The Short and the Long of It: Politically Engaging Women & Working Families

By Angelica Maduell of Portland, Oregon. Angelica is a freelance writer, marketer and political activist.

The biggest gap politicians face today is the gap between the short-term and the long-term. In the short-term we have the daily life of the constituent: everything they come in contact with that affects their capacity to seize life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the long-term, we have policy and the political process, which takes years to affect the daily lives of the public it aims to govern.

When we think of our daily lives, we think of the stresses we face every day and the comfort we take in the support systems that relieve any amount of anxiety. Take, for example, the life of a woman who asked a question at a political forum I attended over the weekend:

She and her husband work opposite shifts in order to care for their child and afford to feed and shelter themselves, because childcare is too expensive for them. They literally hand-off their toddler, and their loving partnership has devolved into something that resembles ships passing in the night. They feel alone. They are truly giving it all they’ve got, and it’s not enough. They think the economy offers no support for their family. They don’t qualify for many assistance programs, because they both work full-time, and want to continue to have viable successful careers in their own right. Isn’t this the new normal: two working parents raising a child? Yet, somehow, this norm has become an impossibility to many working families across America.

Now, think about the political system. There are bills, acts and legislation out there right now waiting in the wings to be signed into law that would provide relief to families like the one described above. But the rhythm of legislation moves in beats of months at its quickest. It’s been over 50 years since JFK signed the Equal Pay Act and we still haven’t fully realized his dream of an America that supports working, middle-class women and families.

Yes, there is a lot of work to get our political system supporting families, and the politicians pushing progressive reform are overloaded and underfunded. There only hope is to turn out the vote from women and working families.

In this political forum over the weekend, they made use of personal stories. Oregonians got up and spoke about the policies that support or fail them on a daily basis. The gap appeared when one of them asked, “What can I do to gain the support I need?” The answers given were what most would describe as the “run-around”; the answer given didn’t directly address the question. This isn’t a failure on the part of the politician, they are one gear in the political unit and have limited power. But talking about long-term, general ideas when someone’s daily life is a constant struggle inside a system stacked against them, falls short of meeting the needs of a constituency.

Politicians may feel that they are not social workers, nonprofits or the right person to deal with specific problems coming from their constituency. Nonetheless, they need to publicly emote the empathy they feel for this person with a somberness and mourning for what could have been done in the past. Right now, politicians tend to leap to the future—which only promotes their agendas and keeps our culture concentrated in forgetting its own history.

If they want the vote, then they need to empathize in a way that is going to resonate. By taking a moment to reflect on the serious stress people are under while they wait for policy to catch up with culture is crucial to keeping the people our system is failing engaged in the political process.

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