I’ve had the honor of working as an intern for President Obama’s re-election campaign these past few months. I have made more phone calls in one day then I do in an average year. I have engaged in more political conversations with strangers than I would ever dream of having with my friends. But all of the canvassing and late nights at the office have brought along with them the privilege of stories. Volunteers, staff, interns, and voters all coming together, all bringing their own stories, their lives, their struggles, their values. And I get to envelop myself in this beautiful, unified mashup of humanity on a daily basis. I get to learn about people – myself included – about where we’ve been, about where we need to go, about our society and all its parts, about our differences, and about our collectiveness. It is an opportunity that I am indescribably grateful for, and it is an experience I would not trade for the world.
Just this past week, I was training a few volunteers on canvassing to homes and doing voter registration. I was sharing my advice – and they, their concerns – when one of our more experienced canvassers shared with me a story. This particular canvasser had encountered a woman who, after giving a summary of her wholly Democratic voting history, passionately expressed her support for Mitt Romney in the election. When asked why, she referenced the President’s recent verbalized support of same-sex couples plead for marriage rights. That was it. Obama supports everyone’s right to marry who they choose. Not ‘Obama is ruining the economy.’ Not ‘Obama is forcing me to get health care.’ Not even ‘Obama lets women kill babies.’ Any of which I could have brushed off as a close-minded and uneducated response. This, was malice. It is unreasonable malice, and a malice that I fail to understand.
A recap perhaps? Yes, maybe that’s it. President Obama’s progress with women’s rights has just been forgotten – unheard of, even – but surely not discarded! Not rejected by those they were meant to benefit! A recap should settle this nonsense! We have access to a multitude of enlightening facts that can be shared from our canvassing brochures. The first bill signed into law by the President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, ensuring and supporting a women’s right to receive fair and equal pay in the workforce, finally closed the too-long-existing pay gap. But you’re a stay-at-home mom, you say? Fair pay doesn’t apply to me? Let’s try the Affordable Care Act, also signed into law by the President! It not only denies insurance companies the previousl- existing ability to refuse coverage to women (labeling their gender as a pre-existing condition), but mandates that insurance companies cover contraceptives for women without the burden of co-pays or deductibles! Oh, but you’re okay with having an indefinite number of children? Well, how do you feel about domestic violence? Because it is an issue we have made great strides against by the passing of the Violence Against Women Act, written by Vice President Joe Biden.
Wait, still no? Well then…
As it does for many women, it boils my blood to think that we live in the twenty-first century, still under the rule of a government who consistently tries to berate and devalue our gender. But I cannot bear through the shock and muster up enough energy to get my blood even lukewarm in response to this woman’s statement. It sickens me, and drains my usual fiery passion for politics and justice. It breaks my heart, and my resolve. What is it that I am fighting for? What is it that all the women before me, have fought for? Have we fought to give rights to women who would sacrifice these rights in order to strip away others’? Have we fought for a lose-lose society? A society where we value other’s oppression more than our own progress?
I think it’s important to reflect on the depth of the sacrifices I’m talking about. It’s easy, sometimes, to brush off the hard work of the suffragettes, or any activists for women’s rights to vote. Easy, only because it’s taught to us so frequently, leading to a most likely unconscious desensitization of the effort. But there is a kind of sacrifice that gets forgotten, or at least left out of the sacrificial category due to its involuntary nature. When I speak of women who gave up their lives and their livelihoods for the rights we have today, I speak also of the women whose lives were lost in back-alley abortions before enough notice was taken to pass legislature offering professional, safe procedures. I speak also of the women who’ve had to go to their jobs every day, give forth their best effort, and silently watch as men in lower positions scaled past them up the corporate ladder. I speak also of the women brutally and senselessly beaten by their husbands without having the promise or security of judicial action. I speak of the women who were raped, impregnated, and subjected to endless emotional torment as their rapists were granted parental visitation rights. Those are the women I speak of. Those women, who were refused even a fraction of the rights we have today.
I am not, by any means, suggesting that those tragedies do not still occur, by no choice of the women involved. I am merely providing a reminder that we are finally, after too many years, moving along on the path to equality. Moving forward. These rights, these few yet imperative rights, swing so vulnerably in the balance this year. This election. These rights, these coveted and dreamed of rights, are finally being brought forth in the democratic process. Which means one thing, it’s our choice. It’s FINALLY our choice.
Please, and I mean that with every ounce of sincerity capable of being crushed into a six letter word, make the choice to keep the choice.