I woke Wednesday morning tired, happy and filled with something I remembered calling hope. Like many Americans, the last 12 months have been challenging. As a woman, and a mother the daily actions of the past year have been almost impossible to comprehend much less explain to my children. Gun violence, hate speech, natural disasters, economic inequality, opioid addiction and sexual harassment are in the news with increased frequency and ferocity that is affecting every part of the country – whether red, blue, rural, urban, prosperous or in poverty.
Integrity, honesty, kindness – it has felt that these qualities no longer have a place in modern society. For our kids it’s especially confusing. They listen to “Anti-Bullying” speeches in their classroom while racial slurs are written in the locker room or tweeted by the President of the United States. For women, we recognize our growing economic role not only in our families but to our regional, state and national economies. Many of us take pride in seeing women step forward to lead corporations, universities, and cities. Yet, this past year has provided a steady and painful reminder of the persistent gender wage gap and worse, of our vulnerability to sexual predators including many in positions of power.
To the surprise of many, including myself, I was not one of the million women to march last spring. I felt too defeated by the shattered dream of my America. Yet, the sight of millions of sisters marching not only in Washington DC but around the globe in solidarity woke me, and lit a fire. It seems many of us have felt similarly and came together to make a collective and very feminine stand. While much has already been written and will continue to be over-analyzed about yesterday’s historic wins in Virginia and across the country, the power of women in the political space can no longer be denied. We truly are Indivisible!
Not only did more than a dozen amazing women (and perhaps more once final votes are tallied) step forward to run for state delegate but their victories have changed the balance of power in the Virginia legislature. Each of these women from Danica Roem to Debra Rodman demonstrated her own type of leadership, integrity and bravery. #NeverthelessShePersisted!! Even more exciting, each of these women (and their male Democratic peers) were supported by a deep and very authentic group of female grassroots supporters. I know, because I have the pride to be one of them and witnessed over the last 9 months something I thought was perhaps lost.
In my suburban district, the “Old Boys” political network seemed unbeatable. My delegate had served for 17 years and despite being a doctor, he was a major opponent of expanding health care for those most in need. Earlier this year I wrote him a thoughtful constituent letter requesting that he reconsider his position on gerrymandering (he had drawn his last political opponent out of his district) and received a one sentence response that simply thanked me for writing. I’ve listened to him and my Congressman Dave Brat “mansplain” their positions and write off women’s voices over and over. They metaphorically patted us on our heads and thought our desire for change was cute. To hear them tell it, they were just a scapegoat for liberal displeasure over Trump.
While it is true that Trump lit the fire, these men failed to recognize that they provided the fuel. It’s not OK for a working mom who has moved to this community because of its schools, to have her state delegate push to use her taxpayer dollars to support expensive private schools. It’s not OK to tell us that gun safety is just too hard and illusive because we can’t legislate human actions, while at the same time trying to pass legislation that would prevent our access to birth control. You can’t say the reason not to invest in our communities is because of the need to balance the budget, and then completely take off the table any opportunity to increase or reallocate revenues. You can no longer pretend to be strong on safety by attacking sanctuary cities but then sit back while the NRA writes your next check. It’s insulting to cite your credentials as an economist and explain basic supply and demand theory, but never change your position despite increasing demand by your constituents.
And so, I became part of the suburban women’s political army. Over the past few months, I found myself spending many weekends knocking on doors, making phone calls, and writing post cards. In doing this, I discovered several things. First, I was not as alone as I had thought. Lots of other women with a variety of different backgrounds and motivations felt similar to me. We were frustrated by the Virginia GOP Boys Club, and thirsty for change. We wanted to be heard. We don’t like seeing hard-liners taking over democracy. In short, we want a better world for our kids. We want a better world for other people’s kids, too, especially those who may be of a different race, or who live in rural parts of the state, or may be here as immigrants. None of us want to pay more taxes, but we recognize that there are valid reasons for public investment and that good government is something we should strive for and not just dismantle. Understanding that so many of my neighbors, my sons’ teachers, our doctors, and others felt similarly made me feel hope that through community we can heal this country -- starting in a sprawling place like Henrico County.
Second, I discovered that political work is not fun for anyone and its very model makes me question its long-term sustainability. Those running for office should be applauded. It is a thankless and grueling task, especially if you have children. Your spouses, kids and family support systems deserve a lot of credit. The attacks are ruthless, and the hours spent away from home are exhausting. But even for those of us who volunteered, it was hard to be on the other side of the phone. NO ONE likes to get calls at home, or even worse on their cell phone. NO ONE likes to have some stranger knock on their door. NO ONE likes to give any personal information these days, for good reason.
So asking someone to sign a petition, or how they are going to vote, or what time they are voting is not a pleasant job. Added to the mix is the fact that many neighborhoods built by developers don’t make it easy to canvas (who knew there were so many private roads and no trespassing signs in my County?), and that Virginia’s gun laws provided extra anxiety when you happened upon a home with a “guarded by the NRA” sign. I was surprised at the number of somewhat derogatory comments I received about being a paid hack. When I explained that no, I was a neighbor and had taken time away from my family to knock on doors, people seemed surprised or incredulous.
And yet, we have taken to these annoying tactics because the data repeatedly shows us that Democrats are really horrible at turning out to vote, especially on off years. The best counter to claims of fake news, is having someone make a personal connection. In today’s fast moving, data-filled world, it’s important to have as many touch points as possible. But because this is such labor-intensive work for everyone involved, from candidate to campaign volunteer, it does make me wonder how well we can sustain this important work. The reality is that it is up to every individual to not only get politically educated, but to exercise their right to vote. At present though, it seems this doesn’t happen without each of us making the effort. Democracy is not a one-click, swipe-left kind of thing.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, Margaret Mead was right when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” We live in a really frightening time and it’s easy to feel that there is nothing one person can do to make a difference. Money in politics has gotten obscene. Politicians drawing voting maps makes it feel as though our voice carries little weight. The growing political rhetoric that seeks to divide us rather than unite us is threatening the safety and economic security of our country, if not our very souls. We all want a savior, but that person doesn’t exist. We are the future, and while some say the future is female, the truth is we cannot win alone. When we women come together -- as mothers, as partners, as community members -- with men who want to roll up their sleeves and fight beside us for a better and more inclusive future we are unstoppable.
So for the moment, I am going to bask in the November 7, 2017 victories and appreciate this feeling of hope. Because already, that little voice in my head is telling me “it won’t last.” Who knows though, maybe if we expect better from ourselves and from our politicians it might. If not, well, never under estimate the power of a well-organized, fired-up woman!