Marginalized, Unsheltered and Isolated: Invisible Homeless Women

Homelessness is a chronic issue in the United States, particularly in our major cities. Despite our expansive financial resources, thousands of people fall through the cracks each year due to addiction, mental illness, or sheer economic necessity. As such, homelessness is a sort of “canary in the coalmine” for problems in our social safety net. When the infrastructure doesn’t work, people end up on the streets.

The scary reality is that, in modern America, many people are only one unforeseen event–an illness, losing a job, a sudden rent hike–from homelessness. Many are not addicts or mentally ill. They simply couldn’t afford to have a home. That economic reality has endangered a fast-growing population: homeless women and children.

Women are 35% more likely to live in poverty than men, thanks to a compounding set of economic factors. The gender pay gap means that women often take home less pay, and women’s societal role as primary caregivers means that they often have more mouths to feed. These conditions keep women in a vulnerable economic limbo. Coupled with an affordable housing crisis in major cities, women face a daunting path in the face of economic downturn. A single unforeseen event could push these working women onto the streets before they have a chance to make a contingency plan.

Furthermore, the factors that drive women into homelessness differ from their male counterparts. The majority of homeless women (63%) are survivors of domestic abuse, and 1 in 4 reports domestic violence as the main factor in their homelessness. Women who are out of the workforce and rely on abusive partners financially are at high risk for unstable housing after leaving an abusive relationship. These women are forced to make the impossible decision of choosing homelessness rather than enduring continued domestic violence.

While all homeless people are exposed to violence and uncertainty, homeless women are particularly vulnerable. They are far more likely to experience sexual violence. Up to 92% of homeless women have experienced severe sexual or physical assault at some point in their lives.Not having a home often means sleeping in male-dominated shelters. Homeless women have very little access to healthcare and maternal care, should they become pregnant. They are lacking even simple supplies like pads or tampons for their basic health needs. The physical and emotional toll of this daily trauma becomes physically damaging. The average homeless woman in her mid-fifties is as physiologically aged as housed women in their seventies.

Institutional barriers to women’s economic independence fit into the larger picture of misogyny and sexism in the United States. It is no coincidence that the US has the largest number of homeless women amongst developed world nations. Where other countries would provide support structures to ensure women’s safety and provide for their economic well-being in times of need, the United States allows them to fall into dangerous conditions that are near-impossible to overcome. If a society cannot protect its women and children, there is something seriously wrong.

We need to create policies and support institutions that provide people–particularly women and children–with footholds to stop their fall into homelessness. People in economically tenuous positions should not be one bad day away from homelessness. That sort of slippery slope is dangerous for the citizen and expensive to taxpayers. Once someone becomes homeless, it is exceedingly difficult to rehouse and re-stabilize their lives. The economic and social cost can be mitigated greatly by intervening at the earlier stages.

© Carmen Schaye

It Takes A Woman: Connecting and Empowering Voters Through Social Media

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decided to run against Joe Crowley in the democratic primary, she saw an opening: despite being a leading democrat in Washington, Crowley was too out of touch, too comfortable, and too removed from his constituency. She ran her campaign straight at Crowley’s weak spots, fostering a direct, emotional connection to the people of her district. She was out knocking on doors, handing out flyers, meeting the people who would be casting a ballot. And at the same time, she was building her skill-set of direct engagement through a different avenue: social media.

Since she defeated Crowley and coasted to a general election victory in 2018, AOC has demonstrated the enormous political power inherent in social media. Rather than tailor her messaging through carefully focus-grouped campaign ads, AOC’s social media posts can be funny, angry, playful, or indignant. In short, they are oddly human. They sound like the impassioned thoughts and opinions of a young progressive with witty comebacks and a comfort with internet vernacular.

She is also native to the idea of reinforcing her own “brand”. This past week, AOC went back to work as a bartender in Jackson Heights, Queens in order to support the #raisethewage campaign to raise the national minimum wage to $15. The videos of her bartending went viral, giving a huge boost to the campaign. In the videos, she speaks as she prepares drinks for patrons: “The federal tipped minimum wage is $2.13 an hour. That is unacceptable. Any job that pays $2.13 an hour is not a job. It’s indentured servitude. All labor has dignity and the way that we give labor dignity is by paying people the respect and the value that they are worth at minimum.” Far from hiding from her past as a service worker, AOC uses it as her bona fides in speaking for the poor and middle class. Working as a bartender demonstrates her intelligence in using her own platform and story to bolster a national issue that could benefit millions of Americans.

AOC’s uncanny candidness has cemented her status as a disruptive force to be reckoned with in the democratic party. Unlike many of her colleagues who must fight to have their message heard, she can easily command attention and demand action from her massive social media following. In her short time in office, she has already championed the Green New Deal, which failed to pass the Senate, yet has more name recognition than any progressive legislation (if not legislation writ large) in recent memory. Conservatives discuss the Green New Deal breathlessly, demonizing its regulation of the free market. Progressives applaud its steps towards combatting climate change and creating jobs. Whether you love her or hate her, AOC has forced a landmark bill into the conversation as a first-term congresswoman. That is a monumental paradigm shift.

It is important to note that AOC has carved out in this niche in the shadow of another social media renegade: President Donald Trump. President Trump’s rise to power is inconceivable without his runaway twitter antagonism. He weaponized the access that twitter gave him to create a constant swirl of attention around himself and his candidacy for president—insulting and demeaning anyone that criticized him, from his primary opponents to news anchors to late night comedians. He effectively commands attention by proving just how low he will go in order to stay in the news cycle. And, to our great national dismay, the media has proved more than willing to follow his lead. Just like AOC, whether you love him or hate him, Donald Trump has completely shifted the paradigm of modern politics.

The phenomenon of politics via social media is not going away anytime soon. Insofar as we can prepare for a future in which getting elected to office means commanding a massive social media following, we can look to AOC and President Trump as concrete examples for the power and danger in this new type of power. For each, social media provides a means of side-stepping the powers-that-be to speak directly to an audience. Donald Trump did not need to wait for a debate to call Jeb Bush “low energy”; AOC does not need to filibuster on the floor of Congress to advocate for a national minimum wage. The force of their personalities, channeled through their social media accounts, allows them to set the agenda for the day.

It seems clear that President Trump will not use this power responsibly. AOC, however, is cognizant of its power and the risks of overuse. “I actually think that social media poses a public health risk to everybody,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She added, ” I think it has effects on everybody: increased isolation, depression, anxiety, addiction, escapism.” How she proceeds to use her platform will be interesting to say the least, and will likely set a precedent for how politicians of the future wield the power of their social media to promote themselves and their ideas.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

Is the United States Hostile Territory For Women?

A 2018 study by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation ranked the countries where women are most endangered by violence, coercion, and subjugation. India was ranked as the most dangerous country on earth for women, followed by countries like Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia.

Also included on the list: The United States of America. After the surge of #metoo and #timesup allegations, voters in the survey felt that the US was hostile territory for women. The US tied for third when respondents were asked where women were most at risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex.

Thomson-Reuters polled 548 aid professionals, academics, healthcare staff, policymakers, and social commentators across Europe, Africa, the Americas, South East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific. The US was the only Western democracy in the top ten, marking a new low in our global reputation as a protector of human rights; when half of the population is at risk of violence, our status as a world leader on human rights is dubious at best. “People want to think income means you’re protected from misogyny, and sadly that’s not the case,” said Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence.

While abortion rights were not considered as part of the survey, they certainly fit into this larger picture. This past week, Alabama passed a law that forbade abortions past six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. This draconian law exhibits a flagrant disregard for the wellbeing and life of a woman, as she is forced to carry a pregnancy that is the byproduct of rape to term. Even in countries like Russia and China, where civil rights are impinged upon with regularity, abortion remains available to all women up to twelve weeks.  Where other first-world countries make strides towards equality, the United States continues to lurch backwards to further restrict and complicate women’s healthcare and bodily autonomy.

The unfortunate fact is that there is a strain of misogyny built into the culture and legal framework in the United States. Tracing the lineage of that thinking is difficult, but certainly borrows a good deal from religion. Though a secular nation by definition, the US has always employed religious thinking to relegate women to a secondary role in society.  For instance, the belief that life begins at conception is a relatively modern belief, having been mobilized after Roe v. Wade became law in 1973.  Before that, many Christians believed that abortion was not sinful, and in fact wanted to organize to protect it. In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention agreed “to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and…evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” (SBC – St. Lous, Missouri, 1971).

In the wake of Roe, however, the use of abortion as a political issue proved massively effective and became the central, if not sole, issue for many conservative voters. The power of abortion is certainly fueled by some voters’ desire to protect the lives of unborn children, but is also undeniably reflective of a societal desire to control women’s bodies. Outlawing abortion removes a woman’s ability to define her own life. Prioritizing the unborn fetus over the autonomy of the pregnant woman demonstrates a contempt for women’s sexual freedom and civil liberty.

Having said that, it would be hypocritical to highlight abortion without acknowledging that the scourge of #timesup and #metoo allegations are predominantly the doing of well-educated, metropolitan liberals. The rampant abuse by men in positions of power demonstrates that even in environments committed to equality and inclusion, women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances and coercion. These men build trust and goodwill by donating to egalitarian causes and supporting female politicians, only to exploit them to take advantage of women. They are just as demonstrative of the strain of misogyny present in American life as the republican legislators trying to strip away abortion rights.

Uprooting that strain is going to take time and serious self-interrogation, but #metoo was a powerful step in the right direction. As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. By giving women the opportunity to speak without fear of reprisal and to legislate in their best interest, the US can work towards reclaiming its status as a leader in human rights.

Of course, that effort is made more difficult by the sitting President. President Trump and his “America First” mentality blocks exactly the sort of honest self-examination that could reverse the tides of anti-woman legislation. He would do well to consider why many of the countries who he characterizes as “rapists” or from “shithole countries” are not included on the Thomson-Reuters list, while the US is.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

Speaking Out To #StopTheBans in West Hollywood

On May 21, Dr. Carmen Schaye spoke at the City of West Hollywood’s National Day of Action to #StopTheBans and to Support Reproductive Freedom and a Woman’s Right to Choose. Speaking in her capacity, as National Vice President of Diversity of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Dr. Schaye spoke along with Women’s March Foundation and other impassioned other community leaders to protest recent legislation in states like Georgia and Alabama that severely limits access to abortion.

The city of West Hollywood is America’s first pro-choice city, having declared itself such in 1993. It has supported state and federal legislation protecting and advancing women’s reproductive rights, access to healthcare, and funds for preventative health care services. Last week’s event pushed the City even further into the activist cause, as they became the first city to impose financial sanctions against states with retrograde abortion legislation on the books. City officials voted unanimously to pass a resolution that suspended official travel to Georgia.

Lindsey Horvath, the city’s Mayor Pro Tempore, also spoke at the rally. “We will not conduct the city’s business in places that do not honor, respect and protect a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “We will not spend taxpayer dollars on goods, services or travel in or from any state that undermines women’s health, dignity and privacy, and we denounce any and all efforts to endanger the lives of women and girls who cannot survive a pregnancy physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially.”

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

The War on a Woman’s Right to Choose

Across the country, on stages big and small, legislators, activists, and judges are waging a war on women’s right to choose. Though this right has been a settled law for almost half a century, having been decided upon in the Supreme Court in 1973, it has nonetheless become the central issue in the American culture war. And for good reason: for the Christian right, abortion is the immoral termination of a life; for the left, it represents a woman’s right to control her body and adjudicate if they are economically, emotionally, and physically ready to have a child. Each side is uncompromisingly dogmatic about their position on the issue, and equally convinced that it is critical to fight for complete victory.

While Roe v. Wade has ensured Americans’ right to choose on a federal level, some states are adopting limitations on abortion that effectively foreclose the possibility of a safe and legal abortion. There are currently ten states with so-called “heartbeat bills”, which ban abortions once the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, which is typically about six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women still don’t even know that they are pregnant. Some states force women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound before they terminate the pregnancy; others force women who successfully get an abortion to have a funeral for the remains of the fetus.

Many of these laws flagrantly violate the standards for abortion access laid out in Roe v. Wade, and there is reason to believe that the GOP is deliberately violating those standards as a strategy to bring a case before the Supreme Court. While Roe v. Wade is settled law, it could be overturned if a case challenging a state’s restrictions on abortion is brought before the court. It is unlikely that the court would use that opportunity to ban abortion altogether, but it is entirely possible that it could return the ability to do so to individual states.

There is no telling how disruptive repealing Roe v. Wade would be to our current political system. On the left, women have become the lifeblood of the party, and their representation in Congress is all but certain to grow in the years to come. Rolling back a woman’s right to choose would be received as a direct threat to their equality as citizens of this country. A repeal would divide the country into pro-life states and pro-choice states, essentially creating two Americas.

This scenario is speculative, of course, and Chief Justice Roberts seems to resist the pressure to make the court an activist body. It is perhaps more likely that he will simply allow the status quo to continue, in which abortion rights are eroded and hamstrung but not summarily banned. That strategy spares the GOP the potential blowback of repealing Roe v. Wade while allowing for de facto bans.

Regardless, there is undeniable pressure on Roberts and the other conservative justices to dismantle Roe v. Wade. While running for office, President Trump was clear about his desire to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who would repeal Roe v. Wade, and memorably said that were abortion to be outlawed, there would have to be “some sort of punishment” for women who illegally underwent the procedure. Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s two appointees to the Supreme Court, are both conservative Christians, and were both selected in part for their willingness to vote to repeal Roe v. Wade. While a repeal remains hypothetical, the pieces are certainly in place to make it a reality.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

It Takes A Woman: Kirstjen Nielsen, Claire Grady, and the President’s Border War

This past week, frustrated with Mexico’s inaction on illegal immigration into the United States, the President threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border. This would’ve been an unprecedented—and extraordinarily costly—escalation in the President’s fight to curb the flow of immigrants entering the country. The President relented, however, thanks to pushback from within his administration led by Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, after Nielsen and Pompeo stressed that such an extreme measure would do more harm than good.

That pushback would prove to be the end of Nielsen’s turbulent tenure in the Administration. After Nielsen was excoriated at a cabinet meeting last week, she drew up a “list of things that needed to change,” in preparation for a meeting with the President, according to reporting by the New York Times. When she went to said meeting, however, the President ignored the list and insisted that she resign. After their meeting, Nielsen submitted her letter of resignation, adding her name to the lengthy list of administration officials who either resigned, were forced to resign, or were fired.

Nielsen is perhaps most notable for enduring intense public scrutiny while steadily checking the President’s more extreme policy agenda items from within the administration. A lifelong bureaucrat, Nielsen was the rare member of the administration equipped with both pedigree and relevant experience. Nielsen was educated the Georgetown school of Foreign Service and the University of Virginia School of Law, then worked as a special assistant to the security council in George W. Bush’s administration. Before being appointed Secretary of the DHS, she worked for John Kelly, first in his role as Secretary of DHS and subsequently as Chief of Staff in the current administration.

Those qualifications also made Nielsen the target of the President’s suspicion. In an administration where loyalty is prized above insight, she was seen as a Washington insider who only knew how to play by the rules. And for good reason: repeatedly throughout her tenure, Nielsen had to be the voice of reason in order to explain why something that the President wanted to do—stop offering asylum, for instance—was illegal and therefore impossible. Nielsen also hesitated to toe the party line on issues like family separation, and only complied when the President pressured her to do so. While she remained a thoughtful and practiced bureaucrat, she did whatever possible to assuage the President’s concerns that she was undermining his agenda, even adopting his language of a “crisis” at the border.

Needless to say, Nielsen’s efforts to comport herself as a border ideologue did not sufficiently convince her critics in the administration. Nor did they allow her to appoint her own successor. As the undersecretary for management and acting deputy, Claire Grady was next in the department’s line of succession, as outlined in federal law. Like Nielsen, Grady was eminently qualified for her position, having nearly three decades of experience at DHS and the Defense Department. But Grady was also forced to submit her letter of resignation this week, after the President announced that he would instead be appointing a hardliner, Kevin McAleenan, to become the acting Secretary of the DHS.

Though it would be difficult to say that Secretary Nielsen’s time in office was an unmitigated success, it is clear that her breadth of experience and her humanitarian instincts played a role in checking many of the administration’s more extreme impulses. Some have speculated that the specter of family separation will follow Nielsen long after she leaves office. I hope that this is not the case, as it seems fairly obvious to me that Nielsen was doing whatever was necessary to remain at her post and prevent a catastrophe. Further, we need more, not less, women like Nielsen to step up and serve in the current administration. If we place the blame for family separation squarely on her shoulders, we only pave the way for the President to fill his ranks with those who will never challenge him.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

It Takes A Woman: Lori Lightfoot Becomes Chicago’s Next Mayor

After Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek re-election for the mayor of Chicago, a host of qualified candidates piled into the race. Having previously served as chief of staff in President Obama’s administration, Emanuel was elected mayor in 2011, and his tenure as mayor had been exceedingly fraught with scandal. Many Chicagoans came to view the entire political class of the city as corrupt, elite, and out of touch with everyone outside of the Loop.

Enter Lori Lightfoot, a civil servant who had worked behind the scenes in two mayoral administrations. Prior to the mayoral race, Lightfoot was most widely known for having served on an investigative task force examining police misconduct in Chicago. The investigation was far-reaching, and its results were striking: the ensuing report found that the Chicago P.D. had widespread racist tendencies, and that residents of the city viewed them as dangerous and untrustworthy. Following the publication of the report, Lightfoot entered the race.

Lightfoot staged her campaign on similar grounds to that damning report, claiming that Chicago politics were systematically corrupt and in need of a major overhaul. Her campaign slogan was “Let The Light In”. It also didn’t hurt that Lightfoot fit the description for an ‘outsider’; Lightfoot is black, openly gay, and has never served in elected office.

In the February primary, Lightfoot emerged the frontrunner of 14 candidates, narrowly edging out the second-place finisher, Toni Preckwinkle, another black woman and the head of the Democratic Party in Chicago. Most notably, both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle defeated Richard Daley, a member of the infamous Daley family that has been a dynasty in Chicago politics. Daley’s supporters were certain that he would at least land in the top two and get a chance at a run-off, but voters showed that they were sick of the same-old names and mentalities.

This past week, Lightfoot won her run-off against Preckwinkle, having successfully positioned herself as the more progressive candidate and widening her lead from the primary. She will become not only first black woman to serve as Chicago’s mayor, but also the first openly gay person. She pledges to bring equity and prosperity to the entire city, which is notoriously segregated, claiming that she would transform Chicago into “a place where your ZIP code doesn’t determine your destiny”.

The wider implications of Lightfoot’s victory are all-too-clear. In a nation frustrated with corruption and dishonest leadership, voters turn to candidates who can credibly claim to be outside the influence of the powers that be. More and more, those candidates are women and particularly women of color. As we approach the primaries for the presidency in 2020, this trend only stands to grow stronger.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

It Takes a Woman: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Left

When she began her run for congress in the 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was working as a bartender and waitress in Manhattan. She had worked as an organizer on Bernie Sanders’s 2016 run, and, after taking a road trip through places like Flint, Michigan and the Standing Rock reservation, she decided to run against the ten-term incumbent, Mike Crowley, in her district. Having run unopposed in the primary since 2004, Crowley was caught flat-footed—he didn’t even show up to their primary debate—and AOC, as she is now known, successfully painted Crowley as a complacent and out-of-touch. In June of 2018, Ocasio-Cortez beat Crowley by almost 15 percentage points in a landslide victory that the New York Times predicted would “reverberate across the party and the country.”

AOC’s stature as a political figure has only grown since then, as has her platform of Democratic Socialism. If Bernie Sanders introduced the ideology of democratic socialism to the American people, AOC has made it mainstream. In quick succession, she has brought once-unthinkable propositions to the table: she has championed the Green New Deal, a sweeping package designed to curb American’s carbon emissions while creating thousands of new jobs; she has proposed a 70% marginal tax rate for those making more than $10 million dollars per year; and she opposed the construction of Amazon’s much-discussed “HQ2” near her congressional district, leading a chorus of voices that may have contributed to Amazon’s decision to scrap the plans.

These bold moves have certainly won AOC many supporters, but they have also made her the target of breathless criticism. Critics on the right have seized upon AOC’s idealism as naïve and dangerous. Many on the left, too, view her as too disruptive a force within the Democratic party. Former Governor Ed Rendell recently stated that “AOC does not speak for the democratic party,” and that people like her will decrease the likelihood that a Democrat will defeat President Trump in the 2020 election. People like Rendell believe that the Democrats should occupy the safe territory of criticizing President Trump and winning back the moderate voters who voted for Trump believing that he could deliver some change in Washington.

While there may be a logic to that sort of thinking, AOC’s power lies in her ability to tell a story that makes sense to voters, rather than just trying to cobble together enough votes to win elections. For AOC and her supporters, the status quo has become so perilous—fast-approaching climate catastrophe, precipitous wealth disparity, a disappearing middle class—that fundamental shifts must be made in the way we operate. For too long, the democratic party has overdelivered inspiring rhetoric while underdelivering policy that will improve their constituents’ lives. Unlike the vague promises of “change”, AOC speaks to concrete, if historically ambitious, policy proposals.

While this may seem like a small distinction, it constitutes a fundamental reimagining of the democratic party as it exists today. For those like Governor Rendell, the democratic party is essentially a hedge against the hard-right instincts of the GOP; for AOC, the democratic party should push an ambitious platform that advocates for the poor and the working class. In a nation with a runaway conservative party that denies scientific consensus, refuses to address gun violence, and actively seeks to strip health insurance from constituents, arriving compromise is insufficient.

If her career thus far is any indication, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez understands these dynamics and has a preternatural ability to engage with them. She is the first political leader that not just understands but embodies the burgeoning social consciousness that defines her generation and those that will follow it. Her political appeal is as emotional as it is philosophical, deeply felt and deeply held. For those who do not agree with her politics, this emotionality is further evidence of her un-seriousness as a politician. But for those who do agree, her conviction is all too fitting: the oceans are rising, the forests are burning, and three Americans (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett) have the same combined wealth as 50% of the American population. For the vast majority of the American people, these trends are dangerous, hostile, and anathema to a well-functioning republic.

Using her unique blend of social media savvy and congressional advocacy, AOC can singlehandedly propel an issue into the conversation. As she continues her political career, it is conceivable that she will champion even more ambitious progressive issues like universal basic income and free college tuition. Her advocacy is powerful, and she commands an enormous audience of Americans who share both her anxieties and her aspirations for a new mode of American life. In that way, she maybe a sort of ‘oracle’ for American politics and where we might be heading. Regardless, she is a true leader and a new model for the type of citizen that, like it or not, might come to define the next chapter in American history.

© Dr. Carmen Schaye

It Takes A Woman: Reclaiming Moral Leadership

This past week, news broke of a sweeping criminal conspiracy in the world of college admissions. Through an organization called “The Key”, William Singer committed widespread fraud by falsifying his clients’ test scores and applications in order to gain admission to elite universities across the country.  Singer bribed SAT proctors to correct student’s answers to achieve a desired score. He bribed college officials to falsely claim that they were recruiting a student. He called these avenues to admission the “side door”–the front door being ordinary, regular admission, and the backdoor being buying admission through mega-donations.

Needless to say, Singer’s services were not cheap. Ranging from $15,000 to more than a million dollars, his fraud was only available to those children who already had every conceivable advantage in applying to college. Their parents were CEOs, partners in major law firms, fashion designers, and famous actors. They had attended private high schools and had private tutors. They could afford to pay full tuition at any university they might choose to attend. Yet their parents felt compelled to use the “side door” in order to guarantee that their child was admitted to Ivy League schools and prestigious universities.

This story is deeply troubling, as it reflects the sort of moral decay that has become commonplace among the rich and well-connected. It reflects a prevailing mindset of “me first”. So what if my child, who has never played soccer, will be fraudulently taking the roster position of someone who practiced every day for 12 years–me first. My daughter wants to go to Yale, and if bribing the soccer coach is what it takes to get in, that’s what it takes.

Perhaps more insidious than Singer’s “side door” of outright bribery is the “back door” that is completely legal: the use of money and legacy at a university to attain admission for one’s child. Universities thrive on the donations of their alumni, but their swelling endowment often comes with an understood price: admitting the children of those alumni when the time comes. Unlike Affirmative Action, which then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to outlaw just last year, this practice of “legacy admissions” has gone completely unchallenged as a means of circumventing the supposedly meritocratic process of college admissions. The fact that Sessions and other lawmakers would seek to challenge Affirmative Action, which seeks to diversify the ranks of elite college and universities by giving special consideration to the under-privileged, while allowing legacy admissions to continue unabated belies their supposed intention to create a level playing field for college applicants.

Both the ‘side door’ and ‘back door’ to elite colleges exist as a means for wealthy parents to intervene in the college process to increase, or guarantee, the likelihood of their child’s admission. Again, this “Me first” mentality is all too familiar in our society, from the Oval Office to the home. As a society, we have been groomed to view someone’s success as a result of their upstanding character, when studies show that the exact opposite is often true. Recent studies have shown that there exists a “dark triad” of personality traits—narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism—that are mostly highly correlated with success. These traits are not only tolerated but deliberately sought out by some corporations, as they employ the sort of thinking that prioritizes personal success at the expense of others.

Nonetheless, we would do well to foreclose those ‘side doors’ and ‘back doors’ in our society that allow the less qualified and more privileged among us to rise to positions of power. The more that our society resembles a meritocracy, the more that those who rise to power will reflect those values, and the more they can encourage others to set their sights on success by modeling their behavior.

Reorienting our ideas of leadership and the qualities that make one a leader is a responsibility that may fall to women. The past few decades have seen an enormous spike in women rising to leadership roles, and the sunlight of our presence in positions of power has already proved a very effective disinfectant. The cultural phenomenon of the #metoo movement demonstrated how sexual predators had been allowed not just to linger, but to thrive, despite multiple accusations of misconduct. Further, a new wave of congresswomen like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has ushered in much-needed conversations on issues like climate change and income inequality. It is painfully clear that women’s moral clarity is long overdue in the public sphere; now, as we continue to expand our influence, we would do well to reward the behaviors of ethical, moral leadership, rather than those of the “dark triad” that disguise a naked desire for personal gain. Then, and only then, can women effectively reorient the moral compass of the nation to point in a direction that is more reliably ethical.

© Carmen Schaye

It Takes a Woman: Learning To Lead On the School Board

Though almost anyone can run for office, there is certain knowledge and skill that makes someone an ethical, responsible politician. The most surefire way to gain that skillset is through hands-on experience. The question is, how does one gain sufficient experience to lead before taking office? Obviously, there is no easy answer or pathway: some deeply qualified candidates never win a single election, while the sitting President won his election despite having no experience as an elected official.

The most reliable means of building a strong political career is through fostering one’s connection to a community. There is a reason that many politicians begin on the local level before expanding to state or federal office; at the local level, a politician can approach issues with personal experience on the issues at hand, and credibly offer solutions to improve them.

There is perhaps no elected office more intimately connected to a community than that of a school board member. While mayors and city council members interact with a diverse range of issues and policy areas, school board members are specifically tasked with providing for the future of the community through the oversight of its schools, and thereby its children. As such, a school board member is entrusted with the responsibility to maximize a city’s resources to ensure that it provides children with the tools necessary for a gainful career and healthy adult life. Furthermore, the members of a community who the school board interacts with most frequently are not the students themselves, but the students’ parents. Needless to say, parents are extremely passionate about their children’s education. To that end, the school board must work in concert with the parents in a community to hear their concerns and implement solutions wherever possible.

School board members are truly on the frontlines of problem-solving, working towards the shared future of a community. A school board’s actions can influence student’s academic achievement, and school board members make decisions that impact future generations by setting policy and allocating resources necessary for student academic achievement.  The board member sets priorities and can hold the district accountable for meeting student expectations.

For all of the above reasons, a school board is a great place to start a career in public service as an elected official, particularly as a woman. Nationwide, 44% of school  board members are women. Far removed from the grandstanding surrounding national politics, school board elections deal with the concrete problems facing a community. They demand that candidates propose solutions to problems, and their success or failure in office rests on their ability to achieve those solutions, or at minimum, to improve the performance of the schools. This sort of solution-oriented strategies, rather than soaring rhetoric or shallow fearmongering, is the foundation for a sustainable career as an elected official.

Take for example, the career of Jackie Goldberg,  a 74-year-old former California assemblywoman , who this week is the frontrunner in a special election for a seat for the Los Angeles Unified School District on the board of education. Goldberg is running because she believes that there is a need for her experience and skills in this critical period of Charter School inundation in California school districts. As a former teacher, she knows firsthand the needs of the classroom and pathways to student success. Goldberg will now face whomever emerges as the second-place finisher–currently a dead heat between Graciela Ortiz and Heather Repenning–in a run-off election. While all of the contenders for the seat are uniquely qualified, Goldberg has the enviable position of a proven track record as a classroom teacher and school board member; Goldberg previously served on the school board from 1983 to 1991, fighting for increased autonomy for teachers and administrators within schools. After 1991, Goldberg went on to serve as an LA City Councilor and subsequently as a California Assemblywoman. While in the state assembly, she studied the budgets of school systems statewide, and authored legislation tailored towards optimizing school performance. Having served on a school board, she knew what sort of solutions would funnel resources to students and improve schools.

Democracy is a tricky business, and there will inevitably be politicians who seek to jump the line. As more women seek elected office, many are choosing to run for legislative positions and skipping school board. But building a strong foundation through community organizing and local action is the best way to ensure that when a politician arrives in office, they can achieve their policy proposals with a realistic and considered idea of how campaign proposals will translate to action and ultimately affect the communities involved. A school board is a fantastic place to build on-the-ground experience and a sense of what it means to lead.

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