"Ms. Palin frightens me both for my country and for my grandchildren."
-- Jane B., 73
In late August, Lyra Kilston, 31, and Quinn Latimer, 30, two not-very-political editors for Modern Painters magazine, found themselves suddenly immersed in the Presidential campaign. Enraged over the selection of Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee, they sent an e-mail to 40 friends.
"We are not against Sarah Palin as a woman, a mother, or, for that matter, a parent of a pregnant teenager, but solely as a rash, incompetent, and all together devastating choice for Vice President," the New Yorkers wrote. "She was chosen by John McCain specifically because he believes that American women will vote for any female candidate regardless of their qualifications. He is wrong."
They encouraged their friends to look beyond the patina of politics and focus on the woman selected to fire up the female vote.
To their great surprise, they had 10,000 e-mail responses in ten days. They wanted to give voice to as many responses as they could, showing that they were not alone. With the help of a friend, they designed a website that, like them, is artful in execution and deliberate in tone.
It's just a few days until the election and the accidental activists are up to 200,000 responses. They continue to pour in, at a rate of about one per minute.
Running a blog is a job in itself. Fortunately for the duo, who continue to work their full-time jobs, Kilston's parents, Steve and Vera Kilston, help moderate (they read through everything that comes in) and quantify (categorize, i.e. an average of two percent of the responses are from pro-Palin people). The senior Kilstons' analytical skills (her father is an astronomer and mother is an engineer) come in handy.
Sympathizers to the two-month old blog, like MoveOn.org Executive Director Eli Pariser, offered strategic and financial support early on; and New Media Producers, Kathryn Velvel Jones and Charlie Oliver, took the viral-letter to the next level and added audio and video to a live webathon broadcast. Performers lent their voice and human presence to the comments and can be seen and heard on YouTube.
So how did these two downtown hipsters get into the political fray, where they now spend about three hours each day? Latimer's father, Irv Katz, remembers her as more than the introspective poetry student, who studied at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. "She was always fearless," Katz said. "One of her favorite activities as a kid growing up in Southern California was jumping horses."
Kilston, like Latimer, hadn't been involved in politics until now, but she is a thinker. What's more, "her middle name is Liberty," said her father, so perhaps their activism is no accident.
"The idea of being a conservative-feminist is difficult to wrap my mind around. I see Christianity and the right-wing platform as inherently sexist, yet I also wonder if I am defining feminism too narrowly," said Kilston, whose philosophical frame of mind comes from her education at Evergreen College and Bard. "Palin's political views are in every way a slap in the face to the accomplishments that our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers have fiercely fought for."
"Some of our critics claim that we are angry because we only support women who share our ideology, and that we dislike Palin because she is conservative," said Kilston. Not true, say both women. The responses to their message haven't only come from the "liberal elite," but from people living in small towns and big cities, from women who are anti-choice or Independents and Republicans, as well. "Sarah Palin is impulsive, irrational and ill-informed--not a leader I would trust with a nation I hold so dear. McCain's lack of judgment in choosing Sarah Palin is why I am a Republican voting Democratic in this election," wrote Lisa B., 46, from Arizona on their blog.
The groundswell of thoughtful responses to their electronic letter paints a portrait of a group of women who are against Sarah Palin, not just because she is a woman who they believe stands to undermine the progress and freedoms that are enjoyed by Americans today, but because they are afraid of people in the future who will continue to challenge these freedoms. The initiation into political activism for two women who grew up in California in the 1980s, post-Vietnam, post-Roe v. Wade, is one to which they will remain committed beyond the election. Latimer is moving to Switzerland to live with her boyfriend for the year. "If Obama wins," she said, "it's a great reason to come back to the United States. If he doesn't, I may be gone for good."