Legend has it that women hold up half the sky. But in Los Angeles County, since last November, five women supervisors are holding up all the sky for more than 10 million people. On November 3, 2020, Holly Mitchell, a Black state senator, was elected to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and tipping it to an all-woman board governing a population larger than some nations. While many women have been elected to public office, it is still unusual to have a majority of women on a government body.
The past presidents of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) are honored to have Supervisor Holly Mitchell as our keynote speaker at our annual event, virtual this year, which takes place on March 11, the Thursday following International Women’s Day, which is Monday, March 8. The event recognizes powerful women legislators, among whose ranks Mitchell belongs. She has said that “when women reach a plurality on any elected body, there’s a stark difference in the nature of policy making. There is a renewed focus on issues that are germane to women and girls.”
While in the State Senate, Mitchell chaired the budget committee, and was vice chair of the joint legislative subcommittee on Sexual Harassment Prevention and Response. She worked on a package of criminal justice reform bills, transitional housing for foster youth to prevent homelessness, and mental health care services for vulnerable residents. A bill she is particularly proud of is the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act), which prohibits discrimination against Black people in workplaces and schools for wearing their hair in afros, braids, twists, or locks. It recognizes that much discrimination is based on outward appearance.
Mitchell has been a leader and strong proponent for racial and environmental justice and is active in ensuring that the COVID-19 vaccine was equitably distributed in all areas of her district. She also worked to alleviate concerns in the Black community about the vaccines stemming from the negative past history of medical treatment. She also found that many in her community were not aware of homeowners exemptions on their taxes and made sure that they were informed. Black history, Mitchell said, is inseparable from our American story, and Black Lives Matter is about our commitment to protecting and creating a better future for Black people.
In many ways the COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced issues of racial and gender inequities. More women lost jobs during the pandemic because they were working primarily in service jobs at low pay in which few were able to miss work or work from home. With children out of school, the burden of childcare, home schooling, as well as housework has fallen disproportionally on women. Two-thirds of women are in low-income families, and one in three are single.
In many European countries, social services offer more support to families with public policies for childcare funding, flexible work schedules, sick leave, affordable housing, and other ways that make it easier for women to do paid work. Some of these policies are receiving more attention here but still are far from being universal.
The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee was formed 30 years ago and focused initially on electing more women to public office, from local to state to national. But we need to put pressure on both women and men legislators when in office to address issues that affect women. The bottom line, as always, is money — for childcare, health care, housing etc. But addressing the nature of work and daily living can also be examined and looked at in ways that save rather than cost more money.
SBWPC celebrates the election of Kamala Harris as Vice President. She paves the way for others to follow. But locally we have seen a reduction in the number of women on our local Board of Supervisors, with now only one woman, 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann. She will speak after L.A. Supervisor Holly Mitchell about her experience here in Santa Barbara County.
As Holly Mitchell has said, “I am proud to be a member of a body that made history as a body of all women. When the world and state and the county see the collective power of us working together to help navigate the county into the future, we are a strong example to follow.”
Supervisor Mitchell will be our speaker at a Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee virtual event on March 11at 5:30 pm. The focus will be on “What’s next ? What will be the feminist agenda?” You can register at SBWPC.org.
Margaret Connell is a past president of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee and was the first mayor of the City of Goleta.