By Andrea Askowitz
My mom has spent her entire adult life volunteering for the Democratic Party. She’s also an artist and was also very active in the women’s movement. She was the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women and the head of the Miami Women’s History Coalition. She campaigned for equal pay for equal work and worked so hard for the Equal Rights Amendment that I can still recite the language: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The amendment died in 1982. I was 14.
My brother and I grew up under women’s lib, which meant there were no distinctions between chores. There was setting the table and taking out the garbage. There were no boy colors or girl colors. I had a purple bicycle, my brother had yellow. There wasn’t even a distinction in clothes. My mom tells me that at three years old, I only wanted to wear my brother’s clothes, so in every picture from that era there I am in beige corduroys and a brown T-shirt that said, “Keep on Truckin’.”
My mom campaigned harder for Hillary Clinton than anyone I know. She campaigned harder than everyone I know, combined. She spends summers in New Hampshire and in the heat of June, July, August, and September, at 75 and with bad knees, she walked door-to-door. For Hillary’s win in New Hampshire, I credit my mom.
At a fundraiser, she took a picture with Hillary, both with blue eyes and dyed-blond hair. Hillary is holding my mom’s hands and looks ecstatic. My mom looks presidential. When I saw the picture, I said, “Which one of you is running?”
When Hillary lost, no one took it harder. I am wrecked, but when I talk to my mom about her heartbreak she says, “I’m soul-crushed.” I think for my mom, this was her chance. This was her chance to see a woman in office. It was her chance to see herself in office.
Like millions of people, I participated in a pussyhat march. I took my mom. Since the march, my wife, Vicky, and I have participated in political action parties put together by a badass constitutional law professor who laid out our strategy for getting our country back. 1. March. 2. Write, email, call, get in the face of lawmakers. 3. Get good people to run for public office.
Last Sunday, while lying in bed with The New York Times, Vicky said, “You should run for public office.”
I said, “What? I don’t know the issues.”
She said, “You do. And anything you don’t know you’ll learn in five minutes.”
I looked over at her and blushed.
Like my mom, I’ve spent my life volunteering for progressive causes and I’m also an artist. And a mom. I never thought I was smart enough or qualified to run for public office, but I was totally taken by the idea and by Vicky’s confidence in me.
Vicky and I spent the day fantasizing about my listening tour, which would include knocking on doors and town-hall meetings to find out what the people care about. She said, “You’ll just have to be careful not to roll your eyes.”
We built my platform, which included starting all conversations with “As a lesbian…” and telling the truth.
By the end of the day I was pumped. I called my mom. I said, “Hey Campaign Manager! We’re going to Tallahassee!”
“I’m running for public office.”
She said, “You don’t know the issues. Do you know about the Everglades? You need to know about the Everglades. Do you know about the pipeline? You need to know about the pipeline. Do you know sea levels are rising? You need to know that sea levels are rising.”
She went on about storm insurance fraud and manatees, I think, while I wondered if Trump’s mom told him he doesn’t know the issues. She said, “Who approached you?”
I said, “Vicky.”
She said, “They’re gonna go after the gay thing. Do you know how expensive it is? What would you even run for?”
I said, “Florida House?”
She said, “Maybe you should start with city council or school board.”
I said, “Maybe I should start with Brownie troop leader.” And then I slammed down the phone, but it was a cell phone so I just touched the red button.
My mom believes in me more than anyone, but in less than a minute she killed my dream. It was like I was listening to her talking to herself, maybe 30 years ago, when she was my age. It was like she forgot all her work in the women’s movement and reverted back to the 1950s Southern upbringing she fought so hard to leave behind. And I realized we’re not even one generation away from having no confidence in women, in ourselves. My mom’s brother was a Florida state legislator. He was encouraged to go to law school, to become whatever he wanted to become. My moms two sisters, who are just as smart and capable: a bank teller and a teacher. My mom: a career volunteer. She should have been a legislator!
If not my mom, then me.
Andrea Askowitz is the author of the memoir My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy and the editor of Badass True Stories. She is also the co-host, teacher and co-producer of the podcast Writing Class Radio. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon.com, xoJane, Brain, Child, and other places. And now, because we need good women to run for public office and because her wife believes in me (even though her mom might not), she is thinking of running for Florida House. The Manifest-Station hopes she gives ’em (well, everyone but her mom) hell.