|Photo copied from Patty Murray’s Facebook page
I just got back from having lunch with Washington State Senator Patty Murray and Massachusetts State Senator Elizabeth Warren. And about 2,000 other people. Murray, known around these parts as the “mom in tennis shoes” thanks to a slight she got from one lawmaker when she dared challenge funding cuts in a local preschool program, fully embraced the classification and went on to successfully run for her school board, state representative, and is now a four-time Washington State Senator. As part of her acceptance and celebration of that title, she now holds an annual event that honors other people in our state who have taken it upon themselves to make changes that benefit others, going so far as to give them a golden tennis shoe.
This year, I was invited by the folks at the Women’s Funding Alliance to join them at their table and I was thrilled to accept, given that Elizabeth Warren would be speaking.
The honorees were truly fantastic – an immigrant who lived in a housing project in Seattle, got a degree from the University of Washington in business, and headed right back to that housing project to help raise other residents up and offer them the benefit of his wisdom and experience; a young woman whose mother was killed by her boyfriend after years of emotional abuse who went on to start a campaign to teach middle and high school students how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and step in to stop it; and a woman who took her passion and talent for training dogs and turned it into a project that pairs wounded veterans and disabled children with service dogs as well as utilizing prison inmates to help train the dogs, giving them the benefit of working with the dogs and a useful skill they can parlay into a job when they are released. It was even more fantastic to hear Senator Murray say that the number of individuals who were nominated for these awards was overwhelming and it was difficult to choose from all of the people in our state who are working so hard for the greater good.
After the awards were given and all of the awardees spoke, Senator Warren came to the podium to thunderous applause. She was passionate, eloquent, articulate, and spoke clearly about her three biggest priorities: equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, and revamping the student loan system. She has clearly done her research and staggered us with some of the statistics she shared, and she encouraged us to continue to support candidates who are committed to making changes that will help families pull themselves out of debt and poverty.
Honestly? I felt a little deflated. Even though the final speaker, a local representative who was funny, concise, and had a compelling story came up to make the “ask” for donations was using the right combination of humor and prompting, I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I don’t support Senator Murray or Senator Warren. It isn’t that I don’t thank my lucky stars that I have someone like Patty Murray representing me in the Senate. It’s that I’m in a bubble. And it is hard to imagine my dollars making the slightest bit of difference unless they transcend that bubble.
All of my federal representatives are Democrats and, for the most part, they all stand for the things I stand for. My state’s governor? Democrat. My city’s mayor? Democrat. My city council person? Democrat. Even if one day one of those folks decides not to run again, because of where I live it is highly likely that a different Democrat will be elected. That doesn’t make me complacent, it just means that I doubt that my dollars make much of a dent. They’re preaching to the choir. Elizabeth Warren was preaching to the choir – heck, just today the Seattle City Council was voting on a $15/hour minimum wage proposal. I’m pretty sure she’s barking up the right tree, but unless I’m living in a Tea Party infested district, I have a hard time understanding how my words or actions or dollars have an impact if I give them at a luncheon like that. Sometimes I wonder how frustrating, and yet energizing, it might be if I did live in a place where there was an entrenched, misogynistic representative and a strong Democratic candidate stepped up to challenge that person. Would I jump in with both feet to campaign and carry signs and donate? Would it feel like I was really part of some change? Would it be awesome?
As I walked away, grateful for the opportunity to have heard people talk about the good work they’re doing, the shared humanity they believe in, the values I hold dear as well, I became even more committed to narrowing my focus. If I can’t make any substantive change in the way things are done at the macro level (besides what I already do, which is rant on Facebook and write OpEds for places like The Feminist Wire), then I can at least make an effort to fully support those folks who are working hard to make change more locally. Ultimately, today’s luncheon solidified my decision to continue working with the Women’s Funding Alliance whose focus is on raising up girls and women in the state of Washington in a wide variety of ways, knowing that they are the key to turning lives around. There, I know my dollar makes a difference.