I knew something was up when I turned on my computer and saw a number of e-mails that had similar subject titles. The two standouts were, “Please Respond and Forward” and “Women Say No to Palin.” As I opened them, each featured the same text in the body, with different introductory clauses. “We must do something;” ”Please sign this;” “I am outraged by McCain’s choice.”
I was beginning to get the concept.
The letter began:
“Friends, compatriots, fellow-lamenters,
We are writing to you because of the fury and dread we have felt since the announcement of Sarah Palin as the Vice-Presidential candidate for the Republican Party.”
The note raised the issues of Palin’s stated beliefs and record, and questioned her preparedness to “become the second-most-powerful person on the planet.” It featured a sentence that clearly articulated, “We are not against Sarah Palin as a women or a mother,” making a point to take the conversation out of the personal realm, where much of the discourse has recently been.
It went on to say:
“First and foremost, Ms. Palin does not represent us. She does not demonstrate or uphold our interests as American women. It is presumed that the inclusion of a woman on the Republican ticket could win over women voters. We want to disagree, publicly.
Therefore, we invite you to reply here with a short, succinct message about why you, as a woman living in this country, do not support this candidate as second-in-command for our nation.”
The site, Women Against Sarah Palin, is housed at blogspot. It has a clean design and features quotes from “American feminist role models,” photos, information and activist links (including a “Register to Vote!”), in addition to the blog archive. One of the letters is from Margaret Sanger’s 30-year old great great niece.
I spoke to Quinn Latimer and Lyra Kilston, the originators of the letter. Both women hail from California, and are associate editors at Modern Painters magazine. They were taking their daily work break, with a walk around Chelsea, discussing the choice of Palin as Vice-President. Latimer came up with the idea that they “had to do something.” She clearly emphasized that they were “not in the habit of calling out women.” However, they did feel that they needed “to come out as women because she [Palin} doesn’t represent our interests.” Kilston said, “McCain is the one to blame,” and stressed that that she opposed Palin on the basis of “her lack of experience and her positions.”
Latimer and Kilston stated that they didn’t “support the media jumping on the personal aspects of her [Palin’s] story,” but noted that Palin had spent a lot of time “talking about her role as a Mom.” Latimer, who described her own mother as a working-class feminist — who as a social worker often lived “paycheck to paycheck” — had an issue with Palin’s presentation of herself as the quintessential working mom. She admitted that it had touched a nerve. “I don’t like the Republican party co-opting family values and the working-class experience,” she said.
A substantial number of women writing in discussed their lives. Many made a point of conveying that they come “from small towns like Palin,” but differentiate themselves saying, “These are not my values.”
What started with an appeal to forty people comprised of friends, family, and colleagues has now grown to 140,000 responses. When I contacted Latimer by phone on September 15, she gave me the new numbers. Due to the overwhelming amount of replies, they have yet to compile “good stats,” however she did see several narratives taking shape. In terms of age, 50% seem to be from women in their late twenties and early thirties, with the remainder being older. Latimer pointed to “a huge number of women who introduce themselves as grandmothers worried about their children and grandchildren, and their possible future in a McCain-Palin administration. Their fears don’t simply extend to women’s rights, but to Palin’s stance on environmental issues (a big issue for the older women), education, and the economy.”
The themes that prevailed were concerns about Palin’s politics, experience, qualifications, and far-right ideology. Hillary-identified supporters who were “sort of on the fence” expressed both “anger and feeling insulted.” Contributors were encouraged to include their ages and location. E-mails came from small towns as well as cities, belying the “red state feminist” v. “blue state feminist” theory that has recently be getting play.
As reactions continue to pour in, Quinn and Latimer are envisioning how the site might evolve. They agreed in tandem, “You’ve got to get beyond identity politics. We’d love to see a women in the White House representing the interests of women across the United States.” Quinn added as an afterthought, “We’re trying to get away from fundamentalism, in any guise.”