(I debated writing this post because I wrote it in a dramatic and overemotional state, which when you read it, you’ll understand why I felt this might’ve hindered my argument. But I hope that it comes across as passion and conviction rather than hurt feelings and rage-against-the-man. Enjoy. ((Also I’m just a person; all opinions are my own and do not reflect those of the candidates mentioned))
Last Saturday, I found myself in a parking garage in downtown Indy on the phone with my mom. I was filling her in on the dramatic day I had just had when I realized that I was kind of shouting and joking and then crying all in quick progression. I was openly weeping, feeling like a blender was just turned on in my stomach. I drove home, shouting every bad insult about Indiana I possibly could muster. Those corn-growing, Nascar-loving, Trump-supporting jerks just let go of the best thing that could’ve happened to this wasted fly-over state.
I felt the sting of humiliation, injustice, and anger in such a furious way as I had never before. It felt like several past experiences were all just a part of a Venn diagram with this exact moment converging in the middle.
This was the day I, a rather outspoken liberal, volunteered at a campaign for Indiana Attorney-General at the state GOP delegate convention.
It started with a visit from one of the founders of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Defense and current assistant Attorney-General, Abby Kuzma. Abby knows my family well and had worked with my aunt when Ang was practicing law. Their pro-bono clinic worked with everyone from refugees to victims of sex trafficking to ex-offenders wanting to meaningfully reenter society. Abby told us that she wanted to take her ideals of broad-reaching justice to the state level in a way that the AG office has never done before. She had a vision of justice being expanded, speaking eloquently for her heart for consumer protection, those suffering from foreclosure, heroin abuse (which is huge in Indiana and absolutely destroying families), and especially waging war against sex trafficking.
It was almost like meeting Beyoncé. Here was a woman who had spent her career being a voice for the voiceless and deliberately learning what the issues everyday Hoosiers are facing; she’s passionate, knowledgable, and ready to act and defend. I was so shocked; there was actually someone who was on the front lines fighting for social justice who was unrelentingly genuine and was a REPUBLICAN and a WOMAN?! What?! I found myself convicted to help volunteer for her campaign because after looking at the other candidates, she was the most qualified and already had binder-fulls of ideas. She’s literally Leslie Knope. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD NOT SUPPORT LESLIE NOPE???!
Abby campaigned all around Indiana and finally it was time for the delegates to vote. (By the way, does everyone know how the state education superintendent and AG get slated? It’s by delegates at the party convention; so to have your say for these positions, you have to vote for assenting delegates. Fun fact, I know). As I’m handing out flyers with Abby’s info on it to some 1600 delegates from all across Indiana the day before the vote, I begin to notice something…
The delegates are overwhelmingly nearly all white, middle-aged, varying degrees of middle-class, and mostly male. Some of them are so eccentric they remind me of these random townspeople from the classic Hoosier show Parks and Rec.
And some of them clearly have not done their job. Even though they were all called to the capital to vote, some didn’t do any research on the four different candidates. They were in it purely for the swag and the shallow interaction with big names.
They were strutting around the convention center like they owned it, and walked past me giving me creepy winks and weird nudges. I wished I would’ve gotten a dollar for every weird experience that made me uncomfortable there (two bucks for every blatant leer). I even got poked in the chest by one inscrutable old white man. My poor mom had some weird country delegate come up to her and complain they didn’t want their grandbabies to deal with the transgenders “having their peckers in the women’s bathroom” (honest-to-God).
It was hours of me having to smile and wanting to talk up Abby, and realizing that there was a wall of ignorance and condescension blocking her success. I was appalled by other women delegates putting her down. I was appalled by the fact that one of the candidates was standing before me shaking hands but did not once talk about his platform’s ideas. I was also appalled that the same candidate, who had a huge financial backing from a few wealthy supporters, had the mother of all campaigns. He had an army self-important paid college “volunteers” who wore headsets and had such great numbers that most of them stood around bored and dejected. The pettiness between volunteers was worse than shallowness of the other candidates (ONE OF THEM STOLE MY CHAIR AND IT WAS VERY CHILDISH BUT THAT’S NEITHER HERE NOR THERE).
I was gratefully encouraged by the small but mighty amount of women and men who were voting for her or working on her campaign who were very kind and equally passionate.
The next day, I went downtown to the convention to hold a sign at the vote. I was already kind of freaked out by my experience, but watching the personalized video from Donald Trump (“Indiana gave me HUGE support. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten this far. I love Indiana! Tremendous!” *vomit*) put me over the edge. I’m happy to report that half of the audience did not participate in the standing ovation the other half gave. I felt like some Democrat spy (although I’m really just a girl standing in front of any political party asking them to be moderate and consider working across the aisle).
All four candidates had a few minutes to speak. Two were so forgettable I feel like they kind of accidentally joined the race, like they just kind of found themselves on stage talking. The big money name gave his speech. It was a rehashing of the entire morning’s speeches by senators and the governor, pandering to the anti-Obama sentiment and fear-mongering about bathrooms and Hillary. There was a weird bit where he kind of attacked single mother households saying “all boys need to call their father their hero” which could’ve been a nice sentiment if it was reworded and relevant. Not a single strategy was mentioned.
When Abby went up, she spoke about everything she wanted to do and all the programs she wanted to keep the momentum up on. She had to inform the convention that yes, sex trafficking was real, yes, it was happening in their own counties/state, and if she wasn’t elected, who had the years of expertise and passion to keep the battle going?
The voting took half an hour and at the end, her astonishing defeat was recounted. She had lost by nearly 25% to the third-ranked candidate. I was stunned by the humiliation that my state didn’t even consider the female candidate. While I can’t directly tell you that sexism caused her defeat, IT TOTALLY WAS A CONTRIBUTING FACTOR. Indiana has never had a woman serve as AG nor governor, with only 20% women in state legislature.
All I heard, loudly in that moment, was that Indiana does not want women to climb the ladder. It’s okay for you to be in education and women’s matters, but dear lord, know your place is not at the top with the big boys.
The man who won GOP AG nomination is most famous for a case in which he prosecuted four teenagers to the full extent of the law to sixty years for a botched home invasion which resulted in one of the group’s death. The homeowner who killed the boy was not convicted. The case ended up being appealed with punishment going down to forty-five years. Indiana chose someone who built his reputation on attacking disenfranchised juvenile delinquents instead of a woman who, a few weeks before, eloquently told me of her hopes to reform the way we treat juvenile delinquents with humanity and mercy (which proves to lower recidivism rates). It kind of felt like Darth Vader had won and Luke went back home to Tatooine to return working at his pro-bono legal clinic.
In the end, Abby lost. The state of Indiana lost. I felt like I had lost, perhaps my hope in politics as a redeeming or protective force. I felt the residual sting of my mom’s failed state congress campaign in which she faced blatant sexism and went against a man whose pockets were endlessly deep. I felt the humiliation of every single time the press decided to mock Hillary’s unfemineinity or looks instead of analyzing her words. I felt the statistic after statistic I learned in my Women in Politics class about just how far the US drags in gender equality in government representation. I felt like we let capable candidates waste their time and effort because of our crooked campaign finance laws. I felt it all.
I cried in the parking garage after it was over, joking to my mom that it felt like I had endured minor sexual harassment for nothing and that I wished that Abby didn’t have morals and would’ve just bought the vote like her opponent did. I got so angry, I gleefully rejoiced when I saw this headline (“Three Republic Delegates Arrested for Drunken Encounter with Police“) unfairly cementing every stereotype I believed about the state GOP.
It took me days to get over it. I realize now that this whole experience pissed me off so much that I know now that I can’t walk away from politics or people whose politics I really, really disagree with. I can’t write off a whole party because of the audacity of a few unenlightened delegates as it does a disservice to the multitude of earnest and good members as well as my tendency to wrongly equate national and state party politics as one in the same. It also is easy but incorrect to think that pandering doesn’t happen at the Democratic convention as well.
If I get discouraged and give up on it, then what if Abby does? Or the girl who is deciding her major and thinking about politics? Or the girl on the debate team and Model UN? Or the girl who dreams of becoming an activist? If they don’t get representation, how will they be encouraged to run? Right now, the US is on track to have equal representation in government by 2121 (Institute for Women’s Policy Research). If I don’t get pissed off and work to support qualified, passionate women despite the gross, pervy old men, they win! Over my dead body.
I just took my LSAT. If I decide on law school (fingers-crossed I get in!), I want to have a career that is half as authentic, inspirational, and fierce as Abby’s. In the end, her goodness prevailed. And I’m still happy and proud to have done my part to support all the morals I believe in.
As the famous quote by Margaret Thatcher says:
In politics, if you want to have something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.
As I look around my state that I tenderly hate/love, I want something done. I want it done for the struggling public schools, the victims of sex traffic, our embarrassingly weak consent laws, the overprescribing doctors, the victims of identity theft, and the girls who yearn to see capable, powerful women in politics.
I want something done.