(Oct. 8, 2018) Catherine Read interviews Zakiya Thomas, Executive Director of the National Woman’s Party (NWP). Founded in 1913, the NWP originally focused its work on the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. As the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment approaches, the NWP is being reimagined to continue the fight for women’s equality envisioned by their founders more than 100 years ago.
The founder of the NWP was Alice Paul, who dedicated her life to the advancement women’s rights and equality for all. After the successful passage of the 19th amendment, the NWP went on to push, with laser-like focus, for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. The NWP lobbied on the Federal and State level, and successfully got the measure passed on Capitol Hill and ultimately in 37 states.
Thomas is now hoping that her home state of Virginia will be the final state to put the measure forward. Although the NWP used to be primarily a lobbying outfit, they recently became a 501C-3 nonprofit organization. Their mission now is to build a coalition, and work arm in arm with the community to inspire action and advance women’s equality.
Zakiya Thomas comes to the NWP with a wide variety of experiences that makes her well suited to lead the organization into the future. After a successful academic career at William and Mary and Columbia University, she ventured off into the world of consulting. As she traveled the world and the country, she began to understand how policies affected people. She chose to work to advance good policies and the people who make them, to in order to have real and deep impacts on her community.
This led her to organizing the successful campaign of Sheriff Stacy Kincaid, the first female to be elected Sheriff in the 276-year history of Fairfax County. Sheriff Kincaid has transformed her office to have her officers be more engaged in the community, has implemented a Diversion First program designed to help officers recognize people with mental illness, and has pushed for increased educational opportunities for inmates. Thomas believes that by helping to get Kincaid elected, she has helped to improve the lives of those living in Fairfax County.
After achieving success in 2015 with Sheriff Stacy Kincaid, she moved on to manage the campaign of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax in 2017. Fairfax was the first African American to be elected to the post in the commonwealth’s history. He was a descendent of a slave who was freed from Lord Fairfax, the original landowner of Fairfax County. Thomas is proud of the work she has done to help elect these two public servants, and is pleased to see how they have made impacts for the people who they represent.
Today, Thomas plans to lead the NWP by inspiring its partners nationwide to adopt policies that help advance women’s equality. While the organization is a nonprofit and cannot lobby Congress or State Legislators for specific measures, they can be a resource for those who do. Their goal is to highlight the history, including their vast collection of historic documents and artifacts, to spark a conversation about the women’s equality movement. Their headquarters at the Bellmont House on Capitol Hill is now listed as a historical monument, and is managed by the National Park Service. Tours are given of the Bellmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, and it will serve as a centerpiece in the 100th celebration of the 19th amendment.
Thomas also plans to “take her show on the road”. She is working hard to establish relationships and partnerships with organizations nationwide, and plans to bring the collection out into the community. The broader goal is to work with these partners to amplify their voice and spark a national dialogue about equal rights for women, as well as expand programming and conversations around the Equal Rights Amendment. Their first stop will be in Charlottesville, where she will be speaking with a League of Women Voters about Diversity Inclusion in the fight for equal rights. They also have a variety of events planned locally, including books talks about Code Girls and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics. The website has further information about these events.
Many are not aware that the very first March on Washington was the Women’s March for the Vote, held on Pennsylvania Avenue on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration in January of 1913. In recent years we have seen the rebirth of the Women’s March, and the NWP is looking to raise their profile during these events. This year’s Women’s March will be held on January 19, 2019 and Thomas indicates that the NWP will be looking to plug into programming and use this event to reintroduce the NWP to the public. Thomas wants everyone to know that the NWP is recommitted to the cause, has a new, fresh look and is ready to bring the NWP into the 21st century.