I’ve seen the questions, “What do women have to complain about?” I’ve seen the comments condemning the women who decide to actively engage in protest. I’ve seen the comments of support for the women who decide to actively engage in protest. I’ve seen the comments degrading women who identify as a feminist (which I proudly do). I’ve seen the comments supporting women who identify as feminists. I’ve seen the hateful rhetoric on both sides of the aisle on any number of issues. I’ve seen our inability to even talk to each other anymore. I’ve seen very little of people trying to understand each other and work together on common ground.
It’s funny, for years I’ve researched and written about women in leadership. I’m published in that area! I know the challenges women face in running for public office. However, I’ve still remained a behind the scenes leader because I too fit the challenges that women have in public life mainly the conflict between having a young family and entering the political fray. I weigh the choices—the time it will take away from home. I question what my daughter will think when I have yet another meeting to attend. However, I also believe that more women need to be engaged in the political process by running for office, joining boards and local political organizations and being vocal in their communities about the issues that matter to them. Since the inception of this country only 307 women have been elected to our Congress. As of January 2017, only 40 women have served or are serving as a state governor. Of the 1391 mayors of cities over 300,000, only 263 are women. For various reasons, we are simply not running for office as frequently and we should be.
In the last few months, I‘ve taken steps in my personal life to be more politically engaged and visible. The conclusion I’ve reached is that, for me, the time is now. Yes, I have a young family. Yes, I am insanely busy in my career. I was recently asked to join the board of the newly formed Heartland Progressive Alliance which is a political action committee. I was then asked to serve as Chairperson of this committee. This organization was born out of the frustration of two women talking about politics one night. The first meeting had 9 people. The Facebook page started with those 9 people. The first public meeting had 40 people! The Facebook page now has over 400 followers. This has all been done in the last 9 weeks. While we have both men and women in the organization, it was started by women and our board is largely made up of women. People locally are dissatisfied with both political parties and are organizing groups that reflect their voice. I am proud to be a part of this group and to be a part of the leadership.
This week I downloaded the application for Kentucky Emerge which is part of a national organization to train women in the art of running for political offices. It is my intention that if another opportunity I applied for does not pan out, I will run for political office in 2018.
I’ve had strong examples of family who hold public office. This is not something out of the ordinary for my family. My grandfather was president of our tribal nation, my father was a tribal councilor and a judge, my aunt is a judge, my uncle was a tribal councilor and so was a strong female cousin that I greatly admire. I am not the first in my family to say I want to run for office and I guarantee I will not be the last.
Here is why I have chosen to become more politically engaged and visible. I hope that I can find common ground with other people, not just women, who are concerned about some of these issues. There are some issues that I recognize are no compromise issues for some just as they are for me. But, I do believe we have more common ground than staked out camps. These are in no particular order. I just started typing one night and off this list went!
- I speak out because we have a justice system that still feels it can blame women for sexual assault. I see judges that ask women why they decided to wear certain clothes, walk down the street or even dare go on a date. This is not an individual judge problem. This is a system problem that starts with how we handle sexual assault from the first report to the day in court. In the state of Kentucky, we had THOUSANDS of rape kits that were never tested. That is a systems problem that tells women your sexual assault does not matter. However, I see you. You matter.
- I speak out because we have young women on college campuses who are assaulted and their rapes are never reported to the authorities because of systems on campus that fail these women. They too are blamed for deciding to go to a party and have a drink just like every young man who attends that party. However, it is our young women who are being assaulted and they are being assaulted by young men who feel they are entitled to violate a woman in that way. This is a systems problem of culture and of college campuses who do not want bad publicity. Watch the film The Hunting Ground. Take a look at the colleges that are suing their student newspapers who are asking for records of sexual assault on our campuses and are being denied. I see you.
- I speak out because in 2010 my employer did not have a maternity leave policy. Yes, when I gave birth to my baby girl, I had no maternity leave. I taught my online classes all the way through. I was back online 1 day after giving birth. I was grading social theory exams 2 days after giving birth. When I commented about this on Facebook many of you exclaimed—“didn’t you just give birth!?” Yes I did. I pushed through. I dealt with it. But, I was one of the lucky ones. I had a flexible job. I was not one of the 25% of American women who return to work 2 weeks after giving birth because they cannot financially afford to take off the 12 weeks of unpaid leave we get. I feel like maternity leave should be a right for every woman in this country that gives birth. Let’s not forget, without women giving birth we will not have the next generation. In the 21st century, women in the most powerful nation in the world should be afforded the right and resources to give birth and spend time afterward healing and bonding with their baby. Furthermore, I value the role of fathers in child rearing. They too are just as deserving of policies that protect their role in being with their spouse and child in those first few challenging weeks. I see you. I was you.
- I speak out because in 2017 we still have too many glass ceilings that women have been unable to crack. Again, this is not due to individual women not trying hard enough, not working hard enough and not doing everything they can to build impressive resumes. This is because of systematic elements of our society that still question whether women are capable enough to conquer these fields. When the media talks more about what a female candidate wears than their policy—this is a problem. When the media and others question whether a woman can be a good candidate and also a good mother—this is a problem. When qualified, hardworking and tenacious women can be called bitches, sluts, ball crushers, and such because they are kicking butt every single day—this is a problem. I see you. I am you.
- I speak out because in 2017 we see serious gaps in women entering the STEM fields. We know that young girls initially engage with math and science just as energetically as young boys. However, somewhere in the system they are turned off from the math and science and begin to think they cannot do those jobs. This is not individuals causing these gaps, but systems in education and culture that place more emphasis on the outward than what is in their brains—this is a problem. Our young girls see these messages. They internalize these messages. They act on these messages. The evidence shows us this. I see you. I believe in you.
- I speak out because I am sick and tired of seeing the sick and tired kicked, beaten down, demoralized, humiliated and dehumanized by systems and individuals that believe if they simply worked harder they wouldn’t be in poverty. I see people working hard every single day and falling back on the ladder. I see people working hard every single day that will never know anything remotely close to financial security. I do not think they are any less deserving of a job that pays a living wage simply because they check me out at Wal-Mart, cook my food, do my nails or any of the other services we enjoy as a society. I see you. I appreciate you.
- I speak out because I am tired of seeing corporations take advantage of their workers, the environment and my future. I am tired of seeing corporation’s post enormous profits while their employees are making so little they struggle and some sign up for aid because they cannot make ends meet. I am tired of seeing our earth polluted by these corporations who never take responsibility for the clean-up. I see you. I am coming for you.
- I speak out because I firmly believe in tribal sovereignty. Tribal nations in the United States are unique, vibrant cultures that agreements have been made with and should be respected just as we might respect a treaty with other nations in the world (thought I fully recognize we are not very good at that either). I am proud of my Seneca heritage, values and beliefs. I believe that tribal nations should not only be consulted but their opinion on the kinds of decisions made around their tribal lands should be listened to with true intent to collaborate. I am tired of seeing tribal nations, poor communities and communities of color take the brunt of environmental injustice. #NODAPL
- I speak out because I am tired of conducting research on and finding evidence of racial and ethnic disparities. It is there. It exists. I am tired of hearing racial slurs. I am tired of hearing racial jokes. Is there not a way to tell a joke without being a bigot? It is not funny. I am tired of seeing the studies that show people with “normal” names are more likely to get call backs then people with names that reflect their ethnic background. I am tired of seeing studies that show babies as young as pre-school are subject to harsher punishments simply because of their race. I am tired of seeing research that shows we incarcerate our people of color at higher rates and for longer times than other people who commit the very same crimes. I see you. You’ve told me your stories. I value you.
- I speak out because I am tired of seeing the sick feel scared that they cannot afford the medications they need. I believe healthcare is the right of all and not the privilege of those who can pay to have access to the latest cancer treatments, latest mental health treatments, latest treatments for their sick or disabled children, and latest treatments for their sick spouses. I do not believe in in a society that tells the vast majority of its citizens, “I’m sorry—you must go into financial destitution in order to have access to the best science and medicine.” I’m tired of seeing politicians make trite comments that people may have to choose between an Iphone and health insurance. HA! Show me a plan that I can get for $700 a year and it is good for a few years and I will gladly jump on board! Heck, I will gladly jump on board for $700 per person per year rather than the $11,200 I was fortunate enough to be able to afford last year for simply the privilege of carrying insurance. We need a system that actually works for people. I believe in universal healthcare.
- I speak out because women are the best people to determine their healthcare options, plans and decisions.
- I speak out because I believe in the beauty and wonder of science and what evidence can tell us about not only our ecological world but our social world. I believe in the scientific method. I believe that evidence based policy is the most effective way to handle many of our social and environmental problems. Science tells us climate change exists and that WE can do something about it.
- I speak out because I am absolutely horrified by the way we talk about, treat and marginalize our LGBTQ neighbors and fellow citizens. I am sick and tired of seeing them labeled as deviants, denied rights to structure their family, denied protections that they cannot be fired simply for sexual orientation, and denied basic humanity. I see you.
- I speak out because too many of our veterans are suffering the impacts of the wars we asked them to fight. I speak out because they deserve all of the care, treatment and opportunities we can provide for them. I speak out because I want to see us send fewer soldiers to war so fewer citizens of this country have to live with the ramifications for the rest of their lives.
- I speak out because I am sickened by how we talk about, treat, and marginalize our Muslim neighbors. I am sick and tired of seeing all of them labeled as terrorists, fanatics and the other really degrading language I’ve seen. I believe in the foundations of this country which said we would not discriminate based on religion. I believe in their right to freely worship because I believe in my right to freely worship. I believe in their right to travel without being detained, berated and asked ridiculous questions. I see you.
- I speak out because I believe we are all created equal. I believe we all have the right to freedom, liberty and justice. I also believe we have a lot of work to fully realize that vision and I am willing to work.
- I speak out because I believe that we can always do better, be better and treat our neighbors with more love, kindness, respect and understanding.
- Finally, I speak out because it is my right as a citizen of this country to protest what I want, when I want, how I want and with as many of my friends as I want as long as I am following the rules. I am allowed to wear what I want to support a cause. I am allowed to make a sign and protest any time I want. I am allowed to call my legislators as much as I can. I am allowed to show up at any event and confront my legislators because they work for me even if I didn’t vote for them. They are now in that position of representing me. I am allowed to do this because it is the very foundation of this nation. And, it is my deepest hope that you are engaging in your beliefs and vision for this country just as energetically because that is your right.
But, mostly I just want to see us having meaningful, thought provoking conversations again. These are some of the positions I choose to speak out on, but I know that crafting policy should not be my way or the highway. I believe that public policy is best crafted when we collaborate and understand that each side will not get everything that it wants. I believe this has been missing for some time.
Becoming politically visible is not easy for me. Given my job as a college professor, I’ve always believed in staying more in the background. I’ve believed my best role is to quietly conduct the necessary research for leaders to make informed decisions. But, on a daily basis I am reminded that I cannot stay in the background any longer. I may never win a single political race. But, it will never be said that I didn’t stand up for the values and kind of society that I believe in. My baby girl will be able to look back and see the ways I not only spoke out, but encouraged her to find her voice and speak truth to what she believes in.