Wendi Kent was a little disappointed by the turnout.
Kent, 32, only drew about 100 people to an event outside the Capitol Monday that she began to plan about a month ago.
But while she had hoped enough would attend to encircle the Capitol, she still found plenty of like-minded people, mostly women, willing to take a formal pledge at her “Reclaim Women’s Equality Day” event.
Aug. 26 is designated annually by the president and Congress as Women’s Equality Day, to commemorate the day in 1920 when women were first given the right to vote and the day in 1970 when a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.
But Kent, a photographer by trade and mother of two, feels insulted by the idea of celebrating something she believes has yet to be achieved.
“The idea irked me,” she said. “I had to do something about it.”
Her solution: Reclaim Women’s Equality Day. She spread the word using social media, with a poster that said "We do not know true equality. YET."
She said she invited Republican and Democratic state lawmakers. She told me a representative from Madison Rep. Brett Hulsey’s office was the only one who responded, to say he couldn’t attend.
Kent told me the event in Madison was designed to empower women to make changes in what they perceive as gender inequalities, first by educating themselves on the issues and then by voting.
She made the process to get involved simple, by attaching a pledge card to a list of organizations and groups dedicated to issues relevant to women with a suggestion that they either make a donation to or volunteer their time with a group on the list.
“I’m hoping to provide people with a starting point,” Kent said before the start of the rally. “Make a $5 donation or volunteer for a day. Make a promise to do something new for women, so we can really achieve gender equality.”
Mary Kaye Radtke, 56, feels equality issues for women are taking a “little step backwards,” at the moment, particularly in health care.
“It’s my body,” she says. “I don’t want other people making decisions for me.”
She added that while the number of women in elected government positions is growing slowly, she still thinks voters judge women first on their gender and then on their stands on the issues.
Susan Carson, a retired family practitioner who lives in Madison, remembers a time when she was in medical school and a quarter of the class was women. Now, the number of women is about half. Women have made gains in other fields as well, she says, but other developments have been discouraging.
She cites a U.S. Supreme Court case from earlier this year as a step in the wrong direction. A group of female Walmart employees had filed a class-action suit against their employer, claiming gender discrimination and seeking billions in back pay. But the high court ruled the women did not share a clearly identifiable common injury enabling them to qualify as a class.
Had the court sided with the women, it would have been the largest class-action discrimination suit in history, potentially involving billions in back pay and punitive damages.
The decision here by Republican lawmakers to repeal Wisconsin’s 2-year-old equal pay law is another step in the wrong direction, she says.
“We’ve made progress,” Carson says. “We need to make more.”