‘We Can’t Fall Asleep At The Wheel,’ Says Stephanie Kifowit On Representation In Government

Stephanie Kifowit Women’s Voting
Paula Friedrich/Katherine Nagasawa/WBEZ/Courtesy of Stephanie Kifowit
Paula Friedrich/Katherine Nagasawa/WBEZ/Courtesy of Stephanie Kifowit
Stephanie Kifowit Women’s Voting
Paula Friedrich/Katherine Nagasawa/WBEZ/Courtesy of Stephanie Kifowit

‘We Can’t Fall Asleep At The Wheel,’ Says Stephanie Kifowit On Representation In Government

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Editor’s note: This story is one of a series exploring the significance of the 19th Amendment to Illinois’ women leaders, during the week of its 100th birthday.

This week marks the 100th anniversary that the 19th Amendment — which gave citizens the right to vote, regardless of sex — was added to the Constitution.

Women in Illinois started organizing, protesting and agitating for the right to vote in the mid-1800s — yet it took almost a century to reach Wednesday’s anniversary, known as Women’s Equality Day.

It’s important to note the movement to allow women to vote is complex, and not everyone who fought for the right received equal representation — or credit. Black women and women of color in particular would fight for this right for years to come, due to widespread voter discrimination.

Yet the constitutional amendment was a major shift in women’s involvement in politics. It also built on and paved the way for other equality movements, including the labor, civil rights and LGBTQ rights movements.

Now, 100 years later, we wanted to know: What is the lasting impact of women being able to vote?

We asked women in Illinois politics how they’re marking the occasion and what challenges are still ahead for women. We also asked them to name another woman who inspires them as public servants. We followed up with their choices to share their thoughts and point us to other inspiring women. Each day this week, we’ll share an interview with the next link in the “inspiration chain.”

Today we’re talking to Illinois state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, nominated by former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun. This is Kifowit’s third term representing the 84th District, and she is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does the 19th Amendment mean to you?

There were phenomenal women ahead of me that had to right the wrong in order for me to be where I am today. It’s very disappointing what the suffragettes just had to go through in order to get the right to vote.

However, I think there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done today, and we can’t fall asleep at the wheel or or get too comfortable. … There’s a lot of representation that still needs to be worked on in our society for women.

Stephanie Kifowit
Courtesy of Stephanie Kifowit

Why is it important that women are involved in politics?

The different … voices that we can have at the table, the better the policy is. Whether that’s women at the table, women of color at the table, men of color at the table, affluent women, affluent men, single moms, single dads — I think that every perspective at the table is needed and when it breaks down is when there’s not that diversity.

Women at the table bring that different perspective that may or may not have been thought of — or even considered — had that person not been there.

What is a key piece of Illinois legislation that you don’t think would have passed without women?

We passed pay equity; we passed the [Equal Rights Amendment]. Those are significant milestones in our history.

But I also think that smaller issues, such as the [evidence-based] funding formula for our children [which changes how tax dollars go to school districts] … are influenced by women’s voices. We had medical marijuana and we also then have recreational marijuana — that was spearheaded by women. … Women in leadership roles just make for better policy overall.

What is needed to get more women to go into politics?

You need support and definitely a network that will be there when the job gets tough, the campaign gets tough. Having women on all levels of government — the local level, the state level and the federal level — is important.

I also think that we need to look out for child care during campaigns and allow for some supports in that regard as well. Because one of the reasons why women don’t run for office is a lack of child care. And we need to make sure that those needs are met, too.

Who inspires you in politics today?

A big source of inspiration is Mayor Lori Lightfoot. … Regardless if you support or don’t support some of the decisions that are made, I’m still very inspired by her tenacity, her strength and her willingness to … represent the city of Chicago through all the struggles that it’s facing right now.

Listen to WBEZ each afternoon to hear more from Kifowit and other women leaders about the 19th Amendment anniversary. Read Carol Moseley Braun’s interview. And come back tomorrow to read Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s interview.

Mary Hall produced the online version of this story. Follow her @hall_marye. Mariah Woelfel produced the audio version of this story. Follow her at @MariahWoelfel. Paula Friedrich is WBEZ’s interactive producer. Follow her at @pauliebe.