Friday, November 6, 2020

Kids Holding Up a Mirror to Voters

My 15-year-old daughter organized her first election event this year. This was the first in-person, public action of her Sunrise Movement hub, made up of both middle school and high school students from a few different local schools. Knowing that most of her team would be nervous about a confrontational protest event, she wanted to do something uplifting to help the team - and their parents - feel comfortable with the action.

Get Out the Vote

The plan was to have excited students waving from public sidewalks of a busy local intersection holding signs encouraging people to vote on the Saturday BEFORE Election Day. The messages were intentionally nonpartisan. Examples of their signs said: “Vote,” “Your Vote Counts,” “Vote for Our Future,” “Your Vote Matters,” and “Our Voices Count.” They wanted to energize citizens to feel empowered, and urge voters to get out to the polls.

What Do You See?

As I observed the event, I noticed a curious phenomenon. Unlike a political campaign action where the public would react to a specific candidate or policies, the neutral “Vote” message from kids obviously too young to vote was like an ink-blot test for motorists. Most people would just honk or wave in support of the students. That was what I expected.

However, a fair amount of people who rolled down their windows to shout a passing message or to converse during a red light seemed to assume that the kids were out there to support THEIR presidential candidate. “Thanks for being out here for Biden” or “Yeah! Alright! Trump 2020!” were common responses. Both Trump AND Biden supporters (identified by their bumper stickers) said, “Yes! We need to count all the votes to make sure he wins." Most people clearly seemed to identify positively with the message, but lots of people were clearly interpreting the message in very different - and sometimes highly partisan - ways.

Then, there was the subset of people who gave thumbs down along with angry faces. The sign-holders on my side of the street counted 15 of those during the two hour event, and it sounds like there were about the same amount on the other side. A dad keeping an eye on his sign-holding daughters wondered aloud, “What does that even say about you as a person if you’re against kids encouraging you to vote?" Admittedly, there are definitely indigenous people in the U.S. who feel disenfranchised on their own they shouldn’t have to vote for a country that doesn’t recognize their rights or sovereignty. But, I’m pretty sure that wasn't the motivation for that negative behavior in the upper-middle class, largely white suburb of St. Louis we were standing in.

It seems to me like our kids were essentially holding up a giant mirror to the passers-by. Every driver saw what they brought with them to the moment and reacted accordingly.

Three days past election day, we've seen plenty of that ugly reflection of Americans who are not interested in fair elections as they demanded the counting of votes to stop in states where the rules clearly allow our military, absentee voters, and others to legally have their votes included.

As a volunteer advocate who works with Congress year round, I believe strongly that every voice should matter. I worked for the past months endlessly explaining to Missouri voters how to navigate our complex absetee and mail-in ballot rules (those two types of ballots are different in our state). Yet I still belatedly heard from a voter who had a ballot rejected because he was confused about our notary signature requirement to vote while at college out of state.

What Comes Next?

Post-election, those who fight for the rights of people every day will have plenty of work to do. Our values do not change. No matter who lives in the White House, our voting laws still make it harder for some to vote than others. Votes are still suppressed. Racism still plays a role in housing, criminal justice, health care, and a host of other policies that we can continue to improve bit by bit every day.

This poignant image shared by artist Angie King publicly on her facebook page on Election Eay beautifully describes how I've been feeling about Election 2020. The results of any election only tell me who I will be working with...not what I will be working on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Moms Can Model Patience in 2020

Are you feeling as anxious as this leftover
Halloween pumpkin on my porch?

It’s the day after Election Day 2020 and you could say I’m a tad on edge. If you’re an American who follows news, I bet you are, too, as we wait for votes to be counted state by state. We knew we wouldn’t have a clear presidential winner. We KNEW a record number of mail-in votes would take days to count. 

And yet we still are experiencing a nationwide anxiety attack. We need to make sure that doesn’t devolve into a nationwide panic attack.

Let’s talk, moms, because our presidential election results might take days if we’re just waiting for counting or weeks if it goes into court battles.

Moms Can Model Patience

We’re gonna need some national patience and mothers can be an excellent source of it. Patience is a virtue mothers that mothers are supposed to teach to our children. Today, we should model that behavior for them, for those around us, and for ourselves. Uncertainty is scary, for sure. We are entitled to have worry and a host of negative feelings. Don’t bury your concern to hide it from your children, though. They should see genuine feelings from a parent. Instead, show them healthy ways to deal with uncertainty.

But how to we muster up the correct mindset to model patience if we’re not feeling it so much ourselves? It's difficult to be tell others to calmly wait for all the votes to be counted when you feel like burning all your relationships by yelling at people in all caps on social media all day! Well, I try to take the same advice I so freely give to my teens when they feel anxious about anything from exams to friendships.

Focus on the Positive

Focusing on positive outcomes from last night helps me keep an even keel. Look beyond the presidential headlines. See where you can find hope and inspiration in your local elections or other states. These are a few not-so-publicized items that lifted my spirits this morning:

Congressoman-elect Cori Bush

Cori Bush will represent Missouri’s 1st District 

Missouri will send its first Black female U.S. Representative to Washington D.C. She’s a mom, a nurse, a supporter of the Green New Deal, an activist for #BlackLivesMatter. She has also experienced homelessness with her husband and two young children. As an advocate on issues of poverty and health (and the mom of two climate activists), I look forward to working with a representative with these fresh perspectives for our state.

New Mexico Delegation of Color 

New Mexico will be the first state to elect all women of color to the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a Native American woman and a Democrat, kept her seat. Republican Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, won the 2nd Congressional District. Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez won the 3rd Congressional seat.

A nice flower now represents the
great state of Mississippi

Mississippi's State Flag

Mississippians adopted a new state flag after flying a Confederate emblem for 126 years. People might continue debating park statues and history, but a new era of voters decided that a symbol of oppression has no place flying outside a Capitol building representing all citizens. Symbols have power. I believe this is a step on the way to the laws INSIDE the Capitol representing citizens of color.

Senator-elect Mark Kelly

This one is getting a lot of coverage, but as a lifelong NASA fan and current Space Camp mom, I’m extremely excited about it. Astronauts have a unique global and pro-science perspective that few of us will ever know. I especially think this is true of Mark Kelly whose twin brother spent a whole year on the International Space Station. In addition, I’m relieved he’ll be a voice of reason in the Senate on gun policies since his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is a gun violence survivor.

Hack into Your Hormones

Get yourself into healthy de-stressing actions. My high school friend (who is also a therapist) shared this useful chart. Careful with that suggestion of eating dark chocolate to release dopamine and endorphin. I think a lot of us ate our feelings last night, so maybe give some others a try for the sake of variety!