On Election Day of 1984, I was a seven year old girl excited to have a day off from school. My mother, thirty years older, was a mixture of emotions. She was looking very forward to reporting to her polling place, my elementary school, and voting for the all but certain loser – Walter Mondale. She was also nervous.
Tuesday was her house cleaning day; she tended to several homes in the neighborhood for $3 an hour. But on this Tuesday, her services weren’t needed. People were home to clean their humble abodes; at least this was true in theory.
As a third grader who participated in mock lever pulling, I understood the importance of Election Day. I knew who was running for President. I knew Geraldine Ferraro could make history as our nation’s first Madame Vice President. I knew Ronald Reagan would win. My mother told me as we walked to PS 186.
“Mom, if Mondale’s gonna lose, why are you voting for him?” This seemed like a fairly reasonable question.
“He’s a Democrat. The Democrats are for the poor. The Republicans are for the rich.” This seemed like a fairly reasonable answer. It also shined a light on something I already knew – we were poor.
My mother was a single parent. Truly single. My father was not providing child support. Rick Santorum will be happy to know that she did not consider having an abortion. In retrospect, I’m also happy she believed in my personhood. Though she worked for large- scale companies most of her life, the 80s were not a decade conducive to working mothers. Bosses weren’t too keen on women putting family first. Hence, Mom literally scrubbed floors. She also received food stamps.
This week, we heard a lot of noise from the Right labeling Barack Obama the “Food Stamp President”. The overall racial connotation is obvious and unfortunately not surprising in an election that has consistently been touted by candidates on the Right as the most critical since 1860. However, it is also a calculated deflection from a topic that has largely been ignored relative to Newt Gingrich’s “Food Stamp” assertion. I’m talking about poverty.
My mom is a white, non-practicing Catholic who grew up in an Irish and German family. She is the furthest thing from the Reagan fictional stereotype “Welfare Queen”. She is semi-retired at 65 collecting just over $600 a month in Social Security benefits. She continues working as a nanny for a family in New York. And like she did when I was a child, she receives food stamps. This is not something she boasts about, a strange source of pride or a feeling like she’s getting one over on the system.
Hearing Newt Gingrich refer to Barack Obama as the “Food Stamp President” gave me pause. You would think it would have made me angry at Gingrich but this is language I’ve come to expect from the GOP. No, my anger was fueled by remembering the extent of my mother’s involvement in the 2008 Presidential Campaign.
She was electrified, fired up by the prospect of having a revolutionary, reformist leader of the free world. At 62, she worked the national phone banks from Coney Island and successfully changed the minds of voters in key battleground states. She bought in. She was eager for change we could all believe in.
We were watching MSNBC the other day, another day full of Romney money goofs and Gingrich ex-wife tell-alls. I asked her who would get her vote in November. For the first time, she couldn’t give me a Democratic answer.
“Democrats used to be for the poor but they’re all the same now.”
Wall Street is on the upswing. The destruction of the lower and middle classes is present on both sides of the political spectrum. 1% profits have never been greater and food stamp lines have never been longer. If Barack Obama is the “Food Stamp President”, it is not for lack of effort on the part of my mother and thousands of men and women like her to bring about a different reality.
The excitement of 2008, even 1984, will be hard to come by in my family this year.