Just because working moms want to have it all does not mean we want to have to do it all at once, the way California Assemblymember Buffy Wicks had to on Monday night. We don’t want to have to do it in a pandemic. We don’t want to have to do it while nursing a newborn, when we should have more paid parental leave. The East Bay representative and her 1-month-old daughter Elly did it anyway, because she wanted to fight to solve the housing crisis in her state.
The image of Wicks standing on the Assembly floor, holding squirming Elly under a blanket and speaking passionately about Senate Bill 1120, has quickly become a symbol of how much women are asked to sacrifice to be able to work and parent. She also stands for what goes wrong when men make the rules about things like proxy voting amid the threat of COVID-19.
The California Assembly had passed rules to allow members to vote by proxy (having someone come to the floor to vote in their place) if they were considered at high risk for the coronavirus. But when Wicks applied to do so, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon denied her “on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting,” Wicks’ spokesperson told Politico.
Absolutely devastated about #SB1120. Our housing crisis requires us to act, and tonight we failed to do that.
But I promise you this: I will *always* show up for housing — no matter what. pic.twitter.com/I4n6X07CNp
— Buffy Wicks (@BuffyWicks) September 1, 2020
OK, of course “maternity leave” isn’t a medical condition. But what about the tiny human being with an underdeveloped immune system whom Wicks is breastfeeding? Even if she were able to leave her baby at home for the many hours of a legislative session, Wicks still faced the possibility of being exposed to the virus at the Capitol and then bringing it home to Elly. Apparently, no one thought about that when they drafted these rules. Meanwhile, members of the California State Senate were allowed to vote remotely because a senator had tested positive for COVID-19.
Still, SB 1120, a bill that would allow single-family buildings to be converted to duplexes in order to ease the housing shortage in areas like her district, was so important to Wicks that she packed up her daughter and drove to Sacramento on Monday.
The vote for the bill came up close to midnight, according to the Mercury News.
“I was actually in the middle of feeding my daughter when this bill came up,” she told the Assembly. “And I ran down on the floor today because I strongly believe we need to pass this bill. We are 3.5 million homes shy of where we need to be right now in this state.”
At this point, Elly gave a little cry — seemingly in disbelief at that number.
“And Elly agrees that we need it,” she said. “It’s the simplest way we can have density that still adheres to neighborhood character. So please, please, please pass this bill. And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
The Mercury News reported that the bill passed in the Assembly but didn’t make it to the Senate in time for a vote, killing it for this session. But what did pass both houses was a family leave bill for small businesses that Wicks got to vote for as well. If only it included state government representatives as well!
Twitter exploded with messages of outrage on Wicks’ behalf on Tuesday, as the likes of Hillary Clinton, Gabby Giffords, and others expressed admiration for her as well as anger that she had to do this.
California Assemblymember @buffywicks was told that having recently given birth wasn’t sufficient excuse to cast a vote remotely.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 1, 2020
At last, Rendon admitted the error of his ways on Tuesday evening.
“I want to make a full apology to Assemblymember Wicks,” he said in a statement. “My intention was never to be inconsiderate toward her, her role as a legislator, or her role as a mother. Inclusivity and electing more women into politics are core elements of our Democratic values. Nevertheless, I failed to make sure our process took into account the unique needs of our Members. The Assembly needs to do better. I commit to doing better.”
When these celebrities praise their nannies, they help raise awareness that parents need help to succeed.