Watching President Obama’s farewell speech last night, I was filled with regret.
You see, I didn’t vote for him.
As I’ve said in other posts, I grew up as a fundamental evangelical, deeply entrenched in the hard conservative right, having been born during the Reagan era and raised in Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. I received much of my cultural religious and political indoctrination from the likes of Dr. James Dobson and Rush Limbaugh, whom everyone in my immediate family and community upheld as warriors defending a Christian nation. And as I’ve said before, the Bible-based Evangelical ideology and the GOP ideological platform feed off each other in a way we should not ignore.
When Obama was first elected, I was 25 years old, pregnant, with a toddler in tow. I stayed at home, nurtured my children, and supported my husband as he pursued higher education and a career, like a good Evangelical/Republican wife was supposed to do.
I was also trapped, isolated, and abused.
I had been raised to believe my highest calling was to become a wife and mother. My college education had been cut short by marriage. And childcare costs were so high that it didn’t make sense for me to look for a job outside the home after my husband moved us away from my home state, where I had no family around to help. So I stayed home with my children, my social circle largely limited to whatever church he decided we would attend – until they noticed his treatment of me, and we would move on to a different church.
My husband discouraged hormonal contraceptives, as did my mother, as did many of the fundamental Christian teachings I grew up with, as have many of the GOP members by voting to place heavy restrictions on birth control, making it less affordable and accessible.
In 2009, my second son was born. In 2010, when he was nine months old and still nursing, I confronted my husband about his abuse and told him we needed to separate. He responded by sabotaging our birth control method and impregnating me against my will, against my explicit consent.
It worked. Pregnant, with a nursing infant and a toddler, dependent on my husband’s income and health insurance, I stayed. Until my daughter was a year old.
In February 2012, I gathered up mine and my children’s belongings, taking only the most necessary items, and a few of my children’s favorite toys, buckled my three little ones into their car seats, and drove over 1,000 miles back to my home state.
I found a job paying $10 an hour. I managed to find an apartment. For six months we lived there with little more than the kids’ beds, my daughter’s pack and play, and a pullout couch that I slept on. We had no TV, no internet. I had to choose between buying meat and buying fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t afford both, so I bought fruits and vegetables, and we ate a lot of eggs.
My father encouraged me to sign up for government assistance, but I was too ashamed. All my life I had heard the rhetoric: welfare was for leeches and losers. If you’re on welfare, it means you’re either lazy or a single mom who “behaved immorally” and manipulated the system, to the detriment of hardworking middle-class folk who paid all your taxes. It was bad enough to bear the stigma of divorce and single motherhood. I had gone against everything I was taught about staying married at all costs, and honoring Traditional Family Values.
All this time, President Obama was elected once, then twice. And I never voted for him.
I survived on a small sum of begrudging support from my soon-to-be ex-husband, while I worked hard at my $10/hour job. And Obama was fighting for equal pay on my behalf.
The following are excerpts from Whitehouse.gov on all that he fought for on behalf of women:
Fighting for equal pay
Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which empowers women to recover wages lost to discrimination by making it easier to bring pay discrimination claims
Prohibited federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation
Created the National Equal Pay Task Force to crack down on violations of equal pay laws
Worked with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to announce a new proposal requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to submit summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity, helping focus public enforcement of existing laws
Repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act
I found a new job, which paid much better. I received the Head of Household Tax, and the childcare tax credit, and I was able to put a down payment on a home. My children attended a high-quality preschool that I never could have afforded with out the voluntary pre-k program.
I was living the American Dream, partly thanks to Obama’s hard work on behalf of women.
And I never voted for him, while he fought back against the cycle of poverty, making it possible for me, as a single mother of three children, to buy our first home – the first single family home my children and I lived in, and that belonged to us, not a landlord.
Stopping the cycle of poverty
Cut unemployment by more than half to 4.7 percent during a record streak of private sector job creation, and reduced child poverty further in the last two years than it has been reduced in any other two-year-period since 2001
Improved the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit that are helping 16 million working families’ make ends meet
Worked with the private sector to tackle the diaper gap and increase access to affordable diapers to help the nearly 1 in 3 American families who struggle to afford enough diapers for their babies
Worked to strengthen high-poverty communities through better federal partnership with local leaders in place like the 22 urban, rural, and tribal communities that have been designated as Promise Zones since 2014
Fought homelessness through the Opening Doors plan which, to date, has resulted in significant declines in veteran, chronic, and family homelessness
Worked with a coalition of women’s foundations—Prosperity Together—who have collectively committed $100 million to a 5-year funding initiative to improve economic prosperity for low-income women, particularly women and girls of color
Engaged open data and technology to empower women and girls and expand ladders to opportunity through The Opportunity Project, a platform for using Federal and local data and digital tools to help people navigate information on resources they need to thrive
Expanding access to quality early childhood education
Expanded and improved Head Start by investing an additional $4 billion in the program, and implementing important reforms to raise the program’s standards, focus on school readiness results, and promote accountability
Expanded access to high-quality early learning for our youngest learners by launching new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, which are providing early learning opportunities to more than 30,000 additional infants and toddlers in 275 communities across the country
Expanded access to high-quality preschool through the Preschool Development Grants competition, which has provided development and expansion grants to 18 states to support high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families
Proposed landmark investments to expand high-quality, affordable child care to every eligible working family with young children and to expand high-quality preschool to every 4-year-old
Expanded access to voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs by serving more than 145,500 parents and children in 825 counties across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories
For the first time in my life, I chose my own healthcare plan, and took charge of my reproductive system by choosing hormonal contraceptives. I tried a couple different kinds, both of which cost me $50+ per month, even with my insurance. Then Obama passed the ACA, and I chose an IUD that eliminated that cost, as well as the hassle of remembering to take a pill or count the days of my cycle for the ring. The IUD would have cost me $1600 with my insurance, but after the ACA was passed, I got it for free.
And I didn’t vote for him, while he continued to improve health care for everyone, particularly for women:
Improving access to care
Signed the Affordable Care Act into law, which expanded access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and included a number of provisions designed to improve the health of women. Since 2010, 20 million people have acquired health coverage as a result of the law and about 9.5 million women have gained coverage since October 2013
Prohibited women from being charged more for health insurance than men or being denied or charged more for coverage because of a pre-existing condition, such as having a C-section or being a victim of domestic violence
Guaranteed coverage in individual and small group health plans, including plans offered in the marketplace, of a set of ten categories of health care services, called Essential Health Benefits, which include maternity and newborn care and mental health and substance use disorder services, with 8.7 million women gaining maternity coverage because of the ACA in the individual market alone
Improved Medicare coverage for older women by expanding its coverage of preventive services and improving Medicare coverage of prescription drugs
Gave young people the option to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn age 26
Extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in 2009 and 2015, which is a critical source of coverage for girls
Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in any health program or activity, any part of which receives Federal funding
Created a home visitation program to provide health education and other services to new mothers and funded the Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative to reduce pre-term births and improve outcome for newborns and pregnant women
Took action to implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a major step forward in putting mental health and substance use disorder benefits on equal footing with medical and surgical care benefits
Expanded health care and outreach to women veterans and service members through a new hotline improving responsiveness to women veterans’ needs and the launch of a new Women Veterans Program to better coordinate and enhance access to VA benefits and services
Guaranteed private health insurance that covers recommended preventive services without cost sharing, reducing out of pocket spending for 55 million women for services including well-woman visits; breastfeeding supplies, counseling, and support; recommended vaccinations; all FDA-approved methods of contraception; domestic violence screening and counseling; tobacco use screening and cessation interventions; and recommended screenings for diseases and conditions that adversely affect women like alcohol misuse, depression, diabetes screenings for those with high blood pressure, and screenings for certain cancers and sexually transmitted infections
Eliminated lifetime and annual limits on insurance coverage and establishes annual limits on out-of-pocket spending on essential health benefits, benefiting 105 million Americans, including nearly 40 million women and almost 28 million children
I lived alone, with my three children. When their father moved to the same state, by law I had to share 50/50 custody with their father. I hated giving up my kids 50% of the time, but it also gave me some freedom to build a social life. In my religious upbringing, having a nightlife was frowned upon. But I had left my patriarchal religion, that said I had to become subsumed into a secondary extension of a man, shrinking into one role, as a wife and mother, other pursuits deemed selfish and unimportant. For the first time ever, on my kid-free nights I enjoyed a normal social life.
And Obama fought to keep me safe. He fought to prevent me from experiencing domestic violence again. He fought to keep me safe from sexual assault, giving me freedom to enjoy a social life without fear.
Combating campus sexual assault
- Established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and It’s On Us, a campaign to help put an end sexual assault on college campuses
- Established new guidance, through the Department of Education, to make clear that Title IX requires schools, colleges, and universities combat sexual assault on campus
Combating violence against women and girls in underserved communities
- Signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which provides resources for states and local communities to improve the criminal justice response to violence against women and to support victim services, protecting for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT survivors
- Improved the federal response to violence against women and elder abuse
- Released report and federal action plan to address the intersection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women
- Directed federal agencies to address the effects of domestic violence and to provide assistant to employees who may be experiencing domestic violence
Improving the criminal justice system response to domestic and sexual violence
- Vice President Biden appointed the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women to direct the efforts of the White House to address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking
- Reauthorized of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which included the reauthorized Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, continuing support for state, tribal, and local community programs that provide shelter and supportive services for victims of domestic violence and their children
- Maintained strong support and funding for Violence Against Women Act, Family Violence Services and Prevention Act, and Victims of Crime Act programs to provide resources for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in each of the Administration’s Budget Requests
- Launched the Sexual Assault Rape Kit Initiative and made investments to assist communities in testing backlogged rape kits
Addressing sexual assault in the military
- Directed the Department of Defense to improve efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military
- Streamlined the Department of Defense’s efforts to combat retaliation related to reports of sexual assault and complaints of sexual harassment, including for service member witnesses, bystanders, and first responders
- Addressed sexual assault in the military through the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategic Plan, which focused on sexual assault prevention, response, and the administration of military justice in response to sexual assault
Making violence against women and girls a foreign policy priority
Redoubled the Administration’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking, which afflicts people around the world and here at home, including millions of women and girls, and announced a series of new commitments to combat human trafficking at home and abroad
Increased support for survivors of human trafficking by signing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act into law, which requires states to develop policies and procedures to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for sex trafficking victims and those at risk for becoming sex trafficking victims
Addressed gender-based violence as a foreign policy priority through the implementation of the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, which strengthens a government-wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates and leverages all effort and resources more effectively to address gender-based violence
And I didn’t vote for him. I was benefiting in a thousand ways from the system that he made better specifically for women, and I didn’t vote for him.
I deeply regret my ignorance, my lack of perception, the way I blindly floated along, enjoying all the privilege without ever acknowledging where it came from.
This doesn’t make up for it now – nothing will – but let me tell you something:
I’m woke AF now!
I didn’t vote for you, or appreciate you, President Obama. But I do now. Please forgive my ignorance. Forgive my entitlement, my blindness. Thank you for all you did. Thank you for helping me and my children in countless ways that I can never repay.
You’ve paved the way for a better future, for my children and me. And I will give back in every way I can, by raising my children with awareness, with empathy, with a sense of justice, with a dedication to bettering themselves and helping those around them succeed. I will write, I will speak up, I will march, I will advocate, I will look for opportunity to create a better world, wherever I can find it.
I’ll be joining the Women’s March On Washington on January 21st. We will be seen. We will be heard. And you will be appreciated from the bottom of our hearts.