I spent most of my early career working in political journalism. And I took that role seriously, which meant I never personally engaged in any political activity. From the time I edited Roll Call , the Capitol Hill newspaper, I was so careful, that when my husband, who does work in politics would make campaign contributions from our joint account I insisted that he cross out my name with a thick black Sharpie so there would be no confusion as to who was making the donation.
About five years ago, we moved from D.C. to the San Francisco Bay area, carting our three children to a new life. With my career in political journalism seemingly derailed, both because of the move, not to mention the sorry state of print news, I focused on putting down roots in our new home and was in no rush to get back to work.
But as these things often happen, a new phase of my work life began when I unexpectedly became sucked in to the 2008 presidential campaign.
Privately, I was always a Hillary Clinton fan, from the earliest days. At Roll Call we had covered the Clintons’ arrival in Washington and followed the new administration’s successes and missteps. Through it all, I admired Hillary- her wisdom, her practicality, and her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of women and children both here and around the world.
So in 2007, three years after our move, when a friend in D.C. encouraged me to get involved with the campaign, it was an easier decision than I would have thought. I knew that it meant giving up the journalistic objectivity I had preserved for so long and perhaps prevented me from working in political news again. But as the field of primary candidates formed, I felt loyal to Hillary and deeply moved by the possibility of participating in the election of the first woman president of the United States.
There is no question that my journey as a parent shaped my views about participating in politics and the relative ease with which I abandoned my former commitments. I would talk to my kids, a lot, about why it’s important to have the right people in office (and perhaps more so and more emotionally doing the eight years of the Bush Administration). They usually came with me to vote and when they were little they proudly wore those silly “I voted” stickers on Election Day.
But at a certain point, you’ve got to walk the walk- and you want your kids to see you do it. At that moment, with this particular candidate, and in this particular election, I was inspired to do more than just show up and vote.
I started slowly, recruiting over a dozen women both from California and D.C. to join me at a Women’s Summit for Hillary in Washington that drew over a 1,000 women from around the country for a day of rousing speeches about our chance to make history. I was hooked.
Soon after, on New Year’s Day the whole family- kids included- left mild California temperatures for frigid Iowa to knock on doors, wave signs at busy intersections, and serve as observers at a caucus. After that came an intense few weeks when I prepared for the California primary, then subsequent trips that I took alone to San Antonio, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and back to D.C.
Along the way I connected with other women (and men) who had learned much earlier than I did the power and satisfaction of activism- at every level of participation. In some cases, these relationships have become what I hope will be lifelong friendships built on shared passions and energy.
Toward the end of the campaign a group of us felt frustrated by a sense that women at the grassroots level weren’t being mobilized to volunteer or to be active in politics in general to the extent that we believed was possible. And we wanted more people to hear what we were hearing as we went from city to city. We heard about their frustration at feeling left out, and saw their emotion at wanting more women at the political table- from the top the bottom.
Together we formed a new organization, WomenCount , that seeks to give women a stronger voice in politics. Grassroots organizing has been transformed by technology, and we are working to create an online community of women that can be mobilized to take action on behalf of candidates and issues. (It’s like a kind of of MoveOn for women.) We have a non-profit arm that raises awareness about promoting women in politics and a political action committee that works to elect women candidates.
At last check, WomenCount has nearly 37,000 members. And I have learned that political activism is a good fit for women (and moms). By nature and necessity, women are both organizers and communicators. Politics requires those same skills.
As we celebrate our first anniversary, WomenCount is thriving. I always said I was in this for as long as we could accomplish something. And we have. This spring WomenCount’s campaign calling for a Presidential Commission on Women (similar to one JFK established in 1961) resulted in Rep. Jackie Speier introducing legislation on Capitol Hill to create such a Commission.
I don’t have a fancy title these days, and the pay is even worse than in journalism, but I do feel a higher sense of purpose. I’m no longer in the role of observer.
My kids think I’ve gone a bit wacky. And I know my husband does. After years of ranting to him about the darker side of politics and the insidious role of money in the system, I’m the one running a PAC.
Photograph of Stacy Mason and daughter courtesy of the author.