And because he knows people well and he has stayed connected to people, [he has] incredible foresight. In 2015, we were at the congressional black caucus annual legislative conference. It was my first conference. After the last panel, I was taking him back from the event center to his office building and there was a lot of traffic. We’re sitting in this Uber, and I get a 17-minute lecture, in 2015, about why Donald Trump will not only win the Republican primary, but the presidency. He laid it all out for me. He understood the economic anxiety that people were having and world politics and all that stuff to the point that he could not only just predict it, but explain the reasons for it. That’s incredible. It shows me that I need to have my ear always to the people in my community and not only to the people that can make it from the community to the capital. Because when voices are missing from the table, those are the ones that don’t get heard. Anything you do for us, without us, you do to us, as Keith likes to say.
I’m realistic, but I’m very grounded and rooted in my optimism. And because of that optimism and because I have such reverence for what our representative bodies do, I don’t let a lot of criticism outside of the actual work get to me. It’s just so irrelevant, it’s laughable. That’s where I was at during the campaign. Sure, talk about my marriage. Concern yourself with that. But when there are parents who are choosing not to eat so their kids can, no one cares who I’m married to or what pictures I put on Twitter. When families are facing housing instability, they don’t care what religion I practice or what the color of my skin is or who my parents married. When teachers can’t teach their students because there are so many out-of-school factors that are affecting their classrooms, those teachers don’t care about my political ideology. They want to know if I’m standing up for their students and their right to an education. So, any criticism of me that’s outside of those conversations—it’s irrelevant and it feels irrelevant to me. When someone is trying to tear me down, I’m just like, “Go! Fine. But you’re not contributing. You’re not helping. You’re not being part of these conversations. So, go stand in the corner and yell. If you’re not going to help, then get out of the way.”
I think it was Chelsea Clinton who once said in this interview with Chelsea Handler, “I take serious criticism from serious people seriously.” It resonated with me because it gave words, language, to how I’ve always treated criticism. I grew up in a very white community, and I’m not white. Society is pretty straight, and I’m not [straight]. We still live in a very male-dominated culture, and I’m a woman. I’ve pretty much grown up in a place where I’m always having to assert, prove, and fight for my right to exist in people’s eyes. Which is why it’s always been important to me to be open to hearing from people who think differently, people who live differently, people who worship differently, people who are different from me in any way. I stretch myself on purpose in both capacity and thought, to be around people who don’t think, act, or look like me or have the same experiences as me. Because that’s how we do this better together.
I’m always having to assert, prove, and fight for my right to exist in people’s eyes.
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At the same time, no one can handle everything on their own. I can never recommend enough that people go to therapy, whether it’s licensed or just with friends because especially women of color, we need a space to just kind of let that out. To just say, “Oh my god, here are the 15 micro-aggressions that happened today, and I just had to sit there and take it.”
Peggy Flanagan, who’s a representative with me, Lindsey Port, who ran in the district next to mine, Erin Murphy, who used to be our majority leader, Rena Moran, and I could go on and on—we would meet just to be in community with each other and have that space. I’m on this text chain and thread with a few of the other freshman legislators, and we’ll text each other and be like, “Here’s what happened to me today. Can you believe this?” And we have the POCI, the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus. We meet to talk about how we can support each other. It’s so necessary to have that outlet.
I’ve learned to protect my bubble, that untouchable part of my life where none of the bad stuff is welcome. And for me, that’s home, that’s time with my wife and our really, really ridiculous dog, that’s time with my family. My wife works in the field, too. She’s the Midwest organizing manager for Every Town for Gun Safety and Mom’s Demand Action. We both work in a field where we do serious stuff every single day. We need to [relax]. We cook, and that’s fun. We love standup comedy, so we see a lot of comedy shows. If we didn’t have things that were outside of all the serious stuff that we deal with, it would be too much. My advice is to find what sustains you, what makes you happy. Commit to that and work it in on purpose. It’s super important to learn how to say no, too, and most of all to find allies who will stand up and have your back. At a certain point, when it’s me always stepping in to point out that some comment is homophobic, people stop taking it seriously. I’ve found people who can be that voice for me. And I pass that on. So, when someone makes a negative comment toward native people, I can stand up and have their back.