by targeting vulnerable seats.
So Run for Something paired Zwiener with a mentor who walked her through setting up a fundraising platform. Zwiener was endorsed by Our Revolution Texas, which pledged to mobilize members to canvass and phone-bank for her campaign. And neighbors with the local chapter of the grassroots organization Indivisible held house parties for Zwiener to meet constituents and find donors. Photographs courtesy of the subjects or shot for TIME.
Founded shortly after the election, Indivisible is one of the groups widely credited with organizing progressives to turn up and protest wherever Republicans held town halls to discuss the health care bill. The outpouring of anger mirrored the tactics of the Tea Party, which announced itself as a force in U. Indivisible says it now has at least two local chapters in every congressional district and more than 6, groups nationwide.
Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard University, who co-wrote a book about the Tea Party and is now studying Indivisible, says the anti-Trump progressive uprising already has more local groups than the Tea Party did at its height. At its strongest, she says, the Tea Party had roughly local groups and some , core activists.
Sister District, which pairs volunteers from liberal areas with contests in conservative districts, was founded by an all-women team. The smattering of off-year elections last November prove that the formula can work. Northam won women by 22 points just a year after Clinton won the same group by Of the 15 seats Democrats picked up in the Virginia house of delegates, 11 were won by women.
One of them was Danica Roem, who became the first openly transgender woman elected and seated to a state legislature. And in a special state senate election on Jan. To candidates and organizers, those victories are a harbinger. A study in Political Science Research and Methods found that women are more likely to sponsor bills about issues affecting women and families. In Sweden, where the gender split in both the ministry and Parliament is almost equal, all parents are entitled to nearly 16 months of paid family leave.
Of course, electing more women in Congress would not necessarily lead to an instant federal paid-family-leave plan or national child care, especially given that extreme partisanship makes broad consensus difficult and neither party wants to raise taxes widely.
But female lawmakers of both parties tend to elevate issues that men ignore. In the current session of Congress alone, Senator Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, sponsored a proposal to help businesses finance paid family leave. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington State, introduced a bill to expand access to affordable child care. Women also tend to reach across the aisle to pass this type of legislation.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sponsored a bill to establish a national strategy to support family caregivers. It was co-sponsored by six female Senators from both parties along with several men and passed the Senate unanimously in early January. But women have a long way to go to get to parity in American politics. Even in a year with a surge in female candidates, not only is a matriarchy unlikely, but significant Democratic gains are far from assured.
The vast majority of first-time candidates challenging incumbents lose. Others, like Underwood in Illinois and Tran in California, have had to get used to asking for donations. Jones has a tough primary race against a well-connected Democratic opponent. Zwiener has generated enthusiasm from students on the Texas State University campus in her district, but one local newspaper editor had barely heard of her.
Nor is it yet clear whether Trump outrage alone will be enough to buoy unknown Democrats, especially when k s are healthy and unemployment is low. Even if everything breaks right, the gains women make in may disappoint the devoted. In , a then record number of women——ran for office after Anita Hill testified in front of an all-white, all-male Senate panel that then Judge Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Observers dubbed it the Year of the Woman. Zwiener is focusing on registering college kids and other underrepresented voters instead of trying to persuade her conservative neighbors to cross the aisle. Elliott Woolridge is a year-old student at Texas State University who took one of the hundreds of flyers Zwiener passed out to students on a sunny day shortly after Thanksgiving. Photograph of Bushra Amiwala by Aron Gellman.