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A Political Hope: Cynthia Richie Terrell

Cynthia is the Founder and CEO of RepresentWomen, a non-profit focused on breaking down barriers to women entering politics. Cynthia has worked on political campaigns across the US and writes a weekly column on women’s representation for Ms. Magazine.

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How would you describe your political path?

I come from a long line of Quaker families, which I think instilled belief in me from a very early age that I have a voice — and I should use it. My political path goes back to the age of eight! I remember campaigning for the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972 and riding on my father’s shoulders during protests against the war in Vietnam. I was involved in student government and protests all through college, and I began work on a US Senate campaign just after graduating. I criss-crossed the United States working on campaigns for Congress, presidential and state offices, and a campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment in Iowa in 1992. That same summer my husband and I and others founded the electoral reform organization that is now known as FairVote. Four years ago I also founded RepresentWomen, a non-profit that researches the structural barriers women face in politics and the best ways to break them down.

What are the most useful lessons you've learnt on the way?

My experience working on campaigns gave me a first-hand look at how the voting system in the United States limits voter choice, protects incumbents and maintains the status quo. Only a small number of voters have any real say in the outcomes of elections, and candidates have few incentives to work together on behalf of their constituents.

I’ve also learned that Americans are hungry for a government that looks like us, sounds like us, and has the capacity to solve the problems we face as a nation. American democracy was founded on the expectation that rules and systems would evolve to fit the needs of an expanding and changing electorate. It’s clear that we haven’t modernized our systems fast enough. Fortunately, reform is possible through the legislative process. We must ensure that all voters have meaningful choices and a real voice in every election.

“We must ensure that all voters have meaningful choices and a real voice in every election.”

What are the top three things that could be done to get courageous, ethical and trusted politicians in your area?

There are so many things that must be done to strengthen democracy! But if I really must choose three, I would say we need:

  1. A national popular vote for president to ensure that the candidate with the most support in the population is elected.

  2. Universal voter registration to enable everyone to participate in every election.

  3. Ranked choice voting for single winner and multi-winner offices, to help elect candidates who best represent the will of the people.

These three reforms would maximize the power of voters in every election and can all be accomplished through law changes. None require changing the U.S. Constitution.

What ideas and/or people are inspiring you at the moment?

  1. People around the globe who are pushing for systems reforms to advance women’s representation, such as gender quotas and proportional representation.

  2. Young women like my daughter Becca Richie, who are working for climate justice through creative tactics like the Climate Clock.

  3. The concept of “longtermerism” that challenges us to consider the impact of all we do on future generations.

  4. Women like Melinda Gates and Kathryn Murdoch who are investing in solutions to build a future for all of us.

  5. The strength and beauty of the natural world.

What story do you want communities to tell about politicians?

I believe that the best chance we have for survival is to have governments reflect the perspectives and lived experiences of the people they serve. It’s essential that communities tell stories about how they worked together with representative politicians to find policy solutions to the crises we face.


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