Female leaders from Kansas and Missouri sipped “pink pussyhat punch” and “empowerment” cocktails and rallied in downtown Kansas City on Thursday to vow to “crush the patriarchy” by encouraging more women to run for office to run for office.
Hundreds of politicians and activists turned out for the 50th anniversary of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, where a parade of incumbents pledged to stand up for reproductive rights and praised Kansas’ recent vote to keep abortion protected under the state’s constitution.
“I’m the woman,” said Trudy Busch Valentine, the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate in Missouri, pausing to emphasize emphasis “who will stop Eric Schmitt.”
The crowd – mostly women and mostly Democrats – erupted in cheers.
Valentine spoke alongside Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, who is up for re-election. When Kelly was introduced, the crowd erupted in chants of “four more years.”
Girl power feminism took center stage throughout the night. Even the front of the venue was painted with a stylized diagram of the female reproductive system, emblazoned with the words “our body, our choice.”
But Valentine and Kelly spoke to a room of overwhelmingly like-minded, politically active individuals where their pledges to protect access to abortion were unchallenged. The caucus describes itself as bipartisan but pro-abortion rights.
While the event was heavily influenced by symbols of feminism, including the art of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the event shed light on any discussion of how to stem the rise in political engagement among women or the crowds by Republicans in Kansas who voted to protect abortion rights.
Last month, Kansas became the first state to let voters decide the fate of abortion rights after the US Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade overturned the landmark 1973 case that found the US Constitution contained an abortion right. What was expected to be a close race turned out to be a resounding 59-41 victory for abortion rights.
In rural Kansas, where former President Donald Trump twice won counties by 30 or 40 percentage points, the abortion race was tight. And the more than 900,000 votes cast was more like turnout in a presidential election than a primary.
Kelly praised the Kansas vote and joked that Kansas would annex Kansas City, Missouri, if Mayor Quinton Lucas asked for it.
“I am proud to lead a state with a rich history of women’s rights,” Kelly said, noting that the state was elected the first female mayor in the United States, was one of the first states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and first held was a referendum on suffrage, which failed.
She called the defeat of the anti-abortion law in Kansas “one of our greatest victories yet.”
“This result would not have happened without the tireless organization of the women and men who support it,” Kelly said.
She noted that in the week after Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was overthrown, women made up 70% of the newly registered voters.
“But there are no ultimate victories or defeats in politics,” she said. “There is still so much at stake this November.
“Like a balanced budget in Kansas.”
In November’s gubernatorial election, Kelly will face Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who has long been considered a moderate and is now campaigning conservatively with Trump’s support. A poll released this week found Kelly has a 2 percentage point lead over Schmidt, which is within the margin of error.
Kelly then turned to other issues, including full funding for public schools, expanding Medicaid and legalizing medical marijuana, and was quick to acknowledge that the abortion rights fight is not over.
And she urged the women in the room to get organized and show up. After her remarks, she said she hoped this was the message that members of the crowd remembered.
“By making your voice heard so loudly, some people are beginning to question the positions they’ve taken on some of these issues,” she said in an interview. “I think that’s what happens when politicians realize there is a force to be reckoned with and their voting is observed.”
Valentine urged the crowd to do whatever it takes to protect democracy.
“As we have seen across the country and in this state, we know that it is women who are leading this charge,” Valentine said.
Valentine, a first-time nominee and heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, faces Schmitt, Missouri’s Republican Attorney General, in what most see as a big uphill battle for Democrats.
After Thursday’s event, Valentine said women would matter in November’s election.
“Women will be able to find out if they feel that women have the opportunity to receive abortion treatment and that you cannot mandate it. We need to turn back (Dobbs),” Valentine said. “We cannot take women back 50 years. We need women with more autonomy and more equality.”