Last night, I set the clown traps on turbo. It helped my daughter go to sleep. Otherwise, she gets afraid. Then I researched what to say about her first active shooter drill, which they call a “lockdown drill.” It’s tomorrow. My daughter started kindergarten six days ago.
The more reliable articles I found online told me not to overreact when talking to my child about this event. There are fire drills, there are lockdown drills. It is important to stay calm and follow instructions. We do not need to give more context than “bad guys.” The word “gun” is unnecessary. Sharing our own fears is not helpful.
Tonight over dinner, my beautiful girl, who I first learned was a girl the morning of December 14, 2012, just after receiving the emerging news of a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, brought up tomorrow’s lockdown drill.
She told me where they will go. She told me what they will do to the room to secure it. She explained that they need to practice waiting for the police in case there is “a bad guy in the school.” They need to sit close together and be quiet, she said.
I had practiced for this. I stayed calm. I reminded her how this is similar to things we have talked about before; that when there is danger or we are afraid, the best thing we can do is stay calm, because then we have more power to focus on choices that keep us safe.
This rolled off like I was explaining the rules of Go Fish.
I sat, present and focused on this short conversation that seemed to be over, and a girl who seemed matter-of-fact about a variation on the fire drill. I congratulated myself on remaining calm through a conversation I’ve been dreading for five years.
“If it helps, you can take little breaths,” she said.
I felt the love and anguish of teachers around the country who put their lives on the line for their students, some of whom have been killed in the process. I loved them back, I held their pain. I kept a straight face.
In these words, I also heard my daughter coaching me, a card-carrying member of the Littleton generation that should have stopped this.
Instead, the shootings have become expected. Our babies are going to school. What I can do now, she says, is take little breaths.
I get asked if I’m pregnant on the regular. At first this shit made me cry. But it’s happened so much that I’ve had to get used to it.
Sometimes I still cry.
My stomach sticks out. It has stuck out for years. I am not pregnant. I gave birth to a creative, healthy, playful girl five years ago. Today I have a tight stitch where a C-section once happened, and there’s a pouf above it that reflects my love of wine, cheese, and life.
Your reassurances that I am not fat do not help.
I have noticed that friends feel compelled to insist I’m not fat. Just because you say that I don’t look pregnant does not mean I don’t get asked this question, on average, a few times a month. Just because you say I’m so skinny doesn’t mean I won’t get asked about the baby I’m not expecting sometime real soon.
I have created a new rule:
Every time I’m asked about my pregnancy, I post a selfie to Instagram.
I love it.
It puts me back in the driver’s seat of my life.
No matter what I’m wearing, how I’m made up, or what I’m doing, I take a picture of myself and share it with people who know me, mostly in real life. I admit forthrightly what just happened. And then I move on.
When I do this, I no longer remain the person whose body is being reviewed and assessed by others. I become the person who has this body right now, and is living her life anyway.
If you get asked if you’re pregnant a lot, my recommendation is to find something to do immediately that feels good to you. Then keep doing it. Having something to draw upon that does not require thought can be helpful when hurt slaps you in the face, as it did in the comfort of my own home (indeed, no place is sacred) twelve days ago.
“Hi, I just want to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment in our country,” Kristin Mink said to former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt in a restaurant while hoisting her baby on her hip. “This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves water … We deserve to have someone at the EPA who actually does protect the environment. Someone who believes in climate change.”
Days later, Scott Pruitt resigned.
Taking direct action is effective. What makes this video so mesmerizing is how casually Kristin Mink strides up and speaks. Perhaps you think you can’t do this. But you can.
Here’s what to do if you see Trump administration officials in public:
1. To paraphrase my friend Susie, remember that they are YOUR government and accountable to YOU.
You have every right to speak to government officials — and expect a response — no matter what they are doing. In line at Target? Fair game. Eating at a restaurant? Go for it. Out at a swanky show on the town? You got it, friend.
2. Don’t worry about civility.
You can be firm and you can be polite, but if to be civil means to let an autocratic government attack a free press, rip families apart, decimate reproductive rights, destroy environmental protections, and embrace bald racism and nativism under our country’s flag — that kind of civility is actually just enabling, and nope, you don’t have to do that.
3. Assess where you are, who you have, and then start filming.
Is a friend or family member with you? Decide who will record and who will speak. Are you by yourself? Grab your own phone and hold it up to record while you start talking. If you don’t record the interaction, it didn’t happen. You can put the video on Facebook Live if you are familiar with the tool, otherwise don’t worry about the program and record now to share later. Turn on the camera and keep it focused on them.
4. Walk up. Don’t wait. Do it now.
Your opportunity to speak truth to power may not last long. Do not let it slip you by. Your goal is not to be perfect. Your goal is to be a real human, which brings me to the next point:
5. Don’t worry about the finer points of policy or the right talking points or language. Speak from your heart.
Plain language is your friend. If I saw a Trump administration official right now, I’m not sure I’d have all the policy right, but I would feel confident speaking from my heart. “I have a little girl and I’m tired of having to turn down the radio because the president is using racial slurs.” “I’m scared about the direction the country is going in and I’m terrified about what is going to happen at the Supreme Court. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Speaking from your heart is perfect — you don’t need to be a commentator on TV. Be yourself, in the moment now. That is your moral authority.
6. Demand answers from them and go quiet strategically, keeping the camera on their face.
Keep asking your follow-up questions, but remember that the point of interacting is to make them answer TO YOU. If they start running away, move quickly after them, continuing to ask the question.
7. Once it’s over, post it online.
Post the recording on social media, share it with people you know, and let people know how the interaction made you feel. By doing this work, you are making it more likely that others will feel comfortable confronting this corrupt, deathly administration.
Remember: You got this. Don’t let these opportunities fly by. You don’t need to be perfect. You have incredible power, just as you are, the moment you run into these folks.
Erin here. I’m
self-conscious and nervous excited to see you in a few weeks for our high school reunion. During the past twenty years I have been a human diorama of someone who did not ‘peak too soon.’
Over the years I have grown wrinklier and larger. I take less shit. Given the choice of being tighter or taking less shit, I’d rather take less shit.
I’m grateful for each of us who are healthy and still here. Almost everything I cared about in high school didn’t really matter. It’s a privilege to age.
Dear Senators Collins and Murkowski,
I would like to tell you about my daughter, Winnie. She is five, and a mother’s dream come true. She is healthy, strong, compassionate. She loves to watch baseball and dress up like a princess. Frozen is her favorite movie. Against all odds, she thinks dentists are cool and wants to be one when she grows up. She has been active in politics her whole life — from getting out the vote as a baby in a carrier on my chest, to knocking doors in national and statewide elections, to attending inaugurations. I try to let her take this stuff at her own pace; she can’t get enough. She likes to ask questions about politics and I make a point to tell her the truth.
Tonight, I told her: Mommy is sad. Why, she asked. I explained to her that it hasn’t always been that girls were allowed to do all the things that boys do — and generally it’s gotten better and more fair for girls over the years. I explained that I’ve had more opportunities than grandma, and that grandma had more opportunities than her mom, but if some people have their way about who gets to say what the law is in this country, she might have fewer opportunities than me when she grows up. My daughter knows that I’m a feminist and that I’ve devoted my life to working for women and girls. I told her it makes me very sad to think that it could be worse for her than it was for me.
She wanted to know how, specifically, it could be worse, so I told her the truth. There are some people who think they can make girls have babies, instead of being fair and letting girls decide when they get to have babies. My daughter does pretend weddings like every other day, and says she would love to be a mommy. She also understands that pregnancy is hard and babies are a lot of work. She gets mad when she is not given a choice about what to eat for breakfast. I could see it sink in on her face — at five — how not right this is.
There is a chill in this country, and I just know that as women of conscience you feel it. What I feel is what I imagine it felt like in other repressive countries just before women lost considerable amounts of freedoms they had once enjoyed: a sense that it is coming, a sense that it is inevitable and there is nothing we can do, and some people who are concerned and others who are in denial that anything will change.
You are senators. It breaks my heart that, as a parent, writing an open letter about my daughter to the two of you seems so critical to her future. I wish it were not necessary. But I know, in my heart, that if in your capacity as senators you do not put your feet down and say you will not vote for a Supreme Court nominee that would overturn Roe v. Wade — and President Trump has been very clear that he will only nominate justices who would — that terrible things will happen to at least some of the beautiful and innocent girls who today come to my daughter’s birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and someday will experience the complexity that comes with living in a woman’s body.
As a mother, I am horrified that our little girls could have demonstrably fewer freedoms than we do for generations to come. You have both indicated support for abortion rights and in this current political environment, much less the current Republican Party, I can try to appreciate the contorted, lonely spaces you must find yourselves in. I hope you will try to appreciate the spaces millions of us mothers find ourselves in: Looking at our daughters, trying not to cry, vowing to do our best to ensure they get the freedoms we have now, but knowing that ultimately the matter is not much in our hands. The matter is, practically speaking, very much in your hands.
More than any other senator, it is the two of you who will decide whether President Trump is able to convert the Supreme Court into one that will repeal the federal constitutional right to abortion for generations to come. I hope you will think about my little Winnie, and all the other little girls her age, and how much we as their mothers love them. You are our last resort. Please stand up for our girls.
As an activist, advocate, and leader for social change, one of my favorite places in the world to be is on the sidewalk, holding a sign. It is calming. I am focused. I feel closer to the equality and justice I seek.
Direct action is when we put our bodies directly on the line. It is physical demonstration. It is one of my happiest places. I came into the women’s movement twenty years ago as an activist, and while I’ve accumulated a number of experiences and skills that go far beyond activism, I will never stop being an activist in my core.
If you’ve never tried direct action before, I encourage you to give it a whirl.
Unlike online activism, which often devolves into talking with (or worse, at) each other rather than reaching out to new people, the debates are not about who has the right lingo or runs with the right activist crowd. While internal debates are important within the progressive movement, there is no time for them when we are directly confronting power.
Direct action in a group means standing together and reaching new people — people who usually have no idea that the particular injustices we are attempting to reverse are happening. We put unmistakeable pressure on others to make the world a better place, now. Direct action is not a polite whisper, although it needn’t be accompanied by loud chants. Direct action is a moment of clarity – it is an accelerant for change that can’t be ignored.
I want YOU to vote in every election you are eligible to vote. That includes your primary election.
If you care about winning, primary elections are where the magic starts. Where we decide if more women are going to advance. Whether candidates who support our issues will advance. And who is best poised to beat the opponent in the general election.
No election is too small for your vote. This morning we took our daughter along to vote in a primary election for a county board race. We discussed with her, who we were voting for and why. We can not take our right to vote for granted, even when primary candidates seem more or less equal or there is no one who seems “just perfect.”
When our president flirts openly with anti-democratic moves, to vote in 2018 is an act of resistance.
People went to jail so you could vote. In a primary, you often don’t need to even stand in line. Just. Go. Vote.
Let’s just be done with excuses for why women aren’t running in Democratic primaries, shall we? Let’s be done with excuses for why it is always some other man’s turn.
Yes, we know who gets invited to the golf course.
We got it.
Yes, we know that you find our ambition grating, our knowledge overwhelming, our qualifications a symbol of being “too establishment” or a liability in our “ability to connect.”
We know that you are delving deep into the psychology of why women don’t run, how we have to be asked several times, and how if we just thought more highly of ourselves then maybe it would happen.
We are also uninterested in you blaming us and our inner states, personally, for why centuries of male dominance are continuing today — even though none of the men who are actually holding the power mean it in any sort of oppressive way, lass.
We are up to our ears with Republicans who fundamentally disrespect our humanity and Democratic men who are said to be better for women than, well, the women who are the backbone of the party.
I stopped accepting your excuses for why women aren’t taking the elected seats years ago; you can still tell them to me, and I will listen. I will nod for your reasons, for even if I haven’t heard them before, together they make the most lovely quilt we can present to our daughters with the shrug that maybe their generation can do better.
Well, no. I refuse to teach my daughter that women should wait their turn.
I got angry the first time I took her out in a baby carrier to get out the vote and realized that in the allegedly most progressive corner of the Commonwealth of Virginia we were working to elect nine men and no women. In the Democratic Party. Four years later, in 2017, Arlington Democrats added literally one woman to the picture — out of nine candidates they wanted us to elect. Now, in 2018, we have what The Washington Post calls “two newcomers [battling] for Democratic nomination to Arlington County Board.” No shade to these lovely men, but there is nothing new about having men hold the gavels and women hold the clipboards, and I’m just done.
Those moments in life when we stop accepting our own excuses are the most powerful. I am no longer accepting my own excuses about why I cannot run for office — if you know me personally, you know my No. 1 line is that Arlington is a big pond with political people from D.C. who have a long line of succession, and if I lived somewhere else, I’d do it. I realize now that my excuse sounds a lot like another patch on the quilt of excuses for why Charles is almost always in charge. I am giving up my own excuses now about why I can’t run for office. I can run for office, I’m just not doing it right now. I encourage you to give up your excuses with me.
By large, irrefutable margins, Ireland has voted to legalize abortion. People don’t want total abortion bans. Even in Catholic countries. This means the world to me, as someone who is half Irish by blood, was raised Catholic, and works for abortion rights.
I was born Erin Maureen Boylan. I do not share this name often; it’s a part of my identity that mostly slips under the radar. My biological father, where the Irish in me comes from, died suddenly and unexpectedly when my mom was five months pregnant with me. I have been told we share some things: a “sense of the outrageous,” a love for writing, and political activism.
In large part, it is because of what happened to my mom that I am so strongly pro-choice. Because of the circumstances surrounding my birth, and the hell, chaos, and poverty that created for her, I am well aware of how quickly circumstances can change. Instead of parroting blanket statements from men in robes who say that sex is bad and do not see me as equal, I choose compassion and love.
I was born into my life, specifically, and I do not believe in abortion bans. I am aware that my mom could have chosen to not continue the pregnancy that created me. I love her. I know her. I think the choice to have an abortion would have been fine, and if I could have held her hand had she chosen to make it, I would have.
I love my life, and I know I owe my life to a woman who was excited and in love and over the moon, and then suddenly very sad, traumatized, and alone. She was here and I was not yet; I put her first without question.
As I reflect on Ireland overturning the abortion ban, and the man who put the Irish and the political activism in my blood I know, on some visceral level, that what unites us more than anything is our deep and unconditional love for my mother. We trust her. We believe in her. We know that she is wise. We know that she is strong and can get through anything. We would have supported her together, from our own space in the spiritual ether, if she had made another choice.
There have been only a handful of times in my life when I have felt very close to my biological father, and the Saturday that the Irish abortion ban was to be overturned was one of them. I teared up on a long run, watching the sun rise. I felt him and how he would have reacted to what was about to happen in Ireland. I thought about how proud he would have been of me and my work, specifically my work to expand abortion access. I thought to myself in a loud, proud voice, Erin Maureen Boylan, reporting for duty. I kept running. I cried.