Presidential Election Eve, 2012,
Early one morning during my fifth year on Planet Earth my father died. In an instant my mother went from being a stay-at-home Mom to a widow – a single mother who suddenly had to figure out how to raise three young children and pay the bills by herself. She hadn’t worked for pay in 14 years. Without my understanding it, a definitive line had been drawn in the sand between my family and the families of my friends and classmates. Two parents, a working father, and financial stability at that time comprised the American definition of ‘normal.’ We were not defined by any of those things and never would be again. Normalcy had lasted for all but five short years in my life.
I watched the smile slowly disappear from my mother’s face and the lightness in her gait drain into the ground beneath her feet. Life became a struggle. There were her years as a maid when we were very young so that she could have a flexible schedule. When she finally landed a desk job as a secretary with the American Red Cross – so she could be home close to when we got out of school – all it represented was a regular paycheck, a paltry one at that, on which she lived until she retired.
From time-to-time a banker would knock on the door (always a threatening man), reminding her that the payment on the loan she took out to build a second bathroom was overdue.
From time-to-time she would ask for a raise to meet the costs of clothing, feeding and keeping together the lives of three growing children. I learned to sew so that she didn’t have to buy me clothes, to cook to make the end of her days easier, and to clean the house so that she didn’t have to do it when she got home.
When one of us would get sick, my mother would tell her unsympathetic boss that she had to leave early, and the next day she would jump through invisible hoops to get back in the good graces of a man who had no idea what her life was like. After all he had a wife at home taking care of his homestead while he worked. All this man accomplished while he was my mother’s boss was to instill in her a further sense of disenfranchisement, to introduce her to cruelties borne of judgement and lack of empathy.
When my mother was at work, her heart was at home. When she was at home, she feared losing her job. We had no money, but we didn’t live on food stamps. Instead I became rich with self-reliance.
I watched as my mother’s easy smile and buoyant gait were replaced by an activist’s enthusiasm. She spoke out against racism and spoke up for equal and civil rights. She championed education and freedom of speech. She volunteered when weather calamities undid the lives of other fragile families, signed people up to vote, and campaigned for candidates who cared about the social and cultural structure that glued together the world’s military and financial super power. She protected the identities of lesbian friends and Jewish friends and Arab friends because she knew there is such a thing as prejudice and discrimination. She hated that racism exists in America.
Her Church became the Unitarian one, where respect for every religion was taught. And although my mother had been raised Irish Catholic and she wasn’t comfortable with the abortion issue, she was even more uncomfortable about the notion that a woman might not have any say over her reproductive rights.
There are big differences between my life and that of my mother, the primary one being that I went to college. She was raised in a family that educated the boys but felt the girls would be taken care of within a state of matrimony and didn’t need to be educated and didn’t need their own money. She was raised in a family where the girls came second.
Were you to stand us side-by-side you would not know that I was my mother’s daughter. Physically we have no discerning similarities. But in my heart I believe as my mother did…which is that in order for a country to be strong – financially, militarily, productively, educationally, creatively – it must, all the while protecting the bottom line, protect the rights of its citizens, all of its citizens, no matter their race, gender, religion or sexual preference. Economic strength and social equity are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they must go hand in hand.
Little did I know, all those years ago when I was five, that the issues my mother faced would still haunt the lives of so many women and so many families, and increasingly of men who are single parents, so many decades later.
In spite of the differences from one person to the next, the one thing that every human being shares is the fact that each of us was born of a woman. If we do not protect a woman’s rights – in the work place, in a marriage, within religion – as a society we have nothing.
Nicholas Kristof wrote the below Op-Ed in the NY Times. entitled How Romney Would Treat Women, in which he says, “So when you hear people scoff that there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney, don’t believe them. And it’s not just women who should be offended at the prospect of a major step backward. It’s all of us.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/opinion/sunday/kristof-how-romney-would-treat-women.html?src=rechp
This is an important election. Not only because of jobs and interest rates and taxes, the mortgage crisis and the environment. But also because the rights of one of the only two (known) human genders will be severely curtailed under the administration of one of the candidates. Because bad appointments on the Supreme Court could set us all back decades.
I think about my mother tonight. If she were alive she would be dismayed to know that there is still no respect for the environment, that social security, Medicare/Medicaid are being threatened, that it is still difficult to afford childcare, that equal work for equal pay is still an issue…and that women are still fighting to control what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. She would be dismayed to know that sometimes when a woman posts something political on G+ voices of anger and rage come out to shout her down. She would be distraught to know that far, far away in Pakistan a little girl was shot in the head because she championed education for girls.
This past Saturday night we turned the clock back one hour. Fingers crossed that tomorrow we do not go back in time 100 years, and dismiss, disown and deny the value of women in our culture.
See you on the other side. Please show up at the polls tomorrow and exercise the wonderful right to vote. For you cannot protect and defend rights that may be taken away from others, if you do not honor the ones you yourself have been given.
Thank you for reading…and a very special thank you to Mara Rose tonight.