Who Are We Missing
“You want to know what my real charge to people is? My real charge to people is look around and see who’s missing. And try to invite that person…Look around. Who’s not here? So there’s all this, like, I’m sad that this is this way. OK. What is the one thing you could do to fix it? Go do that thing. Just go do that thing, you know?” ~Michel Martin, On Being Interview
Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to canvas my neighborhood on behalf of the Mark Udall campaign. Udall is a Democratic senator in the state of Colorado and is currently in an impossibly tight race to keep his seat. As I think his opponent is a nightmare, I was happy to try and help where I could. I also had the luxury of a free Saturday and a partner at home that could watch our children while I participated in the American democracy.
There was nothing particularly eventful about my time as a canvasser. I mostly adorned my neighbors’ doors with those flyers that most of us immediately put in the
trash recycling bin. A few days later, however, I received a phone call from one of the campaign field organizers asking if I could volunteer another Saturday. This time, however, my circumstances had changed. mr. mraynes began teaching an all-day Saturday class and I no longer had anybody to watch my children. I explained this to the staffer and then was treated to a lengthy lecture about women like me who were not doing enough to help Mark Udall win re-election and that I needed to get my priorities straight.
I have thought about this phone call for weeks and find myself getting more and more frustrated by the response of the field organizer. How should I have straightened out my priorities? Should I have left my very little children at home unattended? Inconvenienced a friend on their family day with the addition of four extra children? Paid a babysitter from our already stretched finances?
I understand the frustration of the field organizer; it’s a tight race and the ground game matters. All campaigns need people going out and talking to their neighbors. In Colorado, women are vital to the victory of any Democratic candidate and they need women out there spreading their message. The Udall staffer shared that they have struggled to get women to volunteer. He was genuinely perplexed as to why, when the opposing candidate is so obviously bad on women’s issues, women were not flocking to the campaign in an effort to defeat him? It’s a fair point but also one that shows the privilege and blind spots of this particular staffer. This is not a condemnation of the Udall campaign (I voted for you, Senator)–we all know of groups or organizations where certain demographics don’t participate–but rather an illustration of a particularly problematic human behavior.
The fact is women are more likely to be caretakers, either of children or dependent relatives; we may not have the flexibility to participate in all of the causes we would like to. We are also more likely to be poor and unable to utilize resources that could bridge the gap. Not recognizing that this is the reality of many women is a profound blind spot. When structures are not put in place to remedy the challenges and help women participate, don’t be surprised when they don’t.
This staffer could have looked around and instead of being annoyed that women weren’t volunteering figured what was standing in the way of their participation. If, as it was for me, childcare was the issue he could have thought of creative solutions to this problem. What if that office had offered free childcare for the afternoon and used it as an opportunity to teach the children about civic engagement. The office is located in a neighborhood where failing schools are the norm so an afternoon talking about civics and democracy would actually be useful to the children of my community. I know my kids would have loved it and remembered it forever. I have a 6 year old girl who the Udall campaign should just hire to be in all of his commercials since she will inform anybody who will listen that she doesn’t trust his opponent. Think of the kind of imprint an experience like that would have made on her. This is how you build a future engaged and passionate base.
I recognize that there are challenges to my suggestion but if we truly want participation from all we have to think outside of the box sometimes to make it happen. Instead of shrugging our shoulders and bemoaning that people don’t have their priorities straight maybe we should think about the systemic roadblocks we have put in place that keep people out.
A good example of this from our own sphere is the Sunstone Symposium. They found that both their speakers and participants skewed heavily male. In investigating this they found that an overwhelming reason was lack of childcare. fMh’s Lindsay Hansen Park moved heaven and earth to get childcare into place so that more women could participate. I was one of the beneficiaries of this effort. She asked me to speak as an expert in domestic violence and how it relates to Mormonism. This is an important conversation and I believe I made a vital contribution to this session but I absolutely could not have done so without the roadblock of childcare being moved.
Getting away from childcare issues, Mormon feminists are currently having a long overdue and painful conversation about the lack of women of color in our movement. White Mormon feminists, myself included, absolutely need to take a hard look at ourselves and understand the intersecting oppressions that our sisters of color face, many of which we are complicit in. And we need to do more than talk and promise to do better, we need to actively remove barriers that make participating in Mormon feminism unsafe for people of color and our LGBTQ sisters.
All of us–Mormon feminists, political campaigns and individuals alike–need to look around and ask “Who are we missing.” If we want to change the world then our table has to be big enough to include everyone. It is up to us to remove the barriers that keeps people from our table.
P.S. Go Vote!