Last June, I was on a swing through California when I had the opportunity to do a small town hall in Los Angeles. Those are actually my favorite kinds of events. Big rallies are exciting, but I much prefer having conversations with people — hearing directly from them about what’s on their minds, then working together to think through what solutions might (or should) be available.
That night in L.A., I met a young woman named Chrissy Chambers, who went through an awful ordeal. Her ex-boyfriend secretly taped himself sexually assaulting her. After they broke up, he posted the video online without her permission or knowledge on more than 30 pornography sites. She said that the experience made her feel like she’d been “stripped of her dignity.” No one should have to endure something like that.
So Chrissy turned her personal humiliation into a powerful call to action. She organized nearly 200,000 people to petition Congress to strengthen laws against “revenge porn.” And now, the Congresswoman she petitioned, Rep. Jackie Speier, has introduced a bill seeking to criminalize revenge porn and protect the privacy of women like Chrissy.
Listening to Chrissy speak, I was bowled over by her bravery. After having the most private aspects of her life dragged across cyberspace, you could easily imagine her wanting to move on and forget the whole ordeal. Instead, in hopes of helping other women, she chose to tell her story.
I’ve seen that same spirit of courage and generosity reflected in so many young women I’ve met across the country.
I see it in Astrid, a young woman I met in Las Vegas last summer, and whom I was honored to invite to join us at the Democratic National Convention. She came to this country from Mexico at the age of 4 with nothing but a doll, a cross, and the frilly dress she was wearing. Now in her 20s, Astrid advocates for the rights of undocumented Americans all over the country.
I see it in Maxine, a young woman I met in New York City. She was a mom by the time she was 19, and she survived poverty and domestic violence to graduate from college and become a certified public accountant. We spoke together at a major campaign event where Max made a passionate case for young women — especially young women of color — to get involved in this election.
Women like Chrissy, Astrid, and Max embody the essence of the Methodist teachings I was raised on: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, for as long as ever you can.”
That impulse to do something when you see injustice — or experience it yourself — is something most women can relate to. I felt it myself as a law student spending time in a New Haven hospital with poor children who needed an advocate. I wondered where the justice was in a system that abandoned our most vulnerable citizens.
That question brought me to my friend and mentor, Marian Wright Edelman, a civil rights activist who founded the Children’s Defense Fund. She sent me to Dothan, Alabama to pose as a white parent looking to enroll my children in what was known as a “segregation academy” — a school that illegally refused to admit African-American children.
Well, I had never done anything like that before. They didn’t exactly teach undercover work at Wellesley. But I went toe-to-toe with that Alabama school’s administrator anyway — until he admitted that he didn’t accept black children. And once I saw the kind of research I had done included in a landmark report on segregation, I knew that I could never again watch injustice unfold when I could do something about it instead. So, when I graduated from law school, I told Marian that I would come and work for her.
Just as I felt the need to fight for children’s rights as a young woman, and just as Chrissy, Astrid and Max are waging their own fights today, young women all over this country know that the issues we’re fighting for in this campaign — from alleviating student loan debt, to preserving access to Planned Parenthood and abortion services, to fighting for equal pay and paid leave — are not theoretical.
They’re real fights that matter to your lives. You’re out there every day doing something about them. And learning from your efforts will make me a better president.
So, I want you to know that I see you.
I see you making the drive to a clinic 200 miles away.
I see you dropping your daughter off at daycare so you can make it to class on time.
I see you making the case to your boss for a long-overdue raise, even though you may worry about speaking up for what you deserve.
I see the difference you’re making in the world, in your own lives, and in the lives of the people you love.
And if I have the opportunity, I’ll do whatever I can to make things a little easier for you.
Just because you can and do wage these fights doesn’t mean you should have to.