Her Own Way
When I was 21, I was raped by a near-stranger in my own bed after suddenly getting very sloppy drunk at a bar—too sloppy for how little I had to drink that night. I was a senior in college and missed a week of class to go home and try to get my life back together. I risked not being able to graduate because it was imperative that I practice some self-care, wallow for a bit, and do some emergency mental triage so I would have the wherewithal to soldier through finals, winter break, and another semester. One of my professors expressed concern about taking a week off around midterms, but I insisted that I needed the time and I’d figure it out.
When I got back to campus, I was fragile at first. A friend invited me to a party at his apartment, aware of what happened several weeks before and trying to help me feel socially connected. Within fifteen minutes I was so anxious that I rushed to the bathroom to get sick and called another friend to rescue me.
Slowly, that fragility solidified into anger and frustration that it was 2010 and women I knew were still being raped at school, a place that is supposed to be safe. I was a Peer Advocate for sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors at my school’s Center for Sex and Gender Relations for my last two years in college so I knew the statistics and I knew it was a problem, but it didn’t feel real until I was one of the numbers.
This seems to be a common theme in American politics. We have no interest in healthcare policy while we are healthy and have great insurance through our employers but if we lose our jobs, or develop a significant health condition, the complexity of the insurance system and the cost of care becomes very real. Climate change and global warming seem like scientific jargon until your previously dry basement starts to flood every time it rains because of one catastrophically large storm like Hurricane Sandy. We watch the news—or read it, or listen to it—so we hear about what the government is doing or what other people around the country are experiencing and it doesn’t seem real until it knocks on your own door.
Several months after I was raped, I went to a town hall-style meeting for students and faculty who were rewriting the school’s sexual assault policies. As a Peer Advocate, I knew all of the various options for reporting and pursuing a case against my rapist, who was a fellow student, but opted not to; the system that was in place made it very difficult for survivors to come forward and see any substantial changes or justice and I knew that needed to change. I stood up at that meeting and spoke about my own experience, and how I reported it but opted not to escalate anything to a review committee because I felt that the situation was fuzzy. I had been drinking and blacked out, but he had also been drinking. I knew his name, but that night was still the only time I saw him; we never managed to cross paths on our relatively small campus. Based on the old standards, I still had a case but I would have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt and face my rapist to make this accusation. Rather than go through the official channels, speaking out was my own way of handling my experience with injustice. My story resonated with many in the audience and I was asked to speak at a rally several days before graduation.
I spoke at the rally, describing how I felt and what I experienced in the hours, days, and weeks after I was raped. I was interviewed by the local news channel and received a handwritten thank you note from the school’s president for speaking up and putting a face to the problem on campuses across the country. Shortly after I graduated, an improved policy passed and my college was one of the first schools to openly acknowledge that rape on college campuses is a widespread issue.
I resumed life as an average young adult after that rally and graduation. I moved to New York City and struggled to find a job that could become a career, like so many others my age in 2010. Many of my friends moved back home because either they couldn’t find a full-time job, or their full-time job didn’t pay enough to support their student loan debt and rent. I paid attention during the 2010 midterm elections and voted but didn’t get politically involved. I paid attention during the 2012 re-election of President Obama and voted, enthusiastically, but didn’t get politically involved. I paid attention during the 2014 midterm elections and voted but didn’t get politically involved.
I paid rapt attention during the 2016 election and became progressively more horrified at the sexism against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party shutting out half of their base and alienating Bernie Sanders supporters, and the evolution of Donald Trump’s bigotry. I switched my party affiliation to Republican for the primary, because it was apparent that the Democratic Party machine was going to back Hillary, and so I could vote against Donald Trump, but the New Jersey primary is so late that by June it didn’t matter and Donald Trump was a foregone conclusion. I forgot to switch my affiliation back over the summer and by the time November rolled around, I figured it would make more of a statement to be registered as a Republican and vote for Hillary Clinton, especially in a Republican congressional district. However, I failed to get politically involved and continued to watch the fallout from afar.
Despite the pollsters, despite the popular vote, and despite allegations of rape from now dozens of women, Donald Trump won the 2016 election and began building his cabinet. Immediately, new grassroots activist groups sprung up like crocuses. A march was organized for the day after inauguration, which turned into hundreds of marches around the world with millions marching. I made plans to drive to my hometown and take a bus to Washington, DC with my mom so we could march together.
We marched (well, we shuffled) with hundreds of thousands of other women, and some brave men who are strong enough to join the feminists. We yelled and we held up our signs and we embraced the activism of thousands and thousands of women who are scared and angry and ashamed of what we all allowed to happen on November 8, 2016.
After the march, I felt empowered by the activism and wanted to stay active. I signed up for some mailing lists of daily and weekly actions I could take on my own to keep the progressive movement going in a Donald Trump era. I kept hearing about She Should Run, and I heard the statistic that a woman has to be asked an average of 7 times before she will consider running for office, whereas men are immediately flattered and go for it. I was never asked to run for office, but when I heard that statistic, the gears started turning.
I was writing a postcard to Elizabeth Warren after Mitch McConnell’s “nevertheless, she persisted,” remark when, on a whim, I decided to look up the requirements to run for Congress. For the House of Representatives, you have to be at least 25 years old: Check. An American citizen: Check. A resident of the district where you plan to run: Check. That’s it. I was already frustrated and angry that conservative Republicans and members of the Tea Party movement held significant majorities in both houses of Congress and had joined Swing Left, but what if I were the one swinging my district left? I mused about the idea to my best friend who did not hesitate to tell me to just do it and called me a badass. I told my husband that I was seriously considering it, and wanted to take the first steps to make it happen, and instead of asking me if I was sure, he said he thought it sounded like a great idea.
I tentatively voiced my interest in a thread of a local Indivisible group’s Facebook page and was contacted by a woman with ties to the local Democratic party. When she heard my age and my lack of previous political involvement, and that I didn’t have at least a half-million dollars of my own or parents’ money to back a race, she said that a race like this will hurt me politically in the long term and that I’m better off running for a small, part-time local office. I think that local offices are the bedrock of our democracy and the bodies that shape our day to day lives. I have incredible respect and admiration for anyone who runs and serves locally—it is a difficult, often thankless job. I took her advice to heart, and did some soul searching, but decided on my own terms that I have to do this—run for federal office—or I will not be satisfied.
As a millennial woman, I am a member of the largest and least represented voting blocks, at all levels of government. Millennial women absolutely need to run for local office, too, but if I waited to build my name and wait my turn, I wouldn’t be able to serve constituents who have lived my experience or who have children or grandchildren living my experience at a federal level, where I can impact broad economic policy, protect and improve healthcare options, and make a statement about how the party machines are impacting politics against the will of the people now when we need young voices and progressive change the most.
After meeting with the 2016 Democratic nominee for my congressional district and listening to a number of local Democratic party bosses say that they want you to put in time and money before they’ll consider backing you in a race, regardless of your politics or the strength of your campaign, I decided to harken back to my decision to switch voter registration to the Republican party. I live in a district where a vast majority are registered as Republicans and have repeatedly voted for a Republican incumbent to the House seat for the last 8 years, but the district voted for Hillary Clinton by a wide margin in 2016.
Republicans are fed up with the status quo, and Trump’s populist economic message resonates with a lot of people. The Democratic party is still hellbent on running the machine, backing establishment moderate candidates who will appease their donor base. While I don’t agree with much of the Republican party’s current platform, many registered Republicans will hear my story and align with my progressive ideals over the party-line incumbent who has voted against the constituency repeatedly for the last 8 years. Furthermore, as much as I want to swing the district blue, it’s more important to me that my gerrymandered-Republican district feels heard by their member of congress. For many people who will never consider voting for a Democrat simply because of the party name on the ballot, regardless of their actual convictions and needs, I can be an advocate for progressive change in both parties. As a Republican elected to Congress on a progressive, populist platform, I can work with progressive Democrats and Republicans alike to enact better policies that help everyone, not just donors to the big parties.
All of that to say—I am running on the Republican ticket in the 2018 primary, but I will not betray my progressive values. I can bring more to the people of my district this way, and I will not need to heed the Democratic party machine to get the job done. I am not beholden to the party, or to special interests. Besides, I have always been the kind of woman who wants to do things her own way, even when the odds are against it.