A Proposed Daily Oath for Truly Extraordinary Leaders

Tomorrow my country will swear in its 45th president, a man who publicly and routinely contradicts its constitution, its treaties, and even himself. A lot of people are saying it’s the inauguration we deserve, but I disagree. It may be the inauguration we asked for, whether by vote or by complacency, but I don’t think it’s the inauguration we deserve.
Let me tell you about the inauguration I think we deserve.

Our president-elect stands before the cameras on a normal American’s stoop and places his hand not on a Bible, but on a pregnant woman’s womb. She invites him to recite his oath, swearing on the life of that unborn child that he will protect this country.

He repeats this oath every day, each time placing his hand on the fluttering bump of another ordinary American mom.

Every congressperson takes their oath in the same respect, renewing it each morning. The first meeting on their agenda is a briefing from the Mother-In-Residence. She’s a different constituent every day, chosen to reflect the actual ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the country. (Of course, in this world Congress no longer holds session in DC – representatives all reside and work from their electing districts to promote accountability and prevent cronyism. Thank goodness technology makes long-distance collaboration possible!) Oh, and did I mention that for this one day of work she is justly paid?

In their breakfast briefing she reports her concerns, her needs, her suggestions. She offers encouragement if needed, and gives hell when warranted as only a mom can.

And she shadows this representative throughout the entire workday. Her children are guests of honor, and out of respect all meetings and debates only use language they can understand. (Certainly the C-SPAN viewers at home also appreciate this accommodation.)

At the end of the day she logs into the Mothers-In-Residence blog and leaves her reflections, along with a grade combined from several categories: Preparedness, Sincerity, Cooperation with Colleagues, Consistency with Platform, Loyalty to Nature. These daily grades are averaged at the end of each term to provide an authoritative rating of each public servant’s public service. It is quite handy when election time rolls back around.

Oh, and if the congressperson skips a session – which they currently do at epidemic rates – no worries! Madame Mother-In-Residence can take over with full voting privileges.

Naturally these moms are qualified to take such action and make such assessments, because all citizens graduate high school with an Associate’s degree in Political Science. Yes, starting at the age of 13, every American student, citizen or not, takes one class per semester in public policy. The same classes are available on a rolling basis at every city hall for homeschooled and continuing ed students, new citizens, and anyone in need of a refresher. It’s quite the social affair!

This way all U.S. residents earn a higher degree without the burden of student debt, and more importantly, they enter society prepared to participate in democracy – whether or not they can afford to spend an extra four plus years fussing with elite programs and unpaid internships. In short, everyone knows their representatives; they know the bills being debated in real time. Teens know who’s worked for whom and who’s passed what well before they cast their first vote.

So if everyone is politically versed, why the emphasis on this rainbow of mothers? Why not recruit a greater sampling of citizens to heal the governing organs of our body politic?

Hopefully we will get to that point, but for now we’re obliged to overcorrect. Our government was literally designed as a patriarchy – an institution of men, conferring only with men. Obviously we’ve made strides, but we’re still nowhere near gender parity. The female and trans candidates who do break in have to do it on the terms of long-dead men, and men who still believe that democracy can survive on the brilliance of Founding Fathers alone.

But they are wrong about that. Our foundation needs the brilliance of mothers, too.

And yet the biological reality of motherhood has kept so many of us from engaging deeply in civic service, since well before the United States was even scratched onto a globe. We must make it easier for moms to exert their influence beyond the home, even if that means each of us doing it one day at a time.

Because we naturally think 100 years ahead about everything.

Because we are the backbone of the average household, America’s microcosm.

Because we fuel the economy by bearing and raising its workers, making the majority of family purchases, and in many cases having several careers of our own.

Because our partners and children and parents and clients confide in us and lean on us.

Because our level of health and security reflects our society’s investment in human rights.

Because the womb is our real homeland, the one thing we all have in common. Touching it, remembering it, honoring it – there is magic in that. Saying so no more belittles the non-wombed than it would shame a flower to praise an apple’s sweetness.

I will watch the inauguration tomorrow. I will not wallow in self-pity or dread. When the pain boils up I’ll look at my daughter – an intelligent, loving, morally awake young citizen – put my hand on my own womb, and swear loyalty to her.

Day after day, I’ll do it again.

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The american flag

What the Mothers of Standing Rock Taught Me About Protest and Prayer

With one eye brown and the other green, Kayla could’ve been a character from a story I wrote in childhood. Her way of life certainly echoed that of my imagined heroines: she, along with her husband and five home-birthed children, has lived off the grid and among the elements for the last 11 years.

Last week, I sat on a rug in their enchanting self-made teepee, sipping tea and firing questions about the logistics of migratory motherhood. She graciously explained her family’s approach to bathing, bedtime, and potty training. The answers were so simple, so common sense, I may as well have asked her how she puts on a hat.

It’s easy to get caught up in convenience. All the technology I’m privileged to access can, if I’m not careful, trick me into believing I need it. There’s much to be said for taking slower paths when it’s an option; what manual labor costs in time is rivaled by a wealth of sensual experience.

Kayla’s kids are growing up with a much more vivid childhood than she or I did, buffered from nature as we were by glass and cement. They appreciate a hundred things a day that I don’t even notice, including the specific taste of water as it varies from well to well.

One of thousands of “water protectors,” Kayla is camping to resist the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which infringes on the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux. I went to the site in North Dakota planning to document conflict at the front lines, but found myself drawn instead to the “rainbow tribe” set up by and in solidarity with the Lakota people. Indigenous activists and allies have come from all corners, drawing attention to the conflict through civil disobedience. But while drama is useful to attract the media (ahem), the biggest story isn’t what they’re protesting. It’s what they’re proposing.

The mothers and grandmothers I met at Standing Rock – many with small children or babies in tow – weren’t there to obstruct anything so much as model an alternate way of being. Already embracing austerity, their life choices aren’t dictated by threats of eviction. Knowing how to make shelter has freed them from the mainstream’s signature anxiety.

Their kids also show a distinct levity. They appear free to explore, knowing every adult looks out for them in a community of co-operation. They don’t depend on toys to be entertained, seeing everything on Earth as an item of interest, a tool, a thing to name and learn from and care for.

The protest of these children’s mothers is much more than an objection to one risky pipeline placement or one bruised treaty. It’s the protest of a lifestyle that rends people apart from their habitat and medicates that wounding with status and stuff. It’s a reminder that, in the end, our happiness comes down to a short list of very simple things.

So what advice did these women have for the mothers who reel in anxiety over the direction of the world their children will inherit? How might the average American woman build a tribe around herself in a realistic way?

The most common answer truly surprised me: pray together.

I admit this triggered some uncomfortable feelings at first. I don’t know what advice I was expecting, but I thought it would be bold, active – something about women rising up and kicking ass. My baggage with religion had put the idea of prayer in a box of passivity, of wishful, even delusional thinking.

But the inner cynic that dismissed prayer as “just talking to yourself” soon filled her mouth with humble pie. Is prayer just talking to yourself? Technically we can never know, so here’s a better question: What if it is?

We all talk to ourselves all the time, though not always aware of the messages being transmitted. Whereas these women set aside a few moments among each day’s interactions to consciously decide what they want to say, to themselves and the world. They held hands and declared themselves sisters of the same source – the Earth if nothing else. They recognized the equal value of all their children and their shared desires for health and happiness.

In prayer they acknowledge their struggles, undercutting the desire to judge each other or hide behind careful projections of idyllic lives. In prayer they focused on their gratitude for the forces keeping them alive – soil, air, fire, water, and the magic of knowing and being known.

Far from a quaint tic or an avoidance of action, these mothers taught me that group prayer is a social technology. At its best, it can provide the emotional infrastructure needed by individuals to work together while remaining free. It does so by keeping them connected, equal, self-aware – related and relating.

So it’s sort of beside the point whether a god is listening. What matters most is people are listening, taking the time to hear the silent speeches of their hearts and those of their neighbors.

Through prayer these peaceful warriors choose to reset the tone when vibes begin to clash. Washing away cynicism, defensiveness, and separation, it reveals underneath a natural desire to be humane. And aside from whatever happens with the pipeline, this is the victory I witnessed at Standing Rock: people practicing true self-governance, understanding that elected officials are ultimately not the ones who dictate how we behave.

Understanding, also, that those with the most influence on our future are the people socializing its children. Parents, teachers, role models – we shape the next generations of leaders and of followers.

So whether we raise them in a teepee on the front lines or in a high rise downtown, let’s make our protest by modeling peace.