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The Politically Engaged Mama

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I feel sick when I think about the national debt and the trade imbalance. I’m terrified for our economy, built on the assumption that we’ll keep traipsing off to the mall to spend, spend, spend. And I want our troops to bid a hasty adieu to Iraq yesterday.


Sadly, I have little energy these days for political causes. Instead, I ponder such matters as: Did my daughter poop today? Did she poop yesterday or the day before? Do I have any prunes in the pantry? Do I have any other high-fiber foods on hand?


As for activism … well … I watch The Daily Show. Sometimes.


My daughter’s birth in 2006 motivated me to get involved politically. Before Celia, I was a newspaper reporter, forbidden from publicly expressing opinions. Through my reporting I was able to advance issues I thought were worthwhile, such as the emptiness behind the No Child Left Behind slogan.


But I couldn’t put signs in my yard or bumper stickers on my car, much less get involved in any real way. Over the years I became cynical. Vote. Hope for the best. Brace for the worst.


Once I held Celia, much of my cynicism melted away. If I didn’t believe there was hope for our society, I wouldn’t have become a mom.


When she was a few months old, I rented the documentary, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, about passionate, prolific, and hopeful activist, Howard Zinn. I was half asleep when I pushed Play, but in my dazed state I heard someone—maybe Alice Walker—comment that a politically engaged life is more exhilarating and rewarding than a detached, self-involved existence. I was inspired by the message I barely heard.


Yet almost a year later, I have done little to feel politically engaged. I tutor at my neighborhood elementary school. Truthfully, I signed up when the principal put me on the spot. I love working with my assigned pupil, Charles, but each session reminds me how desperately large-scale change is needed.


Scarcity of time is not my only barrier. I now inhabit a world that in some ways is more suited to the newsroom ideal of keeping your political views to yourself. I’m a work-from-home mom. My friendships with other moms are my lifelines, my sanity, and my daughter’s opportunity to play with other kids while I talk shop with women who are similarly perplexed about car seats.


A tenet of modern etiquette is to avoid religion and politics in casual conversation. I can appreciate Emily Post’s wisdom. During the last presidential election, half the houses in our community displayed at least one yard sign, a pretty even split between Democrats and Republicans. It was interesting, but it was also TMI.


Now, as I ponder whether to drive a stake into the drought-ravaged earth in front of my house declaring my support of Obama, I shudder at the idea that the sign could influence how my neighbors view me. I would rather they like me because they think I’m nice or witty or just another mom trying to balance it all. If they hate me, I’d rather it be because my dogs pee on their lawn.


I visited the Obama Web site in search of some discreet volunteer opportunities. I got some slick campaign ads and vacuous rhetoric. If Obama’s campaign makes another stop here, I may go, if the rally doesn’t conflict with Celia’s nap. There are other passive ways to contribute. I could send a check and join more online organizations like MoveOn.org. But none of that says political engagement to me. It says cop out. Silent activist is an oxymoron.


I ran my concerns by my exceptionally—and sometimes annoyingly—level-headed husband, Jason. He nixed the idea of an Obama yard sign. Are we willing to put our names behind someone who could betray us down the road? Jason isn’t. He suggested I focus on advocacy groups rather than candidates. And he noted that being informed is a valid form of political engagement.


The man made some good points. I’ll give him credit. A little.


Now if I can just find the right sign. How about these: Attack Our Debt, Vacate Iraq, or For Our Kids, Slash the National Debt. Hmmm … I’m not very good at this. I hate to throw this out there, but can we reach back to this cliché just one more time? It’s the Debt, Stupid!


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