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In case you are new to my blog, which will regularly appear on this MomsRising homepage (so check back in often!), my husband and I are wearing the t-shirts everyday until Paid Family Leave is passed in Washington State. My hope is that it will raise awareness for and garner support for the passage of Paid Family Leave in Washington. Now let me take a moment to properly introduce myself and illuminate why I am taking on working for Change here at home: I am now an activist. It's not how I'd have classified myself a month ago, but my recent pledge to consider democracy as an action, as opposed to a concept, has me viewing myself differently. I am thirty-three years old. I was raised in poverty by a mother who fled an abusive husband and turned to the state for help after her self-esteem and self worth were beaten out of her and her five children. I say poverty and I wonder if you, the reader, know what I mean. It is a widely used word, and brings to mind many pictures, I want you to see mine. Poverty was living in a school bus that was converted to be our home...

...Poverty was sorting through garbage bags of donated stained dirty clothing, to try to piece together at least one outfit that would somewhat fit. Poverty was knowing what days the area grocery stores would throw out the less than perfect produce and expired dairy goods and seeing the eyes of those who would put the best of the lot to the side for us so we wouldn’t have to go inside the dumpster to take what would nourish our bruised bodies from their concerned but helpless hands. Poverty was no store bought shoes.

My father would make shoes out of worn black tires and rope which would rub our feet raw until the grass rope was worn smooth. Poverty was the dividing line between us and them. Poverty was colorful food stamps that gave us the scarlet letter of who we were and what class we came from. Poverty was a knife carving the hope and equality out of us. It was our prison and it held onto each of us children long enough to scar us deeply.

After my mother left my father, she remarried, divorced again and moved onto states welfare. She went to work in the daytime and school at night. She was solely responsible for five children ranging in age from three years old to fifteen. At eleven my mother moved me into states custody. I left her and my four siblings to become orphaned in the state of Utah. I was put up for adoption which meant that at eleven years old, I was supposed to understand that I was Never Going Home, that My Mother Did Not Want Me, and that I was supposed to suck it up and keep on going. You can imagine what my teenage years were like. I think of the years between eleven and 15 as a violent movie on fast forward. I ran away and left states custody at fifteen.

I had my first son two months before my 21st birthday. As heartbroken as I had been in my life, I was thawed enough to feel the immense and limitless sensation of motherly love. My son Orion became my beacon of hope, redemption, and a long walk back from hopelessness. He didn’t see me as poor, uneducated, tainted, or abandoned, he saw me as his future. I took that responsibility on and stumbled to be everything I thought he needed, everything I had needed that was so alive in me and still needing to heal. I tested and received my GED and enrolled in college (I had dropped out after my 9th grade year and went back periodically but never completed). I applied for welfare to assist us with food and medical while I worked and went to school. Orion’s father helped with childcare (we were not together) and a life was made and roots were planted.

I transferred to a four year university and was doing odd jobs to support what my student loans and emergency student loans didn’t cover. I was doing everything I could to be a nearly stay at home mom, get an education and pay our bills. Because I didn’t have a full time job I was called in to DSHS to discuss my welfare benefits. A tired white man was assigned to review my case. He looked over my file and informed me that my benefits would be cut if I didn’t start interviewing for full time job. He instructed me how the day care supplement would work and how long it would last.

I explained that I was in a fulltime student and if I worked fulltime and went to school I would never see my son. I just needed a little more time to get my degree and I wouldn’t need the states help ever again. The caseworker informed me that I could go to school and get help but I would have to switch to a trade school. I couldn’t get a degree and finally free myself from poverty, I would have to become a bank teller or a medical receptionist, not a doctor or a teacher. The state would assist me for some time with food stamps and with medical coupons for Orion but the state would not help me to graduate from a university.

It was a defining moment in my life. One where I had to find in me the strength to go on alone, not knowing if I would make it. I had always heard that education was the way Out, I had never asked where Out was, but headed there anyway. I crossed the line, and wondered how many others wouldn’t find a way out. Orion had a dad who would help raise him, but what if I was on my own? Overworked caseworkers, suffocating with stacks of clients in desperation, who would help them? Who would help us all?

I wasn’t an activist yet but the need for change seared me. I had fought for every step of a future that wasn’t offered to me and the battle to leave the sentence of poverty was far from over.

Now that I'm a mother and fully standing my own feet, I have known for the last few years that a deep passion I hold is for the safety and welfare of all our children. I say “our” as it breaks down to all of our tax dollars that take care of children who are publicly educated, on states assistance for financial or medical assistance, in foster care, or institutionalized in jails and prisons. I have tried to hold careers that have steered me away from helping children and their families but they are short lived and inevitably I am drawn back to the commitment that has come from my own pain and experience, of trying to make life better for kids.

Writing this makes me sad. This grief is not far from me as I often feel as if I am an imposter in my middle class world. It makes me want to beg the people who are not willing to change the system to hear me, to hear my story and the millions of others and look us all in the eye and tell us you will do nothing to help. It makes me want to beg anyone reading this to join us, to unite and help lead this movement and save our children from their empty outstretched arms.

I am one voice. Can you hear me?

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