Walking into the Local 16 bar on U Street in Northwest DC, I was surprised to hear the buzz of an energized crowd. I was, after all, walking into a Women’s Informational Network, also known as WIN, Election Day watch party. The stormy forecast for Democratic candidates and the recent attacks on abortion rights doesn’t necessarily lend hope to WIN, a political and social network of young, pro-choice, Democratic women.
Local 16, a popular weekend destination for young professionals, is a dimly lit bar. Red walls and warm orange lights resembling rustic chandeliers lent a cozy quality to the room. An overwhelmed bartender moved quickly behind the counter, taking happy hour orders. CNN played on two different screens, the sounds of which were drowned out by the hum of a crowded bar.
With happy hour extended to 10:00 p.m., the WIN Election Day watch party appeared to be more of a fun social evening to spend with like-minded people than a group highly invested in Democratic candidates and reproductive rights watching the midterm elections. I spoke with Jaclyn, an attendee from New York briefly in town, on her expectations for the evening’s results.
“I don’t expect much,” she said, laughing. “All I’ve learned is that we’re going to lose.”
Don’t get it wrong. These women were passionate, but most were very aware of the results they were likely to see and had accepted the fact that 2014 was going to be the year the Republicans took back the Senate. If anything, they were hoping that a few tight elections went in the Democrats' favor. Toby, one of the few men at the event, echoed a similar sentiment.
“We’re hoping that within the margin of error of what Nate Silver says can happen. Basically, were hoping for the statistically improbable.”
At the outset, attendees were optimistic that while Republicans would likely take the Senate, a few Democrats might be able to pull out victories. The women I spoke to were focused on Colorado, where Senator Mark Udall tried to beat back Republican challenger Cory Gardner, a supporter of a Personhood Amendment; Wisconsin, where Mary Burke, the pro-choice candidate for Governor was up against Scott Walker, a Republican with some ugly anti-women policies; and North Carolina, where Republican challenger Thom Tillis, a previous supporter of a Personhood Amendment went up against Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan. “I really want Kay Hagan to win,” was a sentiment repeated throughout the evening, with varying levels of confidence.
I sat down with Jeryl Hayes, the Chair of WIN and a domestic policy analyst at Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Before the results had begun to come in, Hayes claimed that she was casually optimistic, telling me a record high turnout had made her hopeful. She was a little less hopeful—for this election season at least—by the time I spoke to her.
By that time McConnell had already won in Kentucky, beating Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Lundergan Grimes had run a fierce campaign against McConnell and had called him out on voting against the Violence Against Women Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
“Kentucky was just sad,” Hayes said, offering a disappointed laugh, adding that it was simply upsetting to see someone win who had previously claimed his main goal was to make Obama a one-term president. Looking at the midterms this year, Hayes commented on the increasing importance of local races to reproductive and sexual rights. “States are becoming laboratories for extreme measures," she continued. "Measure One in North Dakota would amend the [state] constitution—it’s essentially the personhood amendment for the state of North Dakota.”
While Hayes recognized the Supreme Court would likely take up the passage of any such amendment, she relayed her concern about the current court, which is “not the safe haven you want it to be,” she said.
My phone buzzed and a New York Times update confirmed that Jeanne Shaheen had won in New Hampshire. I showed Hayes. “Thank goodness,” she said, sighing with relief. One win for pro-choice Democrats.
I returned to the bar to watch the incoming results, only to find that CSPAN had replaced CNN and a much subdued and smaller crowd remained—likely a combination of the dryness of CSPAN and the pain of the incoming results. As I watched the stiff reporters report damaging numbers on the Democratic Party, I struck up a conversation with a Hill staffer and WIN member. She was “not feeling particularly optimistic,” she said, and was greatly worried about her home state New Hampshire. As the results continued to come in and happy hour ended, a dedicated few remained watching the screen, almost refusing to accept defeat.
“What keeps me going is looking forward to 2016 and the trends being different,” the Hill staffer said with a sigh. When I spoke with Jeryl Hayes, she had mentioned a similar sentiment: 2016 would come and regardless of what happens, it would be a flashpoint. But she took that thought a step further and suggested millennials would lead that near future.
“Sexual and reproductive health are two things that millennials are really paying attention to. They are much more progressive, and are really rejecting the notion of being controlled in who they love and how they stay safe,” Hayes commented. “One of the things that does make me hopeful is that they see how broken the political system is, and they are going out and are really becoming involved—just think of the activism surrounding Ferguson, campus sexual assault, street harassment, and abortion clinics.”
She continued: “It’s really bubbling up—people are no longer waiting, they are getting up and making their own change.”