Congress Is Not Just For Old White Men - Moms Can Serve Too

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The recent primary election brought the usual flood of campaign literature pouring through my letter slot. I had nearly tossed the pile into the recycling bin when I noticed something AMAZING.

There was a large color photo of a Hispanic woman holding two tiny kids. The text began “As a mother of two children…” and was an endorsement for quality pre-K. It hit me – SHE was the candidate, and she was claiming her identity as a mother in her campaign for the state legislature. Had I ever seen such a thing before? Had it ever HAPPENED before?

Jan. 3, 2013 - Washington, DC, USA - Rep. Grace Meng shows her son, Brandon, something on her phone as they wait to have the family's photograph taken with Speaker of the House John Boehner on Thursday, January 3, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Image Credit: © Mark Gail/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

Carefully sorting through the entire stack, I found the usual dreck, lots of white men in suits, big smiles, promises to fight for me, etc., etc. But wait – here was something else. A big picture of a smiling young woman, next to a highlighted box full of bold print: “Women work just as hard as men do in the workplace (and often harder at home). I believe it’s time women were paid the same too.” Well, knock me over with a feather! Flip the flyer over and the would-be state delegate promises, if elected, to promote pay equity, guaranteed paid family leave, and “a living wage you can support a family on”. After many years of pushing these very issues towards public discussion and championing women in both politics and policy, here was proof in my cold, clammy hands that something was finally happening. Yowza.

I’m passionately committed to the notion that our Congress and our state governments should be run by women as well as men. And not only women – also mothers, because nobody gets the practical realities of satisfying the most basic human needs like mothers do. There is nothing theoretical about motherhood. It is a full body contact sport, a multimedia, interdisciplinary mamapalooza of a way to live. When mothers engage in public policy, it absolutely makes a difference in what problems are tackled, the priority in which they are placed, and the variety of potential solutions considered, debated and implemented. As half the world, half the country, (and the only people that can actually bear children), no governing body can do its job successfully without the full engagement of women. Look at the state of the country today — I rest my case!

Mothers have critical contributions to make when it comes to crafting real solutions to today’s problems. Listen to what these members of Congress have to say. Grace Meng is a first term Congresswoman from Queens, New York. Her site proclaims she is “the first Asian-American Member of Congress from New York, and the only Representative of Asian descent on the entire east coast” which is very cool. She has a six-year-old and a four-year-old, and sought public office specifically to “have the opportunity to advocate for many issues important to children and families.” Do male candidates say that? She points out “kids aren’t able to hire lobbyists or speak out about legislation that would benefit them”, an observation equally true about most single mothers, and most mothers of any marital or income level.

Rep. Meng points to the legislation she’s introduced to show how motherhood influences her as a lawmaker, bills which relate to baby formula, chemicals in food packaging, and sunscreen regulation. She also credits her kids with teaching her how to multi-task, manage her time, and practice empathy and patience at work. She tells me that learning how to talk to and negotiate with children comes in handy at the Capitol – hardly a surprise.

Rep. Katherine Clark comes to Washington from Massachusetts and has three teenage boys, 12, 14, and 17. Why did she run for office? “I feel a connection and responsibility to the moms trying to provide a good life for their children,” which is why she pays particular attention to child care access, equal pay, and education. Is her personal experience a factor in her public life? “Knowing firsthand that moment when you realize a huge portion of your pay is going to child care, not knowing who to care for first when you get home – your aging parents or your children, meeting women who are victims of discrimination and violence just because they are women.” Clearly, she understands the care crisis on a visceral level, the injustice resulting from women’s disempowerment, and the urgent need for gender justice and equality.

So far, the average age of a woman in public office is 51, because she’s waited until her children are grown. I want women not to wait – you can run and win and serve with kids at home, even young kids. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has two little boys. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has given birth three times while in Congress! It’s not easy – but being a mom is never easy. Being a mom in public office at least puts you in a position to make it better.

'Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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