Ashley: Guess who's coming to dinner?

Ashley: Guess who's coming to dinner?

December 18th, 2017 by Holly Ashley in Opinion Columns

While attending a 2014 fundraiser for the nonprofit political action committee Emily's List, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren quipped, "If you don't have a seat at the table, you're probably on the menu." Sen. Warren's oft-quoted metaphor was in reference to the lack of female representation in Congress; but three years later those words still ring true, and not just for the congressional table of power.

Too many decision-making "tables" in our country lack equal representation for women, and especially women of color. From those in local government to those in the c-suite of multinational corporations, seats at these tables continue to be mostly occupied by white men, and today's politics show it.

The facts:

» The U.S. ranks 101st in the world for female representation in government, behind Rwanda.

» Women and women of color hold only 20 percent and 3 percent, respectively of corporate c-suite seats.

Holly Ashley

Holly Ashley

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

» Women and women of color hold only 19 percent and 7 percent, respectively, of U.S. congressional seats.

» No women have been elected as governor of Tennessee or mayor of Chattanooga.

The good news? Tables are turning. This year, more than 3 million people across the country joined the Women's March to unify for women's rights. U.S. Rep. "Auntie" Maxine Waters famously reclaimed her time. We shared #metoo as sexual predators were removed from power. And Sen. Warren persisted. Then last Tuesday, 98 percent of black women who went to the polls in Alabama voted #NoMoore in the U.S. Senate special election that denied power to an accused child molester. Sure, some of it is hashtag feminism. And yes, high voter turnout from black women is not the same as a woman of color being elected to office or made a corporate CEO.

But here's the thing: This year's engaged citizen who votes and uses social media to get others to the polls could be next year's campaign volunteer who is also more interested in applying for a leadership position at work. Likewise, a 2018 campaign volunteer could be a 2020 candidate for elected office or apply to take a seat on a local government board or commission. Civic engagement now can lead to civic leadership later. It already happened last month when women won big in local elections across the country: Andrea Jenkins went from activist to the Minneapolis City Council, Danica Roem from engaged citizen to the Virginia Legislature, and Michelle De La Isla from community volunteer to Topeka mayor.

Locally, former state Senate candidate Khristy Wilkinson now heads the Hamilton County Democratic Party; volunteer leaders of the Mayor's Council for Women have organized a statewide women's policy conference for 2018; and several female community volunteers are making bids to run for elected offices in 2018, including those on the Hamilton County Board of Education, Hamilton County Commission and U.S. Congress.

Open seats at those and other tables of power are being watched closely by women and women of color — and guess who's coming to dinner to fill them? A racial demographic that has disproportionately experienced voter suppression, housing discrimination and school segregation, as well as a gender demographic that has long been quieted through tactics such as sexual violence, illegal employment practices and gender-based cultural norms that quash female leadership.

Neither have forgotten how they have been silenced by those currently in seats of power. Both plan to make some noise, as well as room for others who have been disenfranchised. And when those tables finally do turn and they rightfully reflect the demographics of our communities, the only thing on the menu will be injustice. Bon appétit.

Holly Ashley is a community activist and former nonprofit administrator. Contact her at

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315