Romper: Fueled By Trump, Moms Running For Office Are Leading The Resistance
By Danielle Campoamor
During the entire 2016 election cycle, a reported 920 women ran for political office. This time around, more than 26,000 women have thrown their hat in the proverbial ring, and many of them are mothers. A year on from Trump, the resistance has already experienced its most distinct victory in the sheer numbers of women choosing to compete in the November 2018 mid-term elections and try to change the system from within.
One year on, the disappointment is just as daunting. The disbelief, just as real. And while it's only been a year since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America, it feels like an outsized shift has occurred. The opposition to Trump's presidency has made itself known, and 26,000 women have reached out to EMILY's List for help running for office (per EMILY's list, which is providing support to female candidates), many of them moms. These women are leading that resistance with pride, determination, and a steadfast belief that the future will, in fact, be brighter.
In the past year the country has seen an unprecedented number of women trade in their pussy hats for election documents, seeking local, state, and federal public offices to best serve their communities. Julie McClain Downey, National Director of Campaign Communications for EMILY's List, believes that the mothers who are actively campaigning have not signed up in spite of their parental roles, but rather because of them. She tells Romper, "The qualities that it takes to be a successful parent in this world, specifically a mother, are often ones that make great elected officials. The ability to multi-task, show empathy, run a budget, things like that. So it's an exciting time to see these women, particularly mothers, stepping forward."
One such mom is Mary Barzee Flores, a mother of two and former Florida circuit court judge, who was nominated to the U.S. District Court by former-President Barack Obama before having her nomination blocked by Senator Marco Rubio, and is currently seeking election for Florida's 27th Congressional District. A committed public servant, Flores tells Romper that her kids have her back, and that the run has energized her.
"My kids are super excited. They're fired up. And, like a lot of young people, I think that they're both disheartened and disgusted by what's going on in politics, and that affects people in different ways," she says. "Some people get just so disgusted that they tune out and turn off and refuse to engage or participate. And other folks feel more fired up and excited to do something. Now, neither of my children are yet, themselves, interested in politics, but they're super encouraging and excited about their mom doing this."
Like her children, Mary is hopeful about the future, and the chance to continue to serve her community and the people of Florida's 27th. Aware that there are many women out there, especially mothers, who fear for the future and the world we will one day hand over to our children, Mary has a message she hopes every concerned mom will hear: "It's our year. It's the year of the sisters. We're going to step up, step out, and we're going to right this wrong."
The political machine to make that happen came together fast. Vicky Hausman is a mother of three boys who quit her job as a strategist after Donald Trump was elected to co-found Forward Majority, an organization dedicated to electing Democrats, with the goal of taking back statehouses and resourcing candidates at the state level. She has committed to assisting women who want to, as Mary puts it, "step up, step out, and right this wrong." For Hausman, working at a state level is a key part of the resistance strategy.
"When I started thinking about how I could help get involved and the areas where I could spend time and energy, I really came to understand that while we have all been focused on Trump, and the dysfunction at the federal level, state legislators are both the root cause and the key lever for change as we think about how we start to change our political system, but re-claim the fundamental building blocks of our democracy," she tells Romper, the determination in her voice palpable.
"We all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and recognize that the system is not driven from the top down. It's really driven from the bottom up, so in a year of so much to be upset about and outraged about, coming out of the Trump administration, the glimmer of hope and change is really what's happening across states as we reclaim our government."
And those glimmers of hope are becoming more and more prominent. On Jan. 16, 2018, Democrat Patty Schachtner won the Wisconsin Senate District 10 special election. Her win marked the 34th district to flip from red to blue since Trump's inauguration. It followed the 2017 win by Danica Roem, an openly transgender woman, who defeated the author of the so-called "bathroom bill" to win her bid for Virginia House of Delegates. Also last year, we watched as Vi Lyles, North Carolina's first ever African-American woman mayor, was elected into office.
Across the country, at the state level, women — and particularly mothers — are seeking positions of power to enact positive change in their local communities, and beyond.
While Hausman went into 2018 extremely optimistic, and inspired by the people who stepped up to run on such clear platforms for change and such powerful ideas, she wants to remain realistic about the roadblocks to come.
"We need to be incredibly clear-eyed about the challenges at home and at hand. While we may be making important and essential steps forward and there are many reasons to be optimistic, we are facing great adversary and vested interests," she says. "The fight has just begun. We have to be clear-eyed about that point. This is just the beginning of the change that needs to happen."
According to a Forward Majority study, only 19 percent of Pennsylvania Legislators are women. In Florida, it's just a quarter, in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina it's less than 24 percent, and in Ohio it's less than 22 percent. There is a way to go before we reach equal gender representation.
And, of course, being "clear-eyed" also means facing the undeniable fact that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, and that 63 percent of white women voted for Roy Moore, the Republican candidate accused of sexually assaulting underage girls, in the Alabama special election. Championing inclusivity and combating systemic racism and gender discrimination will be an ongoing battle as local, state, and federal candidates fight for a government that represents everyone.
That undeniable need for inclusive, diverse representation, among many other reasons, inspired Alexandra Chandler to run for Congress in Massachusetts. As an openly transgender woman and married mother of two who formerly served for 12 years in Naval Intelligence, Chandler knows, first-hand, what it means to serve a country that doesn't always give you a seat at the table. And in light of Trump's inauguration, she felt a responsibility to act.
Chandler's run at Congress has attracted other political actors. Recently, her campaign hired former deputy digital director for Doug Jones' Senate campaign, Lauren Young.
Chandler tells Romper, "I answered a call to serve the intelligence community after living in New York City during the 9/11 attacks. My then-girlfriend, now wife, was under Lower Manhattan in a subway train. So this is the same thing. I see a need out there, and in this case it was a surprise resignation [in my district]." She was motivated, she says, by her role as a mother.
"Because I look at my two kids — and goodness knows several times before I decided to jump in — after they go to bed, and just looking at their faces at night, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror and say, 'You know you have something to give, and yet you're afraid,'" she says. "I don't have the luxury of being afraid, because I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and this is the only country they will ever have. So they really made the decision for me."
Chandler doesn't believe it's a coincidence that the United States is the only developed nation without mandatory paid family leave, that we don't have adequate support for child care, and that the country is still lacking one of the many thousand family friendly policies that would, probably, be well-established laws if elected officials were more diverse.
"When I look at the decision to run, I am running to address the issues of my district here. But I also see it as part of a structural change that is needed in our politics. That women, mothers, people of color, LGBTQ people, are under-represented in our politics, and our politics are lesser for that," Chandler tells Romper, her voice unwavering. "I am part of a wave that are coming in, and we are going to change that."
And that need for change is at the forefront of Chandler's mind as she considers the example she is setting for her children. Her 5-year-old is aware that "mommy is running for Congress," and Chandler knows that she's showing her son a lesson in being kind, putting the needs of others before yourself, and confidence. Those lessons, she says, will only help him in life.
"I want to show my son a confident, woman leader, in his life. And early on."
The example Gina Ortiz Jones' mother set for her at a very early age inspired her to run for Congress in Texas. After serving her country as an active duty U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officer, Ortiz was invited to serve at the pleasure of former-President Barack Obama as the Senior Advisor for Trade Enforcement. Raised by a single mother who came to the United States as a domestic helper 40 years ago, Ortiz has personally experienced the power of the American dream, and is determined to keep it alive.
"If anyone raised by a single mother knows what to do it's 1) hustle, and, 2) help others. And if there are two words to describe my mom, it's selfless sacrifice," Ortiz tells Romper. "The number of times she sacrificed for my sister and I... it motivates me. My mom's name is Vicky, and my sister's name is Christi, and I know there is another Vicky, Gina, and Christi out there struggling to make it work. And to think that this administration, and these Republicans, would make it so that my story, our story, would not be possible, it's unfortunate. I'm running, obviously, to protect the opportunities that were so critical to me to grow up healthy, get an education, and serve my country."
And while the Trump administration has continuously attacked immigrants, either calling their home countries "shitholes," attempting to enact the so-called "Muslim Ban," and, most recently, deporting immigrants who have lived in the United States for over 30 years, sending them to countries that are now foreign to them, Gina is dedicated to ensuring everyone has a shot when they come to this country. And, again, it's her mother's experiences that make this necessary fight worth the inevitable struggles.
"My mother grew up in a country knowing that if she wanted to live her best life, she had to move to a different country. That doesn't happen here in the U.S., and it shouldn't happen. So we have to protect the opportunities for our most vulnerable, so they can become our most promising," Gina says in a determined tone. "I'm a kid that went from reduced lunch to the executive office of the president. That was always because I believed in myself. I'm only limited by my willingness to work hard, and that's what I want to protect."
It's easy to be disheartened by all that has transpired in the last year in Trump's America. And yet, mothers across the country, of all ethnicities, classes, religions, sexual orientations, and life experiences, are answering the call to serve their communities, set positive examples for their children, and change the course of our democracy. Where there is a lack of representation, these women are fighting to fill it.
"We, collectively, as moms in America, are not at the table in Congress," Chandler tells Romper, "So we are, as they say, on the menu. Well, I'm going to elbow my way up to that table."