Why New Women's Group Is Protesting Democratic Meeting

When Rosemary Camposano quit her job as a Silicon Valley marketing executive nearly a decade ago to raise her son, it was, as she puts it, "just in time to witness the worst eight years in the history of our country, bar none." Fast-forward to the present day, and she's back to running large-scale communications operations, but this time—in between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and baseball games—she's taking aim at the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.

Two weeks ago Camposano teamed up with four other high-powered Hillary Clinton supporters to form a PAC called WomenCount, addressing what they say is an alarming lack of concern for the voices of women voters. Within four days the group—also made up of a CEO, a former newspaper editor, a professor, and the founder of the Esprit clothing line—raised $250,000 and took out full-page newspaper ads proclaiming "Not So Fast" to counter calls for Clinton to drop out. Now, having linked up with a loose coalition called Count Every Vote '08, they are expecting upward of 3,000 people to join them in protesting on Saturday at an important Democratic meeting.

The normally obscure Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) of the Democratic Party will meet in Washington to sort out the "Florigan" delegate dilemma. If it adopts the DNC lawyers' recommendation to count 50 percent of the delegates' votes, Saturday could effectively become Clinton's last stand. But Camposano and her compatriots aren't about to let the RBC make such a decision out of the public eye (and neither is C-SPAN, which is broadcasting the daylong meeting).

Of course, many within the Democratic establishment are less than enthusiastic about Clinton supporters exercising their right to peaceably assemble. "We don't think it's a helpful dynamic to create chaos," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in with lukewarm sentiments, lauding the women's enthusiasm while expressing frustration with some of their demands. Still, as RBC member Ralph Dawson told NEWSWEEK, "I don't know what it's going to look like, but I'd rather that happen here in Washington this weekend rather than in Denver in August."

NEWSWEEK's Katie Paul talked with Camposano about WomenCount's goals and Clinton's prospects. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: How are you expecting Saturday's rally to play out?
Rosemary Camposano:
In the morning we'll be focused on the representative delegates, everybody coming to the hotel itself to begin the meeting. We'll have a staged area for speakers. We've asked everybody to come in red, white and blue. From our perspective, this is about democracy and our Constitution. It's not about a giant rally for Hillary. Nobody is bringing Hillary signs. We have to get back to the basic principle that lawyers should not be deciding the outcomes of our elections.

Do you think your efforts will actually change what happens inside that room on Saturday?
There have been a lot of negotiations already. The report came out from the DNC lawyers [on Wednesday], which I think very deliberately set expectations. But this isn't about whether or not we're going to change the outcome. It's about saying, "Just a minute, here we are again: a group of people are getting together in a room somewhere to decide the outcome of an election." That just can't be how American democracy functions. We don't have any false illusions that we're going to turn the tide, but that doesn't preclude us and it shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for not settling for this being how our democracy works.

So you think the outcome is precooked?
I think there have been a lot of backroom conversations, so it wouldn't surprise me if things have been worked out to a large degree before the meeting. But it's as much of a practical matter as anything. They would be there for six weeks hearing arguments if they didn't work through the bulk of the arguments in advance. So they'll hear a brief synopsis of each option argued by several sides, then they'll try to come to a decision in the afternoon.

What kind of outcome are you hoping to see?
Ideally, it would be an exact proportional representation of the votes that were cast. But I don't live in fantasyland. In Florida, it would be much easier to achieve that. In Michigan, because Senators [Barack] Obama and [John] Edwards took their names off the ballot, I can see how it makes the legal argument difficult. So it's not surprising that they're talking about 50 percent, because I don't know how else you settle a state where not all three names appeared on the ballot. But in Florida I think the results are clear.

Even though the candidates couldn't campaign there?
None of them were able to campaign there.

A lot of people see this as an attempt to rewrite the rules, since the Clinton campaign wasn't protesting the decision to strip away delegates at the time.
If people had known about this close outcome when this election season started, they would have done things differently. But at the moment I think it looked like the best deal. In hindsight [the estimated cost of a revote in Florida and Michigan] is nothing compared to what's being spent and the energy being expended over this problem now. And it's completely out of sync with what's happening in this country to eliminate two states just because they were naughty. We cannot lose what is being expressed in our country with this giant voter turnout. Not allowing every individual to speak their voice sends a signal that voting doesn't count, and we cannot continue to reinforce that idea.

What first prompted you to organize the group?
We started as a group of five women traveling around the country working together on the Hillary Clinton campaign. But while that's the single thing that galvanized our relationship with one another, there's a lot that happened during the campaign that made us say, "You know, when this is all over we really need to focus on this or that." What came up was the unbelievable enthusiasm and energy coming out of women who had never been involved in the political process before and who became active.

How did you get from there to plans for a protest at the rules committee meeting?
Women were writing in saying, "We don't want to cry victim, we don't want to say this is a gender thing—we just want to ask why it's happening." So we decided to focus on May 31. It's not focusing on Hillary but speaking what's on the minds of these women, which is to honor the principle of every vote. There have been too many instances in the recent past where a small group of people determines the outcome of an election in which millions have cast their votes. To people in Florida, this is like instant replay. We cannot continue to go down that road.

What happens if the decision doesn't go the way you want? Will supporters grow disillusioned enough with the whole process to stay home on Election Day or vote for John McCain?
No, no. I hear people say, "Oh, I'll never vote for so-and-so," but I think that is just an emotional outburst. I don't think we have a divide that is unhealable. There's not even a chance that people will stay home on Election Day. There's all this talk of healing the party, but we don't have a sick party—we have an incredibly robust party. Everybody is going to have to say, "Enough is enough. We will not have another four years of George Bush." Every Democrat will come to that moment. If Obama is the nominee, I'll support him.

If Obama is the nominee, what's the right move for him to make?
We'll be saddened and we'll continue to individually support Hillary for as long as she chooses to go on. We are not bitter or crazy, but this cannot be a popularity contest. I think Senator Obama is a fine man, but he could use some seasoning, and it's evidence of his youth that he was so impatient. If he is the nominee, the talks about the vice presidency or any other area of particular concern for Hillary should be taken into consideration.

Was this ever a matter of Hillary Clinton being the first woman to have real shot at the White House?
We didn't organize around that principle at all. Supporting Hillary was not about her being a woman, although we admire her as a woman. But the underlying gender discrimination has been shocking. I've been disturbed by it. It's so hard for me to understand how we can be so outraged about racism, then allow the same undercurrent of gender bias to happen. I never considered myself a feminist. I guess I was one of those naive people who thought the women's movement had already done its job, since I had reached all of my professional goals and never felt really held back as a woman. But I don't think I understood the extent to which this wink-wink, nod-nod continues. But I think that all [this campaign] did is inspire women, since women realized their work is not done.