See Jane vote

In an open letter to the next president of the United States, Sacramento women write on the issues—reproductive rights, marriage equality, education, the economy—that will propel them to the polling booth this November

Amanda Branham, artist

Amanda Branham, artist

Photo By shoka

Libby Sanchez, legislative advocate

Photo By shoka

Soccer moms and mama grizzlies, pocketbook voters and all the single ladies. Yes, it’s another election year, which means it’s time once again for politicians—and, accordingly, much of the media—to create yet another female-voter archetype to which to pander.

In the real world, however, women aren’t so easy to categorize. And the concerns that get us to the polls vary widely across a vast personal and political scope. While the conversation between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, at times, been dominated by topics such as abortion, birth control and health care, women—regardless of which side of the spectrum they fall—think and care about the election outcome with a passion and complexity that all the talking points, sound bites and polling numbers can’t convey.

SN&R asked a diverse group of Sacramento women—lawyers and lobbyists, artists, students and clerks—to write about what they expect from the next president of the United States.

Remember the personal is political

Alice Kessler

legislative advocate; DiMare, Van Vleck & Brown LLC

I am a woman, a parent and by vocation, a lobbyist. Oh, and I am also an LGBT American. For me, the old adage that “the personal is political” rings true. I’ve spent the better part of my career lobbying for civil rights for the LGBT community before the California Legislature. I like to think that my role has helped move the national dialogue on LGBT concerns in significant ways by our state being the first to pass laws on issues such marriage equality, anti-bullying and a ban on the so-called “reparative therapy” of LGBT youth.

Still, I’ve seldom felt personally impacted by some of the nightmare experiences faced by my LGBT brethren—getting fired for being gay or being the victim of a hate crime, for example. Coming out to my family was hard, and I’ve suffered the occasional anti-gay epithet, but not until recently, as I have set out to raise a family, has the ongoing inequality for LGBT people in this country hit me so personally.

Most people dream about getting married. The same was true for me. However, due to Proposition 8, I was not allowed to marry in my home state of California. Instead, our family and friends voyaged to Vancouver, British Colombia, to share in the joy of our union. It felt good to be cheered and congratulated on our nuptials by virtually every Canadian we met. Yet the experience was tinged with sadness, knowing that in most places in the United States, our marriage is not honored, and my spouse and I are considered legal strangers, thanks in large part to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

One result of this discrimination is that as the nonbiological parent of my daughter, I will have to adopt my own kid because I have zero parental rights in those states that do not recognize my marriage. This problem is due to a patchwork of adoption laws in the various states, but DOMA certainly plays in role in my needing to obtain an adoption decree.

Despite these hassles, I consider my family very lucky. We are living the American Dream. But we do experience some major roadblocks that just aren’t there for families headed by opposite-sex couples.

Respect the single ladies

Shawnda Westly

executive director, California Democratic Party

For the first time since the census began, married couples make up less than half of the households surveyed. I am a happy, single 42-year-old woman, and I’m not an anomaly. More women these days are saying “I don’t” instead of “I do.” I want our presidential candidates to know that being a single woman is about more than access to birth control.

Since we are single, we are more likely to be sexually harassed in the workplace. We pay twice as much rent or mortgage as our married counterparts, and when emergencies happen, we foot the bill and sometimes wonder who to call for help. We take care of the house, the grocery shopping, the bills and the pets without help. We handle major life crises, like losing a loved family member, alone.

Many of us are asked to work late or on the weekends since, you know, we don’t “have a family,” and for us unmarried, childless types, the weekends aren’t considered as important. Not only that, but as women, we don’t ascend the professional ladder as quickly as we are kept in “assistant” type jobs until we break free when we’re older. That delay restricts access to 401(k) savings and leaves less for our retirement and the money to build up to buy a home.

Last time I checked, there’s no tax credit for being single.

Add to all of this, we generally make 23 percent less than men for the same job, which means it’s tougher for us all around. Women should not be held captive to a partnership they aren’t committed to just to have financial security.

I want a president who will think long term about women like me and understand times have changed, and we are the next generation that will retire. We need a president who will guarantee a safety net and future security for this generation of single women. In addition to understanding the need for protecting women’s private health-care decisions, we need a president who is sensitive to the day-to-day struggles we have—including those of us who choose to be single mothers.

P.S. To all the pollsters and consultants: Whatever you do, please stop calling us “unmarried” women. I’ll take “single lady” (see Beyoncé) or “women with choices,” if you’re looking for suggestions.

Look out for the little guy

Liv Moe

executive director, Verge Center for the Arts

Growing up, most of my relatives were Democrats. The understanding was when you come from a modest-to-poor background, you vote for the candidate who’s most interested in the little guy. As things have evolved, the needle’s moved considerably, and now some of those same relatives are Republicans for reasons I can’t understand.

The reason I can’t understand it is because the choice seems so obvious to me. Do you vote for a guy who comes from a working-class background; has worked hard to reform health care; defends women’s rights in regard to both equal pay and reproductive health; supports the right to marry; repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” on the crazy notion that those who risk their lives for us should be respected; and did what he could to salvage the economy he was left with in 2008?

Or do you vote for a guy whose foreign-diplomacy skills are lacking, at best; has gone on record to say he would repeal both health-care reform and the right to marry; selected a running mate who worships Ayn Rand; co-sponsored draconian reproductive legislation; and puts his dog on the roof of his car during long family road trips?

I am concerned about basic human-rights issues. I’m tired of accepting the fact that my loved ones are uninsurable and that friends can’t marry partners who, in some cases, have been together for 20 years or more, or that in 2012, equal pay for women should even be up for debate.

When I sit and listen to the things our “leaders” are arguing about, it’s both exhausting and deeply disappointing. At stake are millions of folks struggling to make a go of it. I come from a background of farmers, artists, construction workers, waitresses, cooks, nurses, lawyers and architects. It’s my hope we can recognize the value in each other and vote for a candidate who holds the little guy’s best interests at heart.

Education is the key

Fahizah Alim

communications director, office of state Sen. Curren D. Price

Education is the key to freedom and opportunity and the great leveler in American society. For 300 of the 400 years that African-Americans have been in America, it was illegal to educate us. This kept us slaves and servants, ignorant and oppressed. The end of slavery opened the door of education for a select few. Those African-Americans who were able to access it worked hard and sacrificed much to break the shackles of slavery and poverty. Because of the escalating costs of education, access to higher education is increasingly problematic for more Americans—particularly African-Americans and Latinos.

I am a mother of four who was unexpectedly widowed with two sons still in college. My mother also died when I was young. She was a low-wage cannery worker and left no inheritance, but I was able to get a small stipend from Social Security that helped me get through college with almost no debt.

My fatherless children who are enrolled in college have no such financial support. With the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed that small stipend out of existence for college students who had lost a parent.

Education must be made affordable and accessible to all Americans who want it and are willing hard to obtain it—and it shouldn’t place them in perpetual debt.

Republicans, like Romney, have repeatedly shown that once they get theirs, they close the door behind them and circle the wagons of money, power and privilege.

President Obama, you won approval for a college tax credit worth up to $10,000 over four years and more money for Pell grants for low-income college students. You also pushed Congress to agree to reduce federal aid to colleges that go too far in raising tuition, and I appreciate your efforts to keep the interest rates low on student loans.

I have an older son who has earned a Ph.D. and a law degree. He also owes more money in school loans than it would cost to pay cash for a four-bedroom home in a great community. He’s worked hard to contribute to America, but he is being penalized and strapped with mind-boggling debts for daring to aim high.

Pay it forward

Amanda Branham


Health care’s never been a huge concern to me. Aside from a knee surgery, I stayed relatively clear of doctors’ offices. I worked and had health insurance.

That all changed when I found myself unemployed and pregnant earlier this year. It didn’t all happen overnight—I’d lost my job and was trying to find a new one. I was getting by with what I had. But when the third little stick that I peed on displayed the word “pregnant,”everything changed.

I started caring more about my health, and most importantly, that of my daughter’s. The father of my child and I had only been dating for a little more than a month, and while we weathered the storm and are very much in love, we don’t believe in getting married for insurance purposes. Sure, I could have returned to work, but who was hiring?

I called every health-insurance company, but with my previous surgery and my current “condition,” I was a liability. So, I looked to the government for assistance and after a couple months, got approved for Medi-Cal, and by the time I was in my second trimester, I was finally able to see a doctor.

I have heard a lot of complaints about being taxed for this. But if your taxes are already paying for me to get insurance through the state, wouldn’t you rather me pay for it? Once I have successfully regained my position in the world of employment, I would be happy to pay it forward. Not only will it help me, but it will help women all over the country get the health care that they deserve. I know so many women who don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford co-payments. Money should not hold women back from proper treatment and care.

Maya Wallace, auditor

Photo By Shoka

Cultivate empathy

Maya Wallace


I recently toured the family shelter of a homeless-services organization for which I volunteer, and it wasn’t what I expected. Families shared bunk beds in a single room with linoleum floors, no rugs, minimal furniture. The shelter has some comforts—artists painted the walls of the common areas, there’s a playground, et al—but none of the trappings of middle-class life I take for granted.

Visiting the shelter reminded me of recent stories about how American communities are sorting by values and by income, that we tend to live among people like ourselves. I worry that this affects our ability to understand one another and to have empathy for those who don’t think, speak or act as we do. This makes it too easy for all of us—especially politicians—to dismiss their needs, to disagree with their perspectives, to avoid confronting the idea that our opinion may be just one of many valid views. We know there are no easy answers to our current set of challenges, but we cannot take refuge in surrounding ourselves only with those who share our views.

I want a president who will cultivate empathy. Mr. President, you are well-educated, which means you understand complex issues. You are also advised by the brightest minds on the planet. But do not let that abstract reasoning ability cloud your ability to put yourself in another’s shoes. Treat everyone with respect and be accessible. Seek our views on policy issues, and not just for polling and focus groups to advance an agenda, but as you look to develop solutions to fundamental issues: creating good jobs, education, rebuilding our infrastructure, preserving our planet for future generations, and sustaining our health and welfare. Remember that governing isn’t a war—it’s a social contract.

End the war on women

Jenny Roberts

baby-clothes designer

I’ll never forget that night in 2008, watching the election news with my then-4-year-old son and my soon-to-be-born son dancing in my pregnant belly. My husband I toasted (with sparkling cider) the election and spoke of the generations of amazing people that helped to make this moment possible. This president-elect, Barack Obama, was dynamic and brilliant, and it thrilled me to no end that my boys would start their young lives out with a strong black leader in the Oval Office.

I could have never imagined, however, the backlash soon to unleashed as a war was launched on the mothers, sisters and daughters of our nation.

I’ve come to expect that reproductive rights will be debated in the months prior to an election. However, over the past four years, women’s health-care rights have been attacked, pounded and paraded around like never before. Planned Parenthood funding has been threatened, some states have tried to pass laws requiring transvaginal ultrasounds prior to an abortion, and, on more than one occasion, ridiculous statements on rape and conception have been broadcasted.

I hope the next president—regardless of who is elected—supports women by keeping personal medical decisions between a woman and her health-care provider.

Go balls to the wall

Libby Sanchez

legislative advocate

Four years ago, Mr. President, your election filled with us hope. Today, after unyielding intractability in the face of your increasing willingness to compromise, many of us are terrified that it may be dashed altogether by disappointment in campaign promises not delivered, and the drowning of already watered-down ideals.

Mr. President, my wish for this term is that you acknowledge what your constituents already know—that the opposition party has no interest whatsoever in compromise, and that it is now time for you to go balls to the wall in ensuring that our shared hope translates into real and positive change for working people. Multibillion-dollar corporations have their voice in Washington thanks to Citizens United, thanks to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and enactment of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which opened the doors to banking-security affiliations, and thanks to Wall Street regulation and campaign-finance laws, which would be laughable if they weren’t so destructively pathetic; we the people, have you, Mr. President, and we need you to be our voice—without compromise or apology.

Working people are having a really hard time. Not just because the good jobs—the ones that used to be a pathway into the middle class—have dried up, but also because the jobs that are left barely provide enough for folks to be able to eke out an existence. People—lots of people—are working two and three jobs, and still not making it. Several years ago, in testimony before California’s Industrial Welfare Commission, advocating on behalf of working people for an increase to the minimum wage, I included a personal reflection about the fact that I’d just given birth to my first child, wherein I provided the commission members a tally of the costs of the bare necessities of rearing an infant (you know, diapers, wipes, clothing, formula, baby food, day care, medical co-pays, etc.), along with a calculation which evidenced that on minimum wage, it would be mathematically impossible to be able to provide for one’s children and pay for life’s other necessities (you know, rent, electricity, food, etc.). That was in 2005, long before we’d seen the real economic downturn. Before benefits meant to help those in need were slashed to the bone. Before 16 percent of Americans were living at or below the poverty line, which for a family of four is $23,000 a year. Before 100 million people found themselves surviving on a household income of approximately $45,000 per year.

This isn’t the America I grew up in, the America in which my dad got to go to college on the GI Bill and I got to go to college and law school because his GI Bill education garnered him a middle-class job. There was hope then that regardless of the circumstances into which you were born, there was a pathway for a better future, for you and your children. That hope is all but lost now, Mr. President, but you can change that.

Mend the rift

Cathy Senderling-McDonald

deputy executive director, County Welfare Directors Association of California

In what turned out to be both my softball season opener and my season-ending game, I went down in the bottom of the first with a calf injury. Whether it’s a strain or a tear, I’ve yet to find out—an ultrasound was scheduled by the doctor I saw a couple days after. My total cost for all of this will be $20, my co-payment for the doctor visit.

It got me thinking about what might have happened if I didn’t have health insurance. Would I have even played softball in the first place? Maybe, maybe not. Would I just “tough out” the injury and not see a doctor, worried about the total cost of the bills I’d receive later in the mail? Probably so.

Women worry about their families, their communities, their careers. We should not have to worry about leaving an injury untreated due to a lack of health insurance. Nor should we have to worry about bankruptcy if a serious illness does occur to someone in our family.

I had hoped that the great lesson of the Great Recession would be simply this: There is no us, there is no them. Any of us could be plunged into poverty, if our previously stable jobs were downsized, our too-good-to-be-true mortgages turned out to be scams, and our homes turned out to be worth far less than we all thought. Any of us scrabbling to hang on to our middle-class existence could lose that handhold and slide down the cliff.

Instead, what I’ve seen in this country is a lot of anger toward the poor, and a vitriol levied toward those who seek government help. Whether it’s in the form of welfare-to-work assistance, food and nutrition assistance, or health care from Medicaid, the comments made about the people who seek such support have been shockingly inhumane at times. The Mitt Romney ad that states—incorrectly, by the way—that Obama’s administration wants to end work requirements in welfare programs is but just one easy example of turning “us” against “them.”

What I want to say to the next president is this: Your highest duty should be to set an example for this country that we are all in this together, to try to mend the increasingly deep rifts between the classes, the blue and red states, the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Without this leadership, the country will continue to founder and this recovery will grow even longer and more divisive. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remind and re-educate

Courtney Harmening

high-school senior

I want to see the president make a positive impact on people—and one controversial topic that needs to be addressed is that of sexual crimes. Women are taught not to dress “inappropriately.” If we dress in such a manner, there’s a huge chance of us being sexually assaulted. Males need to be reminded and re-educated that even if a woman is provocatively dressed, it is not an invitation for rape.

Focus on common sense and decency

Elizabeth Campbell


I am out of practice at writing letters to politicians. I’ve been busy the last few years having babies, raising daughters, earning a living. Some women become mothers and fall into political activism. Me, I’ve circled the family wagons and mostly shut out the political noise.

But Mr. President, we have a problem.

Sixteen years ago, I was angry. I was angry about abortion, and not in the way you might think. I was angry about the way that abortion politics dominated political discourse in this country. I was angry that abortion rights were still the defining “women’s issue,” as if women had nothing else to think about. Sixteen years ago, I disagreed with most pro-choice candidates on many issues—the death penalty, gay marriage—but I voted the Democratic ticket anyway, like every other woman I knew. Because of abortion.

And now it’s 2012, Roe v. Wade is nearly 40 years behind us, and people I know and love are worried every day about keeping their houses, paying for health care, winning the right to marry … and what are we talking about? Abortion.

And I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want this to be the dividing line in American politics, the us vs. them, the sticking point that keeps so many of us (on both sides of the issue!) voting down a party line.

But we keep talking about it, because a major political party has just adopted a platform that would outlaw abortions in all cases, including rape, incest and situations in which the mother’s life is at stake.

It would be a lot easier for me to stop talking about this if the matter weren’t literally one of life and death. I don’t want to tell you, Mr. President, that I am a survivor of a life-saving pregnancy termination. I want that story to be my own business, my own grief, my family’s grief. I don’t want to talk about the terrible series of events that led to the conclusion that we could terminate the pregnancy, lose our healthy and already loved son, or do nothing and lose both of us. I had a 3-year-old daughter; I made the only choice that any mother could. Under the Republican party platform of 2012, my son and I would both be dead.

I want this fight to be over. I want the protection of women’s lives and health and sanity and privacy and reproductive freedom to be common sense and simple decency. I don’t want to do this every four years anymore. I want to focus on your ideas for health care, I want to weigh your tax plans and read up on your ideas for getting us out of Afghanistan. I want to know how much longer we’re going to keep leaving kids behind with this standardized-testing experiment. I want to talk about the deficit. I want to know when we are going to repeal DOMA.

I want my daughters to grow up and solve problems, look forward, have real political choices. Hell, I want them to choose to be Republicans if that is where their hearts and minds lead them. I don’t want them endlessly on the defensive, watching their backs, voting the only way any sane woman can.

Bail out schools

Olivia Monahan


My 7-year-old daughter Estrella is not like other girls her age. She doesn’t listen to Justin Bieber or wear frilly dresses. She rocks out to the Pixies and wears an exorbitant amount of skulls on her clothes. She would rather sit inside drawing in her sketchbooks than be anywhere else. She wants to learn to play guitar. She designs clothes. She paints. She has creativity bursting at every seam.

But when she goes to school, the fire that perpetually burns in her is quelled by the lack of resources offered. She has no outlet in a place that’s supposed to nurture the very best out of her. Our school system is failing on multiple levels—too many to focus on in this letter. The arts, however, is where I see the most pressing issue. We have been so hell-bent on standardized-test scoring that I feel a huge part of our children is being ignored: It’s called the left side of their brain! It still exists! Please note how it is slowly rotting away in their skulls from lack of use. We as a nation sit idly by while varying levels of learning institutions constantly get their funding cut, yet we bail out corporations that weakened the foundation of our basic economic structure?

Of course, I understand that funding for schools is handled at a statewide level, but there has to be that moment where the blind eye we have collectively turned finally begins to see. The picture must become clear. Our schools can no longer fade into the background. Bail out our schools, Mr. President—build a new foundation. One where our children are encouraged. Nurtured. Appreciated. Let them know that they are worth it.

Gloria Ramirez, desk clerk at Quinn Cottages

Photo By shoka

Convince me

Gloria Ramirez

desk clerk, Quinn Cottages

I hope the next president will shine the light on the people who are trying to make their life better. I got really sick recently, and I’m on leave from my job, and I get disability benefits—$422 every two weeks.

My daughter, she just turned 8, and she keeps me focused. I’m a single mom taking care of her. She encourages me to put one foot in front of the other, and I try to encourage her, too, because she’s a sponge right now. I don’t want to her to exist in a world where life is so hard. I tell her, “Make sure you get an education. Be anything you want to be. Be your best, and you’ll go far.”

I’m going to vote, but right now, the candidates are just kind of repeating the same old thing—please convince me, that’s what I’m waiting for. You’ve got to stick to what you’re saying.