American women are angry—thousands in the streets, tens of thousands contacting their representatives and posting their stories to social media. And American women are exhausted.
Last week was (another) long, hard week. We officially have a(nother) Supreme Court Justice whose elevation was not stopped by credible allegations of sexual misconduct. It may be that only 50 heartless people – following one misogynistic sexual predator (our president) – cast the deciding votes, but American women heard one thing loud and clear: “Even though we now feel the #MeToo pressure to pretend to listen to you, and even though we say we believe you, we will never care about you.”
Ladies, we need to pace ourselves—one protest, one nomination battle, one full out sprint was never going to fix our country. The horrible things happening are very real. An accused attempted rapist has just been given a lifetime position of power by a serial abuser of women with the help of a bunch of white men (and Susan Collins) who have learned how to say, “We believe you,” while simultaneously showing us they couldn’t care less. There’s no good way to spin this. It’s bad. For decades to come, our daughters’ bodies will be governed by people who do not value women or their bodies.
But—important as it is—it’s not the only important thing that happened last week. On the same day as Kavanaugh’s confirmation vote, the Noble Prize committee shone their spotlight on two people working to stop sexual violence against women in war zones: “At a time of growing global awareness about injustices against women, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded…to two people who have brought attention to the most extreme forms of violence they can face: a Congolese surgeon who treats victims of wartime rape and an activist who was a sexual slave of the Islamic State.”
Mamas, if we are going to build a better world for all of our babies, we need a plan. If we’re going to fight the good fight, we have to pull back and put a bigger frame around the moment we’re living through. And even more critical, we have to hold what motivates us, all of the pain and injustice of this moment, in one hand, and in the other hand, hold the things that sustain us—what’s true and good, and even those silly frivolous things that make us happy. If we can’t do that, if we can’t see how long the arc of the moral universe is, we will not be able to bend it in the direction of justice. We will be too hopeless and exhausted to do the work. And, ladies (and gentlemen), we have so much work to do.
When my kids were still babies, I remember feeling crushed by a weight of sadness thinking about mothers who have lost children to the gun violence epidemic in our country. Even before the massacre of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook, watching the public pain of Trayvon Martin’s mother was more than I could handle. I remember thinking about those mothers while looking at my babies’ soft, sweet baby faces, and thinking, how can both of these things be just as true? The joy they brought me and the pain of other mothers?
It felt disrespectful to the tragedy of mothers surviving their child’s murder to forget their pain and the cause of it for even a moment. As someone whose anxiety had often wrapped itself around real world political events, anchoring me in depression, overwhelm and inaction, that wasn’t such a surprising thought. The surprise was my constant amazement, no matter what else was happening at the time, at how filled with exuberant happiness my babies were. My babies! When I had always thought of myself as melancholy at best. Listening to them giggle, playing together on the floor at my feet, while I read the news on my phone each day, it suddenly felt just as disrespectful to ignore the beauty of my life, which was no less real than any pain. I felt a duty to my babies to let the happy in, unapologetically. But I also felt a duty to them, to other mothers, and to myself, to do something.
As different as the disproportionate impact of gun violence on communities of color may seem from sexual violence against women, listening at that time to black men talking about not feeling safe in their own bodies, I felt a deep connection. What they were expressing was very real to me, even as a white woman. I know that fear. Deeply. What I didn’t know then was, when the injustice of the “not-guilty” verdict of Trayvon Martin’s killer finally drove me to take real action, that action would eventually lift the crushing weight I felt about other mother’s children being killed. Doing something about it freed me from the paralysis of the anxiety and grief that had gutted me.
Moms, we are building a better world for our children because we love them. This work is going to take a lifetime. The injustice we feel so profoundly in moments like this is not new even if the feeling that something urgent must be done about it is. We cannot sprint. We will not last. We need to let our activism into our lives – and for moms that means playdate postcard writing parties, inviting a friend with kids to march with you, side by side, pushing strollers together, and bringing the kids to canvas unreliable voters in swing districts. Moms don’t have extra time, so if we’re serious, we need to be smart about this.
I learned something from an anti-racist workshop for white people that confused the hell out of me at first. Included in a list of characteristics of white supremacist culture was this: “a sense of urgency.” Other things mentioned made some kind of sense – defensiveness, worship of the written word, paternalism, fear of open conflict, the right to comfort, I had heard those things before. I became obsessed with trying to understand — wasn’t a sense of urgency a driving force behind social change? How could not having a sense of urgency be a good thing?
Then I watched this skit with Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock on SNL a week after Trump was elected in 2016. Chappelle is watching Election Night returns with two white women and a white man, interjecting some (humor and) perspective into their increasingly despondent reactions as it becomes clear that Hillary isn’t going to become president. At the end, Chappelle says, “Don’t worry about it. Eight years are gonna fly by.” And Rock, who has joined them, jokes, “Come on guys, get some rest, you got a big day of moping and writing on Facebook tomorrow.” The skit ends with the two black men howling with laughter when the white guy says, “This is the most shameful thing America has ever done.”
Slavery was legal in the US for 245 years. A “sense of urgency” is white people panicking about a 4-year presidency while black men laugh, even though we all know the impact will be felt more by people of color. It’s what makes white activists over-promise and under-deliver time and again while communities of color see no meaningful change. It’s what makes us think we don’t have time to be inclusive, and to call on the same people again and again because we have important work to do and we’ll worry about diversity and inclusion the next time we host an event or choose new leaders or publish an opinion piece. It’s “sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results… sacrificing interests of communities of color in order to win victories for white people.” It’s what allows a white woman, photographed crying after the Kavanaugh vote, to say, “How are we going to find the strength to keep fighting? Are we going to be out here for another 30 years? I don’t have 30 years left.”
America has done a lot of shameful things. That doesn’t make what’s happening now is any less shameful, and god forbid eight years of this, but I think we need to take the first half of Chris Rock’s advice—we need to rest—so we don’t get stuck in the moping on Facebook bit. And that doesn’t only mean we need go to sleep instead of biting our nails and reading Twitter past midnight. It means we have to make room for our lives.
Black women have been the foot soldiers at the forefront of nearly every social justice movement in recent history—and they do this while working to support families, raise kids, and sometimes even take a little care of themselves. I’ve never heard a woman of color say, “We can’t do this anymore.” They don’t have a choice. Their children are being shot and killed, they have the largest pay gap of any other group, and we still expect them to vote to save us all. White women, I’m talking to you specifically, we need to take a page from black and brown women. Take a step back—get perspective, get sleep, get stronger. Get a massage, go dancing, get your nails done. And then get back to work.
There’s a nonprofit I know run by a (white) man who hasn’t taken a day off in a decade and won’t sleep on a bed until everyone has a bed to sleep on. That’s very noble. I guess. I’m willing to bet that those without beds to sleep on tonight wouldn’t sleep any better if they knew he was crashing on his couch. When I heard about his dedication, my first thoughts were, “He clearly doesn’t have a wife or he’d have a bed,” and “he clearly doesn’t have kids or he’d take a day off.”
None of us are only our political passions, and 24/7 is not a sustainable pace. I know it’s hard to sleep when the patriarchy is spitting in your face, but they have been spitting in our face for our whole lives and we need a good night’s rest. We don’t need to become political monks to make a difference. In fact, we have to find ways to be active that fit into the lives we have built for ourselves. We’ve all heard—at least from flight attendants—that we need to put our own oxygen mask on first. We know that means that we can’t take care of other people if we don’t take care of ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we know how to do it.
Maybe this is how. If you’re annoyed with your friend who posted on Facebook from the movie theater when she told you she couldn’t show up at the phonebank you recruited her for, maybe that anger should spark a second thought after, “What the hell!” Maybe it’s ok to go to a movie. Maybe you need to take a break and go to a movie. Seriously. Go. And don’t feel guilty. As long as you keep coming back, you should also keep stepping back.
Some things are less important and it’s time to let go of the extra stuff we don’t need and don’t enjoy. There’s no room for time sucks that exhaust us. Maybe we don’t need to show up at every soccer practice—instead maybe swap with another mom to take each other’s kids so you can take turns doing something more central to living with intention. That doesn’t mean we skip your daughter’s first game. It’s ok that that’s important. We all need to figure out that balance, every single day, and preferably without feeling like we are failing everyone.
I spent the last year so focused on the volunteer work I do that I hardly ever saw my friends. The work felt so important to me that I really believed that there was nothing I wanted to do more. I was happy, I was driven, and I had purpose. I was annoyed when people tried to distract my attention. One night, our neighbors came over and my friend demanded that I take a break, just for the night. Sitting on my living room floor, with my friends and my husband, drinking a glass of wine, listening to music and playing a game I love, I felt like I hadn’t heard music in forever. It sounded so beautiful. And it made me remember something I’d forgotten—I also love this. This is also important. This is also my life.
We need to be ourselves while we do this work or we will not last. We aren’t suddenly going to become different people who don’t care about anything as much as we care about the Supreme Court. More likely is that many of us will make deep personal sacrifices while the temperature of the country is running hot, and then we’ll burn out and stop showing up. We can’t do that.
The work we need to do is too important to stop showing up. It’s actually infinitely more important that you’re still showing up a year from now than that you make phone calls to voters every single night from now through Nov 6. We all absolutely need to do something about this hot mess—our country and our sanity depend on it—but we need to find a pace we can maintain. We need to have a life, love our families, be who we are, and also continue to fight for justice for all families. You can be a politically active person and still be everything else you are, too.
This weekend we’re going to have perfect fall weather. I’m planning to take my kids canvassing in a swing district. But, even this fall, when it’s so critical to get more sane people to the polls, fall means more to me than just Get Out The Vote. It means spending time outside with my family, it means warm apple cider, and it means cute boots. That’s right, I’m not going to pretend I’m not a woman who also likes cute boots. This weekend, I’ll be canvassing with my kids, walking around in my cute boots, and then taking them out for a treat because door knocking is hard work and we’ll deserve a break.
You can be serious about political change and still live a life that sustains you, whatever makes you happy and strong. Just ask Lauren Duca. Or just listen to what the politics writer for Teen Vogue said to Tucker Carlson when he told her to “stick to the thigh-high boots” in an interview on Fox News: “A woman can love Ariana Grande and her thigh-high boots and still discuss politics. Those things are not mutually exclusive.”
Life’s too short for boring boots. And it’s definitely too short not to stand up for what you believe—in the cutest boots you can find. Women, it’s ok, we got this.