One of my favorite purchases in 2016 was this awesome “A Woman’s Place is in the House and Senate” sweatshirt. I love a good pun, and it was a great opportunity to buy a matching shirt for my youngest daughter and teach her about how things have changed for the better. Our country has come a long way since Abigail Adams told her husband to “remember the ladies,” and I want all my daughters to appreciate that!
So, when we wore our shirts on the Women’s March weekend, they prompted smiles and words of support, along with a lot of assumptions that we just came from the women’s march. When I explained to my daughter what the march was all about, she didn’t get how a big march after the election would change much. I have to admit I don’t either.
Don’t get me wrong—I strongly support free speech, and I’ll applaud all people who want to exercise their right to protest peaceably. I want my daughter to understand how lucky we are to have the right to say what we believe without fear. I understand that many women aren’t happy about things our president has said and done, and I want my daughter to understand why so many of our friends want to organize, march, and ensure their voices are heard by those in power.
But I also want her (and the rest of her generation) to learn that while protesting might feel satisfying, it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot unless you’re willing to back it up with a lot of hard work and civic engagement.
You Don’t Win If You Don’t Play
One of my favorite lines from “Hamilton” is from the title character after he’s closed a deal to establish the national bank. In “The Room Where it Happens,” Alexander Hamilton chastises Aaron Burr, who was left out of the negotiations: “When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game / But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game / Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it / You get nothing if you…Wait for it, wait for it, wait!”
So, to those who marched: if you don’t like how things are, it’s time to stop posting on social media and really play in the game. Hamilton and his contemporaries didn’t just write about their beliefs, they joined their new, imperfect government and got to work. Luckily, you (and my daughter, and the generations of American women who will come after us) live in a country where we are all free to do the same.
If you feel like our nation’s laws don’t represent the needs of women, go to work in the legislative branch and write new ones. If you take the leap and go work in Congress, 80 percent of Americans will hate you, and nine times out of ten you will fail to accomplish anything because of infighting or partisan divisions. But every day you go to work, you will be doing more to change our laws than you did with a sign on the street.
If you feel like the courts don’t appropriately defend women, go to law school and become an attorney, and defend the rights of women in the court. Join the growing number of women in the judiciary and help interpret our laws as they were intended, treating all equally.
You’ve Got Freedoms, So Use Them
If you want more women in elected office, go work on a campaign for a woman you respect. Better yet, go run for public office yourself. Run for school board, county supervisor, state representative, Congress, or the presidency. Take your job seriously before you enter politics, and educate yourself about all the issues so you know you’re the most competitive candidate. Campaign in a battleground state and talk to people who don’t share your views.
Women in America have the same freedom to speak, vote, campaign, educate, and run for elected office as men. So please, don’t spend the next few months planning another protest when you have the opportunity to really engage in the political process.
The women’s march didn’t represent me. I disagreed with the choice to exclude women who didn’t share of the organizers’ worldview. Also, anyone who actually believes women are more oppressed in America than in Saudi Arabia needs a serious reality check. If the organizers of this march ran for office, I would almost certainly work to defeat them and vote against them, because we simply don’t agree on most issues.
But if you marched, and if you have strong beliefs, I have news for you: there is a lot more to the political process than making a pithy sign and a wearing pussy hat. Free speech is essential, but you’re missing out on the best part of our political system if you don’t ever actually get involved. Women can do a lot more than scream in the direction of the White House.
So I encourage those who marched—particularly young women starting their careers—to do more. Join the thousands of women who are already hard at work in your government. That’s the future I want for my daughter, one where she remains free to protest, but also free to get to work in the House and Senate.