Told to be quiet, three women find their voices.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
After Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the senate floor, the Internet lit up with folks tweeting and posting their support, not necessarily for her political positions, but for her persistence. It was the moment that launched 1,000 memes featuring women, like Rosa Parks and Princess Leia, who’ve demonstrated the beauty and strength inherent in not giving up.
Those who’ve been unfairly silenced know how painful it is, even dangerous. But without conflict, we couldn’t demonstrate our power in persistence. Being warned and given an explanation forces us to stand and speak up for our own rights and for the rights of those who can’t stand and speak for themselves. In these moments, we can be thankful for the opportunity to demonstrate our dogged tenacity…and the chance to show others how it’s done.
Make the Right Calls
Maggie Mackay, an independent film industry pro in Los Angeles and mom of two, has been persisting since the day she could pass out a pamphlet. At age nine, you could find her in a Manhattan subway station handing out brochures for Walter Mondale.
Maggie went on to dip her toe into the political pool, interning for Joe Biden’s office in the 90s where she fielded phone calls for the senator — the same kinds of phone calls she’s committed to making every day for the past month.
“I think a lot of us, even those of us who are relatively dialed in, got complacent because we felt safe,” she said.
Not anymore. Maggie signed up for Daily Action, programmed the numbers for her reps and senators into her phone and started making calls every single day.
She knows she’s not doing the lion’s share of the work. Maggie calls her efforts “basically support.” Even if her calls don’t result in immediate impact on the issues of the day, that’s OK. Her goal is different; she wants to “inspire people who aren’t making the calls yet to do it.”
Her persistence, modest and localized, has garnered a good deal of support, but also a surprising amount of pushback. She makes calls and posts on Facebook, hoping to motivate others to pick up the phone. What she gets instead is opposition. Like the time she urged her friends who are straight, white and male to start speaking up. One of them did — to tell her to pipe down. Arguing that her comments would alienate the very people she was trying to reach, he didn’t relent until another man reiterated Maggie’s point (see: “irony”). Still, she persists, dialing those numbers, publishing those posts and insisting, “we absolutely cannot be effective if we’re blaming each other for this mess.”
“What I see is a resistance to actually taking the time out to the do work,” Maggie said. “Once you incorporate [the work] into your daily life, it becomes a habit. This is the least you can do. And really, who we’re doing it for are communities who are a lot more vulnerable that we are.”
Think Globally, Act Locally
No one has ever explicitly ordered Ash Kramer, a curriculum designer and PhD candidate at USC, to sit down and shut up. But, as she puts it, “it’s the millions of micro-warnings that build up over time that make you always second guess yourself.”
For Ash, the last few months have been a savage wake up call. She’s come to realize that even in 2017, intelligent, qualified, articulate women are coming in second place, or worse, being silenced. So she decided to take real action by getting involved with city politics and her own neighborhood council on the east side of Los Angeles.
“All politics are local,” she said. “When people realize their power on the local level, they can begin to build coalitions that allow them to realize power on a national level. I believe the only way forward is to rebuild from the ground up.”
Now, Ash is setting her sights on local change and building solidarity with more vulnerable populations in her community. Persisting, she says, is not always about standing behind a megaphone. Sometimes it’s about standing next to others in a crowd, or supporting the local candidate who will fight for things like making sure homeless people have access to park bathrooms.
“There’s that lovely meme wandering around the internet about singing in a choir and learning that certain notes cannot be held by one voice at one time,” she said. “It’s about learning to take turns taking a breath so that the note can continue. Persisting is not about me as an individual, but about supporting my community in its multifaceted forms and being supported by it in return.”
Go All the Way (Run for Office)
After the fall-out from the U.S. presidential election last November, Krystal Lopez Padley of Pasadena “felt vulnerable in [her] own body.”
“As a woman, a Latina, and a working-class mother, I felt that the country was rejecting my existence,” she said. “But then I stopped mourning. I had pushed three humans into existence. My body was powerful. My voice was a megaphone for others. My entire life was in preparation to fight.”
Just a few months after giving birth for the third time, Krystal strapped her baby to her chest and began her campaign for City Council.
One of her supporters warned her that local politics was “hand-to-hand combat,” but Krystal didn’t think it was meant literally. Right out of the gate, Krystal was faced with criticism and intimidation — sometimes physical — by residents invested in keeping the status quo. Some tried to undermine her legitimacy as a candidate by spreading unflattering rumors about her. Still, she persisted.
“I kept my head down and, every day, knocked on one more door than the day before,” she said. “I usually had my youngest child in a carrier with me as a reminder of what I was fighting for. As a woman, you learn early on to put the needs of others before your own. By persisting, I acquired courage.”
Krystal knows how easy it is to feel small and insignificant in today’s political climate. It’s easy to conclude that your efforts won’t matter, to get burned out or overwhelmed. She may not win her race, but she hopes she’ll at least inspire someone else to start running.
“My hope is that I can inspire others to put their name on the ballot, because by engaging our neighbors we can be powerful in affecting change.”
Persistence on a grand scale grabs headlines. But local persistence is just as inspiring and maybe even more important. Whether they’re picking up their phones or taking their efforts to City Hall, we’re thankful for those who have joined the Persistence.
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