Had you told me twenty months ago the salient details of what will now go down in history as Election 2016, I would have laughed you out of the room, down the front walkway, down the street, and into the woods. Because seriously, what kind of psychotic mushroom would you have to be on to come up with THIS?
If America can agree on anything, it's that this election season has defied our expectations, and, indeed, even our wildest imaginations.
But that is not what I am here to talk about. I am here to talk about how this election has changed ME.
Amid all the negativity, all the ups and downs, all the bizarre turns (sexual harassment and sniffs, oh my!), I have learned some interesting things along the way, and I am better for them.
CALL ME LILLARY
In July, my daughter told us one night at the dinner table that she wanted to change her name from Lilly to LILLARY, so that she could become a girl president. It was so simple, yet so profound. The fact that Hillary exists, that she may be our president come tomorrow, MAKES A DIFFERENCE. Earlier in the campaign Trump complained that Hillary kept playing "the woman card"-- claiming that she was a good candidate BECAUSE she was a woman. To which I, and many other people, thought HELL YES it makes a difference that she's a woman. If she were a woman WITHOUT qualifications, that would not make her a viable candidate. But the fact that she is one of the most qualified candidates for president in the entire history of this country AND SHE'S A WOMAN? That's important.
I grew up in the 1970's. While we had Wonder Woman Underoos and Legos were still a unisex toy, there were lots of professions that still weren't without a gender prescription. Doctors were men, nurses were women. Pilots were men, stewardesses were women. Presidents and senators were most certainly men.
Hearing the possibility of a woman president was made real to me by hearing Lilly take ownership of it through Hillary. Because there was an example, there is possibility.
MOMS DEMAND ACTION
I had supported Hillary from the beginning of the primaries. I had lots of friends who were "Feeling the Bern" and I kept quiet on Facebook about my convictions. I loved seeing their passion for a candidate who promised a more just and equitable society. Yet I had real differences with his foreign policy ideas and experience. Also, he was nowhere near as staunch a supporter of Gun Sense Legislation that Hillary has been from the start.
I took one of those online quizzes where you answer questions on your positions to find out which candidate you most closely align with. I ended up with 96% agreement with Bernie, and 92% with Hillary. But what the quiz didn't take into account is how important the issue of gun violence in this country has become to me.
Earlier in the year I was so excited to meet women who were starting up a local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America in my town. I immediately jumped in with both feet. I knew the organization mostly from engaging with them on social media. Their gun sense positions, which focused on finding ways to make real progress on issues like Universal Background Checks and closing the loopholes that allow guns to flow without detection-- issues which an overwhelming majority of Americans actually agree on!
As we got closer to the election and the organization endorsed Hillary as a gun sense candidate, I decided to do everything in my power to get Hillary elected.
So many of the issues that our society faces-- whether they be racism, terrorism, or violence against women-- ALL of them can be bettered by strengthening our gun sense laws and working together to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.
THE BIG AHA
Inspired by Lilly's letter from Hillary, our family went public with the letter to set an example, and to advocate for a tone of decency. Our argument was simple, and in many ways, nonpartisan: We should all be speaking to each other with the kind of respect that Hillary spoke to this 7-year-old girl with.
It was a big limb to go out on for us as a family. There has been story after story about bullying, harassment, the so-called "Trump effect" of violence and derision spreading throughout the country. Although in a normal election season, our "release" of the letter would not be perhaps anything more than a small human interest story, in this season, it felt dangerous. The letter and story went viral. It was written about in the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Time Magazine. The Washington Post did a video of Lilly reading her letter and an accompanying article, the local news covered it and that video was shown on local tv stations throughout the country, and I wrote a piece for the web site Scary Mommy. A few days later, the letter was shared by Wonkette, and we got a call from the Ellen DeGeneres show. We didn't end up doing the show, which was ok with us-- by that time we had had so much exposure, we were happy to shrink back to normal life.
I was in equal parts attacked and praised in the comments sections across the internet. Women said that it changed their minds about Hillary, and others said that I was a bad mother for giving my daughter a bad role model to follow. Our friends fanned out across the internet and defended us, and the writers of Scary Mommy welcomed me with open arms into their groups where I found lots of catharsis, strength, and humor.
I realized with Lilly's letter that not only was I impressed with the message it sent to HER, but that I, a "grown-ass woman" of 42, needed to hear those words. I needed someone to say to me that I should carve out a space for my own voice. I cried because those were the words that the little girl who I was really needed to hear and never heard. They emboldened me to take stands and push forward.
"GRAB THEM BY THE PUSSY"
Trump's ridiculous, sexist, misogynist proclamations and his ACTUAL ABUSE OF WOMEN has triggered many of us. I have revisited the many (yes, MANY) experiences of abuse I have had in my life. The father of a friend of mine who kept pressuring me (then five) to take a bath with his daughter, who slapped me on my bare bottom when I proclaimed that I didn't want to and he couldn't make me. (Years later, we found out that he had sexually abused his own daughter her entire childhood). The high school boyfriend who raped me on my prom night when I came down with a stomach flu and repeatedly asked him to stop. The high school "friend" who would give me a ride to school in the morning and who would say humiliating sexual things to me and proposition me almost every morning. The time when I was living in Spain and a naked man jumped out of a tree and started masturbating in front of me. The college boys who talked about me behind my back and challenged each other to try and bed me.
You may be wondering WHY IS THIS GOOD that I am remembering all these things? Because after Trump said what he did, I realized I WAS NOT ALONE. The internet was filled with women who were recounting the ways that they had been assaulted, the way they never told anyone about the assaults because they felt ashamed. Until that moment, I had forgotten most of these things because I had tried so hard not to remember them. But now, I remembered them, and realized THESE THINGS HAPPENED. THEY WERE NOT MY FAULT. My indignation and my care for others who publicly spoke of their stories rubbed off ON ME. I realized I am as deserving of comfort and compassion as they are. I realized that I didn't just have bad luck. I am a woman, and this is the story that I and many women like me have lived. It was nothing we did, nothing we said. And that by having Trump's words trigger us, we became stronger. We spoke out, and we will continue to speak out.
Before this time, I had spoken to my kids about body safety in very general terms. One night, while cuddling before bed, I talked to my 11-year-old son about the word that Trump used, what it meant, and what I thought about it. I did this because he rides the bus to and from school, and I remember being a kid on the bus-- it's an environment where bullying can slip under the radar. Where things are said and even done without an adult being able to watch over it. (Bus drivers are DRIVING). I told my son the story of how I was almost in that bath with my friend, the one whose father molested her. I told him that it is not ok to talk about others' bodies the way Trump did because that is abuse. I talked to him about consent-- both for his body and for others'.
I WILL NOT DISAPPEAR
Emboldened by this strange and amazing and difficult season, I have pushed forward for the issues I care about. I have continued to show up for my work with Moms Demand Action. I have volunteered my butt off for the coordinated Democratic campaign (while still maintaining a full time job and two other major volunteer commitments and keeping my two children and husband alive, albeit in a state of disarray).
I have met my congressman Mark Pocan and my Senator, Tammy Baldwin, so many times that we joke that I'm a friendly stalker. Ditto for candidate and hopefully soon-to-be returning Senator Russ Feingold. I have met Chelsea Clinton, Elizabeth Warren (whom I gave one of my Wonder Woman bracelets), and the amazing Vice President Joe Biden, who gave me a smooch and nuzzled Lilly nose-to-nose.
Amidst all of that, what I will remember more is the people who volunteered WITH me. Samara, my local Moms group lead, who now shows up in my phone's camera album more than my husband (!), the brilliant young organizers with Hillary's campaign who inspire me with their optimism and kindness. And the other people-- the people volunteering to canvass, to train, to phone bank, to work events. The Secret Service guys who made sure that when the crowds crushed, that my daughter and I stayed safe. The educators and labor folks who turned up and turned out. Who brought their students, their friends, their co-workers, to help further the cause.
I'm exhausted, but make no mistake-- I'm exuberant. I'm done fretting over 528 polls. I'm done with the worry. Yesterday, in the sunday edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, they asked both Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump for closing statements. My name was there-- the first three words in Secretary Clinton's OpEd. I didn't know that was going to happen. But I own it 100%. I am a progressive Democrat. I am a mother, and I am a believer that all the hell we've gone through is a part of our future purpose: to live freer, with more understanding, with less shame. To speak truth. To use respect, even when we aren't given it. To seize the opportunity to carve out a space for our own voices.
In the words of our Wisconsin State motto: FORWARD.