You won’t remember the election no adult who’s alive today will ever forget. You’ll read about it in the history books, and I’ll explain to you why I voted for her, the way I wiped away the tears when I filled in that oval next to her name. She was flawed – and utterly competent. Of the candidates on the ballot that year, she had the most experience. (When I select a surgeon, I select the one who’s performed surgery before. Preferably lots of times and successfully.) And even as I, like so many people, liberal and conservative, would agree – a third party really would add an important degree of diversity and discourse to our political system – I learned my lesson the hard way. I voted for Ralph Nader once. (Among my only real regrets in this life: Nader. I liked the guy, and he represented my own politics better than anyone else on the 2000 ticket, so I ignored the math – and it was a mistake. Ultimately, the person I least wanted to become president became president that year – and my favorite candidate never stood a real chance. Hindsight is twenty/twenty, they say, and, besides, wouldn’t I give anything for the good ol’ days of Bush, Jr. as my worst case scenario? You bet.)
But don’t get me wrong, I’m actually kind of grateful to my least favorite candidate of all time (ever) for his inspiration, for re-awakening my feminism, growing my comfort with speaking up, speaking out, challenging and being challenged. You’ll be surprised to learn I wasn’t always just like this…always bucking that assertion that it’s sound practice to keep one’s politics to oneself. But you’ll know, because I told you, that sometimes the stakes are too high. Donald Trump was my line in the sand.
This is what else I hope you know…
1) Speech is action. Think about it: To speak, even just one word, one uses about one hundred different facial and neck muscles simultaneously. Speech exclaims. It states. It commands. It questions. One’s speech can uplift. It can denigrate. It can say a lot about you, about how you think, what you stand for and what you stand against. Very often, you’ll find – if you’ve proven yourself even reasonably trustworthy – that others around you will rely on the things you say as a statement of your belief and intention. And they’ll hold you accountable. That’s how it works. And when those words get you in trouble (and they will because you’re human), remember there are two very useful words you learned when you were just a kid: I’m sorry. Not: I’m sorry, if… Not: I’m sorry, but… Not: But look what you just did! Simply: I’m sorry. That was wrong. But only if you think it was. Only if you really mean it. Baseless apologies are pretty easy to spot.
2) “I’m sorry” doesn’t unsay. It doesn’t undo. It’s just a start. And so it’s necessary to take into consideration the sum total of one’s other actions, his/her track record, to decide if or how to engage with the apologist moving forward. Because you can’t unhear, unsee, unfeel. That’s fortunate, actually. It means you’ll be better positioned to make smart decisions about your path forward.
3) Some people call it political correctness. I call it respect. It is respectful to approach others with deference to their narrative, their lived experience as people who are gay or black or Muslim or what not. Because, as it pertains to their own experience, they are the experts. Plus, it’s really not that difficult to speak in a deferential manner. There’s lots of good guidance for it from both individuals and whole communities of people who have organized around their experiences. So if I tell a dude how I feel about that thing he just said – if that thing he just said is offensive to me as a woman – he should take my word for it. It is.
4) Men behaving badly isn’t a defense to sexism or misogyny. Or harassment. Or sexual assault. Ever. You’ll never hear me take the side of the preschool kid who teases a classmate “to get her attention” or pulls her hair because “he likes her.” Bullshit. If that’s true, maybe he should stop harassing and start complimenting his classmate about how well she knows her alphabet. Applied to the current state of affairs, I just can’t get behind a candidate who passed off as “locker room talk” what sounded to me an awful lot like the definition of sexual assault. That’s trivializing something far too serious.
5) If someone applies a scale to your body, s/he best be your physician – otherwise s/he’s probably a jerk. I’m flat-chested. And I’m a babe. Take my word for it. Mine is the only opinion on the subject of my appearance that really counts. Haters gonna hate, so please, by all means, love yourself.
6) The people in your corner say an awful lot about you. Ergo, I’m always gonna be that mom who cares if you’re hanging out with a lot of riffraff. And I’m always gonna be that voter who thinks it’s mad suspect when white supremacists (plural) think you’re the right person to run my country.
7) Your mother is an ally – and she votes like one. My vote is a stand against racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat-shaming… My vote is a vote against bullying. My vote is a vote against a bully. Bullying behavior represents immaturity and insecurity on the part of the bully at best and, at worst, a characterological failure. More importantly, my vote is a vote for acceptance, equality, and inclusion of people who are different from me.
8) Your mother is a feminist – and she votes like one. Separately, I could tell you all the reasons this is so. But, in short: I survived girlhood. I am a grown woman. I am a working woman. I am a colleague of working women. I am a friend of women. I am a mother. To a daughter. Advancing the experience of girls and women is important to me. And, even if you don’t know it yet, it’s important to you, too. So I vote feminist. And the feminist on the ballot this year happens to be a woman. If she wins this election, it’s no longer just theoretically possible for a girl to grow up to be the president of the United States. It’s actually possible. I’m genuinely excited about that.
9) Your country is great already. More on that right here.
10) Today, I voted like your life depended on – which, in may ways, it really does. Politics actually is that important. The decisions our leaders make have direct bearing on our everyday experiences. So I thought about you – my most precious thing – and I made a decision. I filled in the oval next to the name of the candidate I thought could do the very best job by you. Not a perfect job. But the best. (And someday you’ll tell me how I did. I really hope you’ll tell me. Do it with mind and do it with measure. I want to learn from you.) Meanwhile, somewhere out there – maybe in the ballot box next to me – somebody else was thinking of her kid and filling in a different oval. No doubt whatsoever, she loved that child as much as I love you. If we had nothing else in common, it was that.
That right there? That’s called freedom, kiddo. And it’s a beautiful thing.
May you always embrace your liberty.