Jessica U. is Raising Our Future

Jessica Umthun is a founding member of Raising Our Future.

I followed the election closely. I talked about it a lot. In rural Iowa, I was lucky to have a bastion of fellow progressives surrounding me at work. Physician immigrants and green card holders, the spouse of an Irish immigrant, the wife of a retired Navy man, the parents of children with dual citizenship, healthcare professionals, lots of them women, born and raised here who had an eye on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.

I watched both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National convention in their entireties. Every minute of every debate. Live streaming at work, against company policy. While on the elliptical at the gym. Through ear buds on my phone while I put my daughter to bed each night. The whole time participating in virtual watch parties with my internet friends from all over the globe. Please understand the commitment this takes from someone with a 3 year old, a full time job, and the exhaustion of pregnancy.

I was riding a wave of hope and enthusiasm for our future. I was playing Fight Song on repeat, the DNC video was nightly viewing at the request of our 3 year old. Three year olds love repetition, and this was a time I was happy to oblige. Over, and over, and over. Covertly filming her from the doorway as she sang along, her eyes intently watching the video on YouTube. At 27 weeks pregnant, I took her with me to vote, stopping to take the photo included with this post. That entire day, she was enthusiastically informing everyone “I’M GONNA GO VOTING!” I tried earnestly to explain what it meant to vote. What it meant to be president. And then what it meant to be a country. Scrambling to keep pace with that mushrooming stream of questions at which preschoolers excel.

We turned on Fight Song in the car on our way. Tears welled in my eyes, spilling over and streaming down my cheeks, as I focused on her sweet voice belting out the lyrics from the back seat. She was going to have this world of hope and progress. And I was going to do everything I could to give it to her. This kid, the one I’ve taught to answer gendered comments with “boys and girls can be/do/choose whatever they want.” She was going to get to live in that from the beginning. My power’s turned on. Starting right now, I’ll be strong.

That night, I tucked her into bed, read her a story, and then popped in my ear buds so I could follow along in the darkness of her room as the precinct results were tallied. I sit next to her at night until she falls asleep. This is a sleep crutch of my own making, and one that countless parents understand. But it wasn’t going to interfere with my plans to keep watching.

You know what happened next. Around 10:30, I turned away from CSPAN, CNN, PBS as the tide began to change. I was a bundle of nerves. I left the virtual watch party with my internet friends. I turned on a made for TV Christmas movie in hopes of a pleasant distraction. I cried. Eventually, I turned off the TV. I felt my unborn son kicking. I held my daughter as she slept (in our bed now. I mentioned her sleep is a disaster). And I cried. I felt my heart rate increasing. I felt my blood pressure rocketing. I felt that gnawing pit of anxiety in my stomach. I tossed and turned, as best as my pregnant body would allow. At midnight, I got out of bed and went to find my night owl husband, still awake in the living room. I cried. I panicked. I shivered with nerves and fear. I hyperventilated. My husband looked at me, unsure of how exactly to respond. Eventually, I was able to go back to bed, if not to sleep.

Early the next morning, I walked in to work, locked eyes with a co-worker, and we both began to tear up. Our normally jovial and boisterous group was subdued, quieted by shock, anger, and dismay. Later that day, work paused as we turned on the TV to watch Hillary’s concession speech. I cried again.

A few days later, my daughter asked to hear Fight Song. For the first time, I told her no. My heart couldn’t take it. I couldn’t face hearing her, hearing that hope and determination, and attempt to reconcile that with reality.

I refused to watch the inauguration. At nine months pregnant, I had reached the point of self-preservation. I needed to ignore reality for a minute, to focus on this baby coming. To figure out how to carve out a life I believe in, in a country that felt like a betrayal. In a country full of people who had just stood up and said I didn’t matter. I didn’t matter as a woman. As a parent. As a professional. As a human being. I am a nobody. But this was the moment when I realized what that really meant.

And then, one of those internet friends, Matt Erwin, posted something that sent shockwaves through my tired body. Let’s start a damn PAC. Let’s DO something. Let’s take our fear, our outrage, our motivation and channel it into action. Let’s do it for our kids. Let’s be nobody together. Let’s give the nobodies like us a voice. Yes. Yes.

We set up an organizing call. On a weeknight, after we would hopefully be done with dinners, baths, homework, bedtimes. I’ve never put my daughter to bed so fast, crossed my fingers so hard, hoping she’d fall asleep easily. And in the exact opposite reaction of a three year old every single time you really need them to sleep, she actually slept. I pushed aside thoughts of bed, thoughts of being 9 months pregnant and exhausted, thoughts of work the next morning. I dialed in. Messages rolled in from members tied up with kids and life, calling in with kids talking in the background. It hit me again. This is a group of parents. This is a powerful thing. I kicked off my participation by asking how to mute my phone. I can blame pregnancy. I can blame the hour. I can blame the fact that I was still working 9-10 hour days, mere days before my due date because I was desperate to protect the cobbled together plan of exhausting my PTO and short term disability benefit in order to get time off after the baby came.  I can blame a dependence on GoToMeeting. Where is my option to press *6? Matt patiently asked if I was using an iPhone. Oh. Right. Just use that regular mute button. I promised my internet friends that my future contributions would be more competent and intelligent, and then muted my phone successfully.

And just like that, we started a damn PAC, the Raising Our Future Political Action Committee, or ROFPAC. I mean, there was a lot more to it, but it became real that night. And here we are. We’re doing this. We’re taking action. My kids are still going to live in that world of hope and progress and equality and a strong public school system. Because dammit, a lot of dedicated good people, dedicated good parents, dedicated good nobodies, are going to move the earth to make it happen. And nothing has the power or focus of outraged parents raising the future.

I wrote this last night. This morning, out of nowhere, my daughter asked for Fight Song as I drove her and her 5 month old brother to daycare. And I cranked it up loud. Together, we belted it out and I felt that hope and determination for the future bubbling up once again. This is our fight song. Take back our life song…My power’s turned on.