Most people open their email and hear a gentle strumming sound emanating from their computer. When I opened my email this week I heard a roar, composed of the voices of women of the American West, shouting to the largely oblivious mainstream media to be heard.
I have received emails this past week from working-class women, stay at home moms, executives and administrators, from politically active women and women who haven't voted in years. They have one thing in common: a fervent desire to talk about the Republican party's nominee for president and vice president. I can't say this is scientific, I can only tell you what I'm hearing. And if my overflowing inbox is any indication, John McCain and Sarah Palin are not convincing women of the West that this ticket is for them.
I heard from Jane, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom in La Quinta, California. Jane admitted sheepishly that she hasn't always voted but is following this year's presidential election daily. Her support for Barack Obama was based partly on her 17-year work experience in human resources. "I had to deal with all types of people objectively," said Jane, adding "Obama does the same; he takes into account the global nature of business, works effectively with colleagues, citizens from different political parties, viewpoints, cultures, and countries. He gets it!" Her assessment of McCain was brief and blunt: "Great American, too old to be president," but it's what some voters are saying about Sarah Palin that really disturbs her: "It's shocking; I heard a woman yesterday say, 'I like Palin, she's young, a mom and cute.' Wow. This is how you vote? Not on the issues? Scary." After seeing crowds on television chanting Palin's name, Jane wanted to remind those people that "this is about who should run our country. I would love to see Angelina Jolie speak. I think she's pretty and wears nice clothing and she loves her kids -- but that does not make her a VP."
Megan is a 38-year-old stay at home mom in New Mexico. A Democrat ("all the way, baby") and firm Obama supporter, she considers herself a feminist but added, "that generally doesn't influence how I vote or think about many issues,' and related a story which shocked her: "I was in a shop wearing my 'Obama Mama' t-shirt and this man starts talking to me about Palin, saying she would be president if McCain won and then died, and then we'd have a woman pres and speaker of the house. Does he really think, because I'm a woman, my dream is for McCain to win and then die so that a woman will be in the office? Nuts." Megan was clear on why Obama was getting her vote, "I am voting based on the issues that will affect me and my kids. I don't understand when people vote based on things that will affect other people (like gay rights) and go against their own best interests (which include bigger tax breaks and a start toward dealing with the climate crisis)."
In contrast to Megan, Gina from Texas says she's "an independent who tends to vote more Republican," but so far the Republican ticket hasn't convinced her. "I'm still undecided," said the 34-year-old stay-at-home mom, "I can't sort through the half truths." But one thing she is sure about; she doesn't believe Republicans when they say Sarah Palin is being attacked by the media because she's a woman. "No! I think she is being attacked because she is running for VP!" And while she thinks John McCain has "good intentions," she doesn't think of him as a maverick, adding, "like most politicians he will tell you what you want to hear."
Beth from Colorado said she was "a Hillary supporter from the beginning" who wished Obama had chosen Clinton as his running mate, partly because Hillary champions an issue Beth understands well: "Working in public health, both nationally and internationally, I've seen it all. It's unbelievable to me that we are one of the richest nations but have one of the worst infant mortality rates in the developed world." Beth feels McCain chose Palin not just to appeal to women: "McCain realized he had to be the portrait of change too. Palin's pick was a last-ditch effort to win back some of the voters who want a change." But unlike Hillary Clinton, Beth doesn't think Palin deserves to be vice president. "No way. I've managed several budgets of varying sizes, can I be vice-president too? She has absolutely no foreign policy knowledge, let alone experience. She doesn't even understand how government works." With or without Clinton on the ticket, Obama has her vote, adding, "he has solid ideas on how to make us a great country once again."
One woman with her mind made up was Susie, a 43-year-old account manager in Fort Collins, Colorado ("I'm a true Westerner," she said emphatically). She's leaned Democratic for the last decade, but she hasn't always voted. Her reaction to John McCain was muted ("I've never had a strong opinion of him either way") but her reaction to Sarah Palin was anything but. She questioned the Republican selection professionally, saying: "If the CEO of my company came to me and asked me if I was interested in, let's say, the position of VP of Marketing, and I said, 'I don't even know what the VP of Marketing does all day,' do you think 8 weeks later he/she would ask me to be the VP of Marketing? Do you think the Board of Directors would agree that I was the best choice for VP? My guess is NO." Susie then added a personal reason for why she could never support the Republican ticket. "I chose to have a child at 29 although I was single. I can't tell you how I was judged, and continue to be judged, for my choice. Now I find it ironic that conservatives want to keep the reproductive choices of Palin's daughter private. The funny thing is I agree it should be private; no one other than me should have the right to tell me what I can or cannot do to my body." Using a term often leveled at Democrats to describe the McCain/Palin ticket, this former Republican added: "John McCain and Sarah Palin would like to impose their religious-based point of view on me and all women. In my mind that's the definition of big government."
Kay, a 56 year old psychologist and consultant, has something in common with John McCain. They each own a residence in Sedona, Arizona. But the similarities end there. Kay's desire for the next president was simply put: "I would like to have a President that doesn't make us look like a**holes to the rest of the world. Also, one that isn't destroying environmental policies one by one. One that doesn't feel entitled to invade other countries, and one that protects Choice." She says she's supported Obama "from the beginning; I think he's visionary and uniting," and approves of his choice of a running mate, citing Joe Biden's "experience and credibility." But she has little good to say about the choice of Sarah Palin, calling it "a calculated move to enlist women voters, the NRA, and conservative Christians." Kay added a note of concern, "I hope the addition of Sarah Palin does not push McCain ahead to the Presidency. She is attractive and young and a good media presence. I think she's dangerous."
The email from Peggy, an arts curator in Tucson, Arizona, was so passionate and informed that it's hard to believe the 54-year-old grandmother when she says she didn't always pay close attention to politics. But she does now, adding, "more seems to be at stake." An avid reader, Peggy made up her mind to support Obama after reading his books: "I was concerned he was too inexperienced, young and perhaps even too idealistic and untested. The books convinced me that he knows his stuff." She was further convinced by his choice of a running mate: "Biden is experienced and tough and knows his foreign policy. I also get the sense that Biden is a sincere individual, despite being a politician. Which is how I feel about Obama, too." This longtime Arizona resident also had plenty to say about the Republican nominee: "I used to like McCain when he seemed to be forcing changes in the way government did business, but that was many years ago. In the past eight years he's shown his true colors: now it's all about what is politically expedient for John McCain. And I wonder why no one talks about the Keating Five anymore, the scandal that McCain, Dennis DeConcini and others were involved in." Unlike Obama's choice of Biden, McCain's running mate selection left her "disheartened" and she finds Pailn's speeches to be "mean-spirited, and they manipulate the truth. What depresses me is that so many people have enthusiastically embraced her for her spunkiness but they don't seem to see what a hypocrite she is. Her claim that she 'stopped the bridge to nowhere' is particularly disturbing in its blatant dishonesty." Like all the women I interviewed, Peggy wants this election to be about the issues. "We need to get away from treating this as a soap opera or reality show competition and focus on the issues," and she shares the concerns of Beth in Colorado: "It galls me that in our country health insurance is associated with employment and that, as a result, people are forced to choose jobs depending on what the health benefits are. This relegates to myth the concept, which I thought was characteristically American, of following our dreams."
While all the emails I received were heartfelt and articulate, the one from Erica, a 30-year-old high school English teacher in Colorado Springs, may have personally affected me most. Erica has never voted in a presidential election. Her reasons included relocation and college, but she also said: "It didn't seem to matter that much," "What was the point?" and, "It seemed like my vote wouldn't count." This year was shaping up to be no different: "I didn't even want to hear about the campaign, until one of my students challenged me to become more involved. Outside of class, she urged me to see that this election was going to be more important than any so far in our lifetimes, and her passion for the system made me realize just how cynical I'd become about our government.." Urged on by the example of her student, Erica started paying attention. And now? "I've become the Obama Campaign Team Leader for Colorado Springs House District 16 -- a challenging position given that House District 16 is one of the most conservative districts in the entire country!" Erica shared her opinion of John McCain: "I think he served his country in an incredibly courageous way for five years during the Vietnam War while he was held captive. Other than that, I've seen him, in his own words, describe his devotion to the Bush administration, admitting that he voted with our current president over 90% of the time -- more than most other Republicans. I, personally and professionally, cannot take even one more year of what's been happening over the last eight. My family will not be able to afford gas, groceries or even diapers if the state of the economy continues."
Erica recounted her reaction to what she called the lowpoint of the election so far, while insisting: "I'm not saying this as a Democrat or as a Republican but as an American -- that was Giuliani's speech during the Republican National Convention. It was embarrassing, disparaging, disgusting, and disrespectful to his party and his nation." But, she continued, this year something was different. It was Erica herself. "In the past I might have heard that speech and thrown in the towel, and taken his words as affirmation of my refusal to vote. This time, I'm voting to show Giuliani, McCain, Palin, the Republican Party, and my fellow Americans that my vote does count. That I am an important part of our nation and its government. That I can and I will stand up for what I believe in. And I believe that it's time for the change that Obama and so many of us have envisioned for so long. Can we make a difference? Yes. We can."
As articulate and outspoken as the many emails in my inbox have been, my experience doesn't begin to compare to the outpouring two Brooklyn, New York, bloggers are receiving. Quinn and Lyra started their blog, Women Against Sarah Palin, on Wednesday, September 3. "We were impressed when we received 150 responses by Friday," Quinn recalled. "When it tipped into the thousands on Saturday, we were incredulous. We had no idea it would be so popular, but I think we tapped into what a lot of other women in this country were also feeling." While the sheer number astonishes them, what the women are saying does not. "As for their strong reactions and incredibly impassioned responses, they really mirror our own, so that aspect wasn't as surprising. What's far more incomprehensible to us are the often personally abusive reactions we hear in her defense." Quinn and Lyra are getting an earful from a diverse range of women, but have noticed that some of the most incensed writers are from Alaska ("They seem to view Governor Palin as a very ruthless person and politician.") and from women whose circumstances are similar to Palin's: "These letters are from women who mirror--in some respects-- Mrs. Palin's own bio, in that they too are mothers, mothers with a special needs child, or Christians, yet they are furious to think that these traits could be considered adequate in lieu of political qualifications." The writers to the blog are diverse in age (from 17 year olds to a quartet of women in their 80's writing from an assisted living facility in Oregon). They come from all walks of life, often identifying themselves as 'PTA mom,' 'a working class woman,' or simply 'social worker.' And like the women who wrote to me, they show a great willingness to share their own stories, particularly on the issue of choice. Quinn commented, "Many letters, from women who remember the days before abortion was legalized, they're incredibly moving. Women are sharing personal stories of what life was like then, and expressing their horror if we were to revert to that terrible time--when access to safe abortions was about class and wealth."
I asked Quinn and Lyra to sum up the feelings of the women writing to them. "Insulted," they replied, "and enraged with John McCain's underestimation of them."
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