Ilina of Dirt and Noise: Involving Your Children in Your Political Passions
Welcome to the latest installment of BlogHer's series Why I'm Political. I know lots of people steer clear of the world of politics or anything that makes you think about one more televised candidate debate! But the political means a lot of different things to different people, especially women. I learned that as I was writing Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America and discovered the women writers who contributed their essays to show the world that women in general, and mothers in particular, are not only motivated by important causes and issues, but they are writing publicly about those issues and are getting involved to in various ways to make a difference.
This week, I was pleased to interview Ilina Ewens, who writes at her personal blog Dirt & Noise, and contributed to Mothers of Intention with her essay, "Purchasing Power of Women." Ilina wrote her essay after having to explain to her two young sons the importance of President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law -- so I wasn't surprised that Ilina had a lot of things to say about being a politically minded woman!
What motivated you to become political and/or go public with your political views? Were you ever afraid of what your /friends/family would think?
I've never been one to shy away from controversy, though I don't seek it out. I am confident in what I believe and think more women should feel free to speak their minds. So many women have told me what they think politically but don't share because it's different than what their fathers or husbands believe. It's a tough position to be in. My political views and values are such a large part of who I am, so it wasn't a conscious decision to write about politics. In fact, my very first blog post was about politics. It's called "Feeling Blue." I wrote about why I didn't support George Bush and how I explained that to my sons.
What are the issues you most focused on now going into the 2012 campaign season? What issue do you think is important that the candidates aren't talking about?
Education. It's abominable that teacher salaries are being cut and less money is spent on educating our children. We need to change our paradigm to view education as an investment, not an expense. The future of our country is on the backs of children today. We can't leave them to fend for themselves with no skills to not just cope, but to succeed, in the high tech, global climate that awaits them.
Coupled with the lack of education focus is the lack of support for families in general. It's an outrage to me that conservatives rest on their "family values," when their policies harm families more than help them. Our kids can't succeed if they are hungry, hurting, homeless, abused, latchkey, or without bare necessities and resources. The working poor need help. The middle class needs help. We need to restore a sense of security and long-term vision to the people. Providing and valuing a sound education is the only way out and up. This seems like a no-brainer to me because the whole community is lifted by an educated society.
I think one reason education is so sorely neglected and undervalued is because teaching is a profession that is largely female. As a nation we don't put the same value on women (take our crappy maternity leave policies as an example). This palpable neglect and discrimination against women must end. That drives me crazy, and that is what no candidate is talking about.
How do you connect your political views or activism with your role as a mother? Did your views/approach to the political world change after you had children?
I've always been opinionated and active in politics, since I could vote. I've always seen the world as a place bigger than the space I occupy (literally and figuratively). When I became a mother, my perspective shifted to make me see things in a broader way. I no longer focused just on the here and now; I started focusing on the future. The concept of legacy is important to me, mostly because I have no sense of that myself. I have a fierce desire to follow the cliche to leave the world better for my sons. I also want to show them firsthand that every single person matters and that being engaged in the system is paramount to changing the world.
I have taken my sons canvassing and have taken them with me to vote in all elections big and small. We have marched in protests against the re-segregation of our school system and watched presidential speeches on television. I openly talk to my sons about the issues that matter to me and follow up with what we can do about it. I don't want them to feel helpless and overwhelmed. I want them to see that being informed, educated, and involved makes a big difference. And I hope they pass that on their children one day.
What motivated you to write the essay that was included in Mothers of Intention?
I think mothers' voices have been ignored, but social media has allowed us to speak out and speak up. We are a force, politically, socially, and financially. I love the community of women who contributed to Mothers of Intention and am proud to have contributed to the book. It should serve as a wake-up call to politicians and their handlers to stop underestimating the power and value of mothers. We advocate for multiple audiences -- children, our husbands, our parents, teachers, caregivers, women, teens, girls, the list goes on -- so our voices are powerful and relevant.
Recently you've done some writing at your blog, Dirt & Noise, as well as The Broad Side, about the issues in the Penn State sexual abuse story? What prompted you to write about issues involving abuse and how we react to that socially/politically?
Though we don't want to admit it, we live in a culture of abuse. It's more than the Kitty Genovese Syndrome. We have come to accept that hubris and power trump human decency. Certain segments of our population, often the young and/or disenfranchised among us, are victims of abuse. Those victims have little to no recourse. Our values are simply effed up when grown men put their careers and wallets first. This mindset is not unique to Penn State. I've seen it in corporations, too. Abuse gets brushed under a PR machine's rug, and the culture doesn't change. By allowing abuse to continue and not protecting victims, we as a society are saying that it's acceptable. We condone this kind of violence by ignoring it. It has me seething.
Would you ever run for office?
No way. Too many skeletons that I can't bear to bare. Plus, it's a daunting task to run for office. I have a family and my own marketing consulting business, and I can't imagine how I would juggle it all. But most of all, I also don't have the temperament or decorum to play political games. I'm better with the written word than playing word games with a poker face. However, I did desperately want to be president of the United States when I was in first grade. My teacher, in not such a kind manner, told me I could never be president because I wasn't born in America. I was crushed.
Who is not running for office right now that you wish was running?
My husband. Seriously. He is extraordinarily smart and compassionate, with no ego to get in his way. He is a rare professional who operates with the ideal balance of heart and head. He hasn't an ounce of hubris and truly wants to focus on bringing opposing sides together rather than pushing forward his own agenda. He has strong opinions and is incredibly articulate and well informed. I'd love to see him make a difference locally. I also happen to think I'd make a fine first lady. ;-)
Who do you hope will be the first woman elected president of the United States?
I'd totally vote for you, Joanne! I find it astounding that India had a woman leader before the United States (I say this as an Indian woman who was raised in the U.S.). I met [U.S. Senator from Maryland] Barbara Mikulski once many years ago. She left a lasting impression. I think she's got some Paul Wellstone spirit in her, and American politics is missing that kind of earnest passion. I would love to see her in office. I would heartily support [U.S. Senator from New York] Kirsten Gillibrand, too. I love her commitment to social issues and her understanding of how social issues integrate within the larger scheme. I bet we have a lot in common as we navigate raising compassionate, responsible boys. And I would love for her to Skype with my six-year-old son so he could practice his Mandarin. What a leg up she has on the global stage with that skill!
What advice do you have for women online and other bloggers about how not to fear writing about important or controversial issues?
What's most important is the tone you take. Write confidently and passionately. Tell a story to depict your position, rather than point fingers and call names. I admittedly can be snarky, but my voice still reflects my beliefs in a heartfelt, positive manner. Write for yourself and your main audience; don't write to please the masses. I also reiterate to my readers that I use my blog and my voice to opine, not to report. Authenticity is important so share both your joys and heartaches. Controversy is easier to digest when it's presented in a thoughtful way that clearly reveals the writer's opinions and values. A little vulnerability can be a good thing to open up dialogue. There's a big difference. In the online world everything is open to controversy. I even got jeers on a post I wrote about grilled cheese! I wrote about using your voice here.
What advice do you have for women who are thinking about doing more writing at their blogs that involves issues important to them, but who are wary about dipping their toes into potentially dangerous waters?
Start with something local. Write about what's happening in your community. Make a call to action for a food drive or shed light on an issue others might not know much about. You don't have to tackle the pro-choice debate on your first post. Write about what you know. You could even write about a topic that you want to explore more, and present your readers with some questions to garner their opinions. You don't have to present yourself as an expert on every topic that moves you. It's okay to present a mix of opinions and facts, because you're sharing your ideas and values, not presenting objective news content.
Ilina Ewen is known as "Mommy" to two sons ages eight and six, affectionately called "Bird" and "Deal." She's a creative spirit with business sensibilities and a love for all things culinary. Ilina is a seasoned marketer with over 20 years of experience in branding, communications, advertising, and consumer research. She believes in the power of community and spends her time advocating for causes that touch her heart or ruffle her feathers. Ilina is a lover of words and has an affinity for Audrey Hepburn, the Oxford comma, and Meyer lemons. She writes about her musings and rants at Dirt & Noise (home of the weekly feature 5:00 Fridays, where you can find a new cocktail recipe and the story that inspired it), TypeAParent, and Technorati.
Joanne Bamberger writes regularly about her take on politics at her place, PunditMom. She's the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (Bright Sky Press), which is available at Amazon.com. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Broad Side, a new online magazine featuring women's commentary from around the web. In her days as a cub reporter, two of her "brushes with greatness" included interviewing Henry Kissinger and Aldo Cella, but not at the same time!