The White House Working Families Summit was the biggest thing to happen here in ages for the circle of women’s rights advocates in which I orbit. So many things about it were right – a sense of jubilation, a racially and ethnically diverse group of attendees, a variety of ages, income levels, and a good number of men. The big guns came out, with the President and Mrs. Obama earning lots of whoops and applause. Both Bidens were there, along with Gloria Steinem looking ageless, Debra Lee of BET, and MIkaBrzesinski of MSNBC. This was a BFD.
It was all about paid family leave, and more affordable child care, and getting the flexibility you need to do a good job as a parent while you work your way up the ladder too. Employers of all sizes talked about trusting their employees, investing in their people, and seeing profits rise as paid sick days were made available, workers had plenty of notice regarding shifts, and fathers took paternity leave to get to know their new babies. Since Congress has tied itself up in knots, and since the shift to a 21st century workplace would only happen when the electorate insisted, the path to victory, we were told, went through state legislatures, mayor’s offices, and governors’ mansions.
Two important ideas emerged. The current campaign financing system requires great wealth, which women don't control. This is one reason why there are so few women in Congress, and why their number grows so slowly – if it grows at all. Changing the electoral system, capping private contributions, publicly funding candidates, and limiting the campaign cycle to a matter of weeks – rather than the continual, perpetual, eternal cycle we are on now –would level the playing field, facilitate the election of more women, and make policy more responsive to a wider swath of the population (such as women, children, and minorities). Admittedly, this is a long shot – there are so many men with a lot of power to lose and so much money washing around Capitol Hill. They will raise a mighty defense if the status quo is threatened.
The second idea also requires valuable resources – time and energy. With the mid-term elections looming this fall, these economic policies could readily be made part of the debate if we push them. For make no mistake, paid maternity leave, paid sick days, affordable child care, minimum wage policy – these are all economic matters bearing directly on family financial security, and job creation, and economic growth. If a woman can keep her job while pregnant, rather than being forced onto unpaid leave, she is able to support her family. If a man can move his elderly mother with Alzheimer’s into an assisted living home, and come back to his job, he can provide for himself and take care of her. If a hotel housekeeper can stay home when she has the flu, rather than clean dozens of guest rooms, she’ll get better faster and others won’t be at risk. It is better for everyone, for business, and the country, when jobs stay secure even when life happens.
Now that candidates are looking to earn our votes, we can let them know how to win them. Contact the offices of the men and women running for office in your district and ask them if they support:
- Paid sick days (Healthy Families Act)
- Paid maternity and paternity leave (FAMILY Act)
- Paid medical leave (FAMILY Act)
- Affordable child care and high quality early learning programs
- Equal pay for equal work (Paycheck Fairness Act)
- Increasing the minimum wage
- Protecting pregnant workers from unlawful discrimination at work (Pregnant Workers Fairness Act)
Write a letter to the editor of your favorite paper or magazine telling them this is what you are looking for in a candidate. Put in your Facebook page, tweet it, blog it, send it to your networks. It is completely possible to push these issues front and center in the next election. Literally, all it takes is the time and effort to make the public discussion happen, and communicate to those wishing to represent you.
Like Michelle Obama said at the very close of the Summit, these policies are so slow to come to the US – after they’ve been successfully adopted all over the world – because women are sucking it up when juggling job/kids/life, assuming they are just inadequate to the task, and soldiering on instead of insisting and demanding that common sense changes be made to deal with the workforce we have now.
After all, as one of the speakers said, you can’t live in the age of “Modern Family” with a bunch of policies from “Leave It To Beaver”.
'Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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