“We’re not voting on issues in this election, we’re voting values,” senior advisers to the Obama campaign said Wednesday in a conference on women’s issues in the 2012 presidential race that included big names from both Hollywood and D.C. “It’s not political, it’s personal.” This was the focus of staffers and supporters sitting at the roundtable.
Among them, reproductive justice advocate and Georgetown Law graduate Sandra Fluke, who endorsed Obama publicly Thursday, actresses Elizabeth Banks and Nia Long, and equal-pay advocate Lily Ledbetter.
“Women vote their values. How many women do you hear say, Oh, I’m not political’ but they have really strong opinions?,” Kate Chapek, National Women’s Vote Director for Obama for America, added.
Understanding this, the Obama campaign is gathering women to share their life stories on all issues. Take Sandra Fluke, who became familiar to many Americans earlier this year when she testified to a Congressional panel on contraception coverage policy and was later publicly called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh. Her concern about women’s insurance coverage actually began several years ago on the Georgetown campus, she detailed.
Explaining her Obama endorsement, she said, “In each of [the] issues that are critical to women, I see no leadership from Romney. I see leadership from President Obama. Obviously, Governor Romney is not looking for my vote.”
Actor Elizabeth Banks says Obama will be getting her vote, too. And it’s family planning that has the new-ish mom “all riled up.”
While battling infertility, Banks says her insurance would not cover the medications she says were necessary to “make my son.”
“I was trying to make a life, to bring a beautiful, gorgeous life into this world,” Banks told the roundtable, “I used contraception to make a baby.” [Banks is referring to the use of birth control pills in conjunction with IVF treatments.]
The stories continued for the women raising their hand in favor of the Democratic candidate. Here’s what Nia Long, fair pay activist Lily Ledbetter, Sandra Fluke and Elizabeth Banks went on to share:
Nia Long: The single mom by choice
“I have always been fearless to talk about the things that are true to me,” said actor Nia Long, who said the roundtable was her first political event. “I’ve seen a lot in my lifetime and experienced a lot in my lifetime and I would feel it would be selfish to not talk about it,” she said.
Raised by a single mother who drove a city bus and taught school, Long is also a single mother who is adamant about her choice to not get married, how hard she works to pay for private-school tuition for her son, and how she saves to ensure he will be college educated.
“I looked around one day and realized my life was like my mom’s, except I was a little bit famous,” Long says of being the breadwinner. “[But] don’t think just because your famous, you’re rich.”
She will be voting — and speaking out — not just because she has an audience, but because she is a woman and a mother.
“I don’t want to get married! I don’t think that makes me any less of a woman or mother. It’s not my reality,” Long said. “I think that part of it is that too many women have outgrown the mold — how we are defined is no longer true to who we are.”
And what if her fans don’t like what she’s saying or that she’s now political?
“If there is backlash, it’s all good,” she said, smiling. “I’m from Brooklyn.”
Lily Ledbetter: Grandmother and activist
“I am a grandmother from Alabama. I was born and reared in one of the poorest areas of Alabama,” explained Lily Ledbetter, name-holder of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. She began, telling the story of discriminatory pay practices by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. that led her to a Supreme Court fight and more than a decade of activism for equal pay for women.
One day in the factory, one anonymous note detailing pay differentials changed her life. The realization she was earning 40% less than her male counterparts left her devastated and humiliated. Taking a stand took her life for a sharp turn, and she says she’s been candid in sharing that with President Obama. Still, women earn 77-cents to a man’s dollar.
“I told him he gave me and awesome burden and awesome responsibility” Ledbetter explained of her work to encourage youth to vote, one that she never foresaw for herself.
Elizabeth Banks: Struggling post-graduate
Growing up in Massachusetts in a family of factory workers, Banks said she was “very, very lucky” to have a quality education at public schools. When she went on to an Ivy League college, “it was a group effort, a full family effort.”
She recalls not feeling like she could get excited about her acceptance into college until she received the loan package assuring her that her family could afford to send her. After school, Banks said, “My healthcare provider was Planned Parenthood of America.”
While waiting for her SAG card and the insurance it provides, Banks said she held on to the work ethic of her upbringing every time she visited Planned Parenthood for exams, mammograms and birth control. The sliding scale, complete with a ruler outlining payments, was the reminder for her.
“I always gave a little more money [than the ruler suggested],” Banks remembered, “because I thought, I have more than others.’”
Sandra Fluke: Outspoken student
When Fluke tapped women on campus to talk about how the lack of contraceptive coverage impacted them, she receivedmany handwritten stories scribbled on the back of surveys. Among them, the story of one woman who had to have an ovary removed since she could not afford the birth-control pills necessary to manage her polycystic ovarian syndrome.
And while 65% respondents to her survey said they rely on the pill for medical needs, Fluke asserts that women deserve the opportunity to be sexually active, choose and use contraception that is covered by insurance without demonization.
“This is not pot,” Fluke pointed out. “It’s contraception.
As for the “Get Out the Slut Vote” movement that followed Fluke’s testimony and backlash, she said a rebuttal about her “sluttiness” was unnecessary.
“We want to keep contraceptive needs private,” she said, segueing personal to political once again. “But if we are not having the conversation, someone else is having it for us.”
What’s your story? What matters to you in this election? Tell me in the comments below!
Jessica Ashley is author of the single-mom-in-the-city blog, Sassafrass, the mother of a a Lego-obsessed son, daughter of underground political activists and has a master’s degree in Women Studies. She is a parenting and healthy living expert and former senior editor at Yahoo! Shine whose writing has appeared on AOL, ParentsConnect, CarePages, and Huffington Post.