After the 2016 presidential election, like so many of us, Valerie Schull, a single mom in Chicago, was angry. So Valerie, a Spanish teacher, got motivated. Shull is the co-founder of a local resistance group that is fighting against change in federal and local governments that do not support their progressive beliefs. Their mission statement:
We work to BLOCK harm to ourselves and others, BUILD for future progressive candidates who govern for the people and BE the change and good we want to see.
Valerie is a personal friend and has become my political mentor for making that change that I, too, want to see. Every single day she takes action and leads others in doing so. Here are the highlights from our interview:
How does a busy single mom find time to be an activist? “It takes 30 seconds to make a phone call to your senator.”
“You don't have to do it all.” Attend someone else's party. Join someone's activist group. Take the action provided by a leader in your community.
What happens when you show up at your representative's office and demand action? “They're knocked back on their heels” without a stance on issues, Shull said. The fumbling politician is now in your hands. This is an opportunity to help them write policy that supports your beliefs.
Every bit of activism makes a difference. If you're nervous about speaking on the phone or in public, leave a voicemail after hours.
Phone busy? Call back. They do empty voicemail inboxes. Try again.
Calls are powerful because staff have to man the phones, and have to deal with you immediately and pay attention now!
Letters are effective because legally they have to tally your responses and respond to constituencies in writing.
Do call even if you live in a blue state, your representative needs call tallies to back up their arguments.
Live in a blue bubble? “Don't assume where your representatives stand. When take for granted, asleep at the wheel again,” Shull says. Then, reach out to friends and family who live in other states where red states and urge them to call, because only constituent calls matter.
Contact Indivisible groups in other districts to support them at town hall meetings.
Even if you are in a red state where you worry your presence or calls do not count, show up! Find like-minded people and hold each other accountable. “If only 10 of you, that is 10 people showing up at Oren Hatch's door — and he's not used to “It does matter. It is cathartic. It is energizing.”
Fun is key. Yelling at your representative is fun!
“My goal is keeping up this momentum so we don't all fall asleep again before we get through this shit-storm.”
It's important she takes her daughter Emma, 8. “I want her to see what it looks like being an engaged and active citizen. I want her to have that sense of agency.”
Daily Action Text the word DAILY to 228466 (A-C-T-I-O-N), then enter your ZIP code to sign up. You will subsequently receive one text message every workday about an issue that we have determined to be urgent based on where you live.
Countable Get concise summaries of bills going through Congress, see what others think, then take action with email and now video messages.
Wall of Us Four actionable acts of resistance delivered to your email each week.
The Indivisible Guide Written by former Congressional staff breaks down in real-people talk exactly how politics work, using Tea Party's successful tactics, and how to apply them to the current administration.
Find your local Indivisible group in your neighborhood.
Emily's Group “We ignite change by getting pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.”
About Like a Mother
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Full transcript of Like A Mother episode with guest Valerie Schull
Emma: Today's guest is a personal friend of mine, Valerie Shaul. She is a single mom. That's really how we connected originally and we'll share our story briefly, specifically how we met, but we had this single mom connection. She lives in Chicago, Illinois where I visit frequently because so much of my family is in Chicago and Illinois where I grew up. But more recently, we've been in touch a lot because she has become my political mentor and sort of a personal political hero.
Emma: She's an everyday person. She's a Spanish teacher at a Montessori school in Chicago and like many of us, was just completely, well I'll let her share how she felt, but I'll share how I felt, which was complete outrage, despair, despondency after the election and the ensuing events after the election. And the big question is, what do I do? What the heck can I do to make this better and be part of the solution? And Valerie has answered that. She has answered that for herself and hundreds of people in her community and she is doing the work. Valerie, thank you so much for being here with me today.
Valerie: Oh, thanks for having me, Emma. This is fun.
Old-school grassroots activism
Emma: So you, just briefly, are one of the founders of what you call the local resistance, which is straight up hardcore old school grassroots activism, and it's local. You guys are based in your neighborhood, Edgewater in Chicago, which by the way, I know a little bit now because Valerie and her daughter, Emma, lent my kids and me her apartment for a few weeks last summer while they were being fabulous in Spain. But every single day you are taking action and you are leading others to take action to make our country and the world a better place, part of the resistance.
Valerie: Yeah, that's the hope anyway. But like you, Emma, I felt outrage, I felt despair, and everyone in my friend circle was feeling just the same thing. The day after the election, went into work, we were all looking at each other just stunned like, now what? Now what are we going to do? So my friend Samantha and I got together and decided to listen. Let's just invite people over to one of our houses so everybody could just process this and figure out what the next steps are.
Valerie: What we found is we weren't alone. There were a lot of us feeling this. So our initial meeting was really in the living room at my friend's house, and to a packed house, and of course we provided childcare because that's what we do so people can participate. So among our group, there were lots of people worried about the environment. There were groups of people that were worried about gun legislation, there were people worried about civil rights. So from there, we just formed action groups. People started researching what could we do to basically black harm. That's what we mobilized around as our first step, just blacking harm from this administration.
Emma: And that has really become, that's a resistance. That is really the key word that we hear everywhere because I feel like it's still very much formulating what this movement is going to be. It's not a revolution. We are, like you said, blocking harm and resistance is the underlying currency. Right?
Valerie: Absolutely. That's what all the action right now was around, just how do we stop harm coming? As we've already seen, like in the first two weeks of this presidency, there's a lot of harm coming our way to people in our community and our circles of friends. So that's initially what we wanted to respond to. We still are figuring out what the next steps are, but we knew for right now we've just had to do something to protect our friends, our family, people in our communities.
Emma: So this is again, it's very locally based, which I think is so interesting, how the power becomes in real life. As we're going analog and we're going analog, it's like the marches. You could sign a virtual petition and I love what you do. Your message is always like all resistance, all activism is good activism, right? You never want to like poo poo or dismiss anybody, but the power of coming together, there was … How many marches were there around the world?
Women's marches around the world
Emma: That there were 30 people on the research base in Antarctica was unbelievable. To me, that was even more powerful than the factor of 500,000 people in DC and New York, like everywhere people get together physically. So there's power in that, right? There's power in you guys getting together in your living room, parents who have to also accommodate for childcare. There is power in just being present. You energize each other, it becomes then public where the president is still debating about how many people are at the marches. It just becomes a very real thing being present in the physical flesh.
Valerie: Yes. Being present and also holding each other accountable in the best possible way. At our last meeting, one of the men who was there said that to me like, this is what it is. Going face to face and me saying to you, “I'm going to make these phone calls. I am going to follow up. I'm standing with you.” And it's a lot more powerful than kind of some of these Facebook forums, which we also do use. But the most powerful is when we come together with our neighbors and say, “I'm standing with you, I'm committing to this, and I've got your back.”
Valerie: That's been what I find so inspiring. But this is happening in communities all over the country and that's really energizing. So it isn't just my little community. There are four or five groups just like mine in Edgewater alone.
Emma: That's incredible. Okay, so let's talk about what you're actually … You're two months in now, and I saw it today. You guys have 350 people in your Facebook group. Now that's for a local organization. That's not like a global blog that you're getting people, that's local. That's incredible. So 350 people in there, but what are you doing? What are the actions? What specifically are those 350 people doing now?
What is the Indivisible Guide?
Valerie: Here's essentially what we do. We are following one, the Indivisible Guide. So we get on calls with indivisible organization to talk about what kinds of action can we take? So one-
Emma: Let's first tell everybody what Indivisible Guide is.
Valerie: Sure. Let's talk about Indivisible. So Indivisible or the Indivisible Guide was written by former congressional staff. And they wanted to make a handbook for the resistance using the tactics of the Tea Party. The Indivisible Guide just kind of gives us what tools really worked for the Tea Party in getting to sway Congress and form opposition to President Obama's agenda. They were very good at that. So we're going to take their tactics and we're going to apply them to this administration.
Valerie: So if you go to indivisibleguide.com, there are groups all over. You can find a group in your neighborhood to join. And that's essentially, we're a registered Indivisible group. So while this was an kind of a national thing, it's all about your neighborhood.
Emma: Right, and I want to elaborate. The Indivisible Guide is amazing. It's written for everyday people. It just cuts to the chase of how government works, local government, state government, school boards, the federal government. This is what your representative cares about and basically boils down to, all the give a crap about is getting reelected.
Action steps for the resistance based on the Tea Party
Emma: And it just reiterates that time and again, and it gives you very, very clear action steps. They're like, okay, calling is good, writing [inaudible 00:09:46] is good, but showing up to their office is better, and you know what's even better? Going to that glossy ribbon cutting ceremony where they think they're going to get all this great press and getting up in their grill and humiliating them and holding them accountable. They tell you exactly what to do to make change.
Emma: And when Valerie was talking the Tea Party, again, that's very right wing conservative Republican party that has taken over the federal government, and they have done it not necessarily by big business and big contributions and all those things. They did it largely by doing exactly that, infiltrating, not infiltrating. They did it very legitimately according to actual real honest political movement, government, and getting elected at very local levels, at state levels, and just working the system. They just made democracy work for them.
Emma: And those of us on the left, the progressives, we've had our head in the sand. And I am the most guilty of this. I am the most guilty. I am so guilty of this. I live in New York City. All my friends are in media. All my friends think exactly like me. Everybody in my Facebook feed is sharing the exact same things. There's no dialogue. The economy is fantastic in New York. We all are doing very, very well for ourselves. I have no reason to pay attention to what's going on in my school board because I'm happy with the nice neighborhood schools that my kids go to.
Emma: So, you know what? It's like we learn the hard way, and here we go. And so anyway, so the Indivisible Guide, read it. It's like a 101 on how … It's like what every sixth grader needs to be reading about how government works.
Emma: So you guys are really following that. They're very organized. The local resistance in Edgewater, where Valerie is speaking from, you guys get on calls and you're being led by this larger movement for guidance.
Valerie: We're also utilizing sources like wall of us, daily action, also using the app Countable, which is a great app. You can follow what Congress is voting on any given week and how to contact your member of Congress, so it's easy. What we do is we post action items. Call your senator, call your congressman because this is how he or she is thinking of voting on a certain issue. Call them and tell them what you think about it. Tell them to vote no. Tell them how you feel right now.
Valerie: It's really about blocking. So I've called my senators numerous times to say, “Just block this person's appointment.” Block it all pretty much is what we're saying at this point because it's just a barrage, but really, you were talking about about the Indivisible Guide. The Tea Party was so good about just showing up at their member of Congress town halls and working together, almost like in a mob style, to really voice opposition and question that member of Congress's stance on various issues. Honestly, members of Congress, they only care about reelection. They care about voters, so it really rattles them when constituents show up.
Holding political leaders accountable
Valerie: Just this week, two congressman ran out of meetings with their constituents because they showed up to ask questions about the Affordable Care Act. Liberals have a lot to learn from the Tea Party because it's really effective, showing up.
Emma: Right. The only thing I'm going to challenge you is you said mob style. That's putting this sort of nasty, unethical tinge on it and it's not. They just had their act together.
Valerie: Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree with you. It's not like taking illegal action in any way. Members of Congress are supposed to hold town halls to meet with their constituents and it's just showing up as a group to make your voice heard. That's how democracy works. I'm also in a real liberal bubble. I think we were asleep at the wheel for the last eight years. We really enjoyed the Obama presidency, getting on board with the Hillary Clinton candidacy. It was feeling really easy and we weren't having to fight at the local level. That's over. We're doing it now.
Emma: It's so true. I just finished the first draft of my book and before I submit it, I'm going to go back and edit it a little line where I said, it's a little quip about, “Yeah, I'm so excited that we have the first woman in the White House.” I was so confident I wrote it into a book before it even happened. So arrogant.
Valerie: That's how we all felt about that.
How can you make real change in political issues?
Emma: So arrogant. Okay, so let's talk about what those action steps are. You're calling. You are showing up. This is the importance of the local thing because I'm on Facebook all day long and we're all sharing these important messages about calling your represent, calling your national congress person, your representative and your senator, but you guys, the local, you guys are calling your local state representative and your city council member and you're organizing about local issues also.
Valerie: Yes. This is the thing. We want to take the Indivisible model and we want to apply it to Illinois. We want to apply it to Chicago and our neighborhood. So we've already organized taking action with our aldermen. There's an issue right now in Chicago about having a civilian police oversight and right now, our mayor has been in opposition to that. As I'm sure you and everyone else knows, we have a very serious violence problem in our city and it's going to be a lot more complicated than just bringing in more police or, as Donald Trump suggested, maybe bringing in the feds, whatever that means.
Valerie: But right now, there's a movement to put pressure on our aldermen to approve this civilian oversight of the police because the community wants to have more voice and it. Our aldermen are not accustomed to getting lots of phone calls and to having people show up in their offices, and already that's happening. So it's really not just showing up at Jan Schakowsky's office at the national level. It's showing up at the 48th ward or the 49th ward where you live.
Emma: If they're not used to you being there, how do they respond?
Valerie: Well, already we have one alderman. He's not my ward alderman, but another alderman who represents some of the people in our group. They're knocked back on their heels.
Emma: What does that mean? Do they close the door?
Valerie: Well, nobody's been shut out, but they're scrambling to come up with answers. A lot of these aldermen don't even have a statement on it. What they're hoping is nobody's paying attention to city council. So when they're knocked back on their heels, they're kind of scrambling to even come up with a position-
Knocking local representatives on their heels
Valerie: They're knocked back on their heels. They're kind of scrambling to even come up with a position statement. So, we're starting to push them. Come up with a position statement and we're hoping to help form that position.
Emma: Interesting, so that's real power. You're really getting them in a vulnerable spot where you have a lot of influence.
Valerie: We also, in Illinois, have a trigger law. So, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion becomes immediately illegal in Illinois. My state representative has submitted House Bill 40, that would prevent Illinois from being affected by this trigger law so that we would decide to continue making abortion legal and accessible. So that's a movement that's happening locally and we're using that indivisible model to put pressure on local districts. So even this morning, I reached out to another district's indivisible group to say, “Hey, how can we back you up? Are you guys making calls? Do you want us to show up at a town hall to help you?” So that's how we're kind of taking the model to work at the state and the local level and what I hope is that we're going to keep our momentum. I don't want us all going to sleep again, whenever we get through this shit storm.
Emma: Right, right, keeping the momentum. So, give me an example of where an alderman was just like “bl, bl, bl, bl, bl, blah,” and you guys are, “All right, let me hold your hand and make this work for both of us.” What's an example of something that was really powerful.
Valerie: Well, this is still in process, but we had some people from our group call the same alderman's office and his staff literally didn't know how to answer the question about his stance on it.
Emma: On what? What was the specific issue?
Valerie: On the civilian police oversight, okay?
Valerie: So after pushing, one member of our group was able to push through and finally get staff. She's getting followup from that staff as they form their position. The whole time that they're in conversation with these staff people, people from our group are saying, “Okay, so here's how I feel about it. We want that civilian oversight. We're urging the alderman to do that.” Now he's going to be up for reelection and our group is feeling like we need this. Maybe we can start backing a candidate who is going to run against you. This is how you can use leverage. Like I said, our aldermen are not used to this kind of confrontation. People are going in and meeting with their alderman, too.
Valerie: I will say, alderman staff are open to it. I have not heard of doors being slammed as this has been happening in representative districts. But this is the kind of action we all need to be taking. I mean, from a school board. We also want an elected school board. That's been really slow, so that's something that we're going to target because that's how you make change.
Emma: Right, so another thing I know you mentioned is that a couple of members of your group, the local resistance, are going through the Emily's List training. Can you explain that? Explain what Emily's List is for people who don't know.
What is Emily's List?
Valerie: Sure, well Emily's List really is an organization that supports pro choice women candidates. That's one aspect and a strong aspect of that group. They have something called The Incubator and it's a one year training for women that are thinking about running for office and it walks them through the process, kind of what the details are of running a campaign, how local government works. She Should Run is another organization that does something very similar, so we are also looking to support local candidates that way. We have someone in our community who's in the Emily's List Incubator. She is going to run for an aldermanic position in the city. So, we're going to-
Emma: That's so wonderful.
Valerie: It's so great. It's really exciting.
Emma: Yeah, Emily's List, it really was formed … closed the representative gap, the gender gap in government. It's really about getting women elected and pro-life women at that. All right, so on this local level you're seeing some success by ambushing and I'm going to say ambushing because I think that's awesome. I'm going to decide ambushing is positive because this is my show … your local alderman. But a lot of people are like, “Yeah, when I call my senator, like everyone's calling. I can't even get through. Does it really matter? Does my call matter?” I had a postcard party here last week, in fact. There was like 35 people in my apartment and we sent out a hundred postcards to our representatives saying what we supported and what we wanted them to do. But, how effective is that?
Valerie: It does matter. Here's what we're already seeing. We're already seeing people that I would consider to be middle of the road Democrats, are being pushed to be more proactive, being more assertive and take on more of a progressive agenda. Our senators in my state … we're lucky. Again, we're like in the blue bubble here with Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, but Dick Durbin wasn't willing to take positions on some of these cabinet appointees and flooding his office with calls, people have been showing up at his office downtown and now he's starting to come out and be bolder in his statements. And I know in your state, Chuck Schumer, he voted yes on some of the appointees and this movement just isn't having it. People showed up at his house to protest.
Emma: At his house.
Confirmation bias and politics in a blue bubble
Emma: Let's talk about that. If you do live in a blue bubble … I mean Chuck has been a little bit disappointing, but we have Kirsten Gillibrand. I mean, I'm like, I called up her office and I was like, “Keep going, thank you and keep fighting the fight.” I mean, that's nice, but it's not moving the needle. So, what do you do if you're sitting comfy in a blue state?
Valerie: Okay, well a couple of things about being in the blue state. One, that our blue state leaders do need us to call because they need those tally numbers to back them up. When they're fighting, they need to be able to say, “I've got 5,000 constituents calling my office or my phone lines are jammed with people calling me to say they feel this way on X, Y, or Z issue.” They need that to back them up. The other thing is, we can't make any assumptions on where they stand. We saw last week, there were, I think 12 Democrats that voted in favor of some of Trump's appointees. So when we take them for granted, we're asleep at the wheel again. We do need to make it clear that listen, you're in office. You're in office because we voted you in and we expect you to take a stance that's on our side, so they need that.
Valerie: The other thing you can do is reach out to your friends and family that live in other states. Just this week, you know, we need one more senator to vote against the DeVos appointment so I started calling my friends in Wisconsin and my friends in Colorado to start calling in those states because those senators need a nudge. My call doesn't matter if I call Colorado or Wisconsin, but theirs do. So it's about reaching out to your friends and family and trying to reach people who live in those other states. The other thing is, just like I did this morning, I reached out to an indivisible group outside of my district to say, “Listen, okay I may not vote for your rep, but I can back you up by coming to a town hall if you need more people there. Do you want me to host a phone bank?” So, we can reach out to people outside of our districts to back them up.
Emma: What if you live in Utah or someplace that's just super-red? You're like, there's no way. Again, my call doesn't matter, my showing up doesn't matter because I'm outnumbered.
Find like-minded people and mobilize
Valerie: Well, showing up does matter because I think if you look at a state like Utah, Orrin Hatch, I'm not sure he's really used to people showing up in droves. Find your people. That's why I think being part of something like the indivisible guide is good because you can easily find your people now. This is the beauty of things like Facebook groups. Find other people that are like-minded, mobilize. If there are only 10 of you, that's 10 of you showing up at Orrin Hatch's door. It's very effective. So even if you live in a really red state, it's important to find your people and start making your voice heard.
Emma: Right, but it's also just therapeutic, right? You're like, it's personally lonely. And again, I have lived in much smaller, much more conservative places when I was younger. I grew up in a small town where … I mean, that's the crazy thing about New York, is I would just go to my kids' soccer game and we would just very openly just start blabbing about politics because you can just blatantly assume everybody's on your team. It was interesting right before the election, a girlfriend of mine who lives in Nevada came to visit for a weekend and I was speaking at a small women's conference here in New York City and she came and sat in the audience and afterwards we were in part of this panel discussion. There was a lot of dialog and everyone ended up talking about the election and we walked away and my girlfriend who lives in Nevada said, “You know, I'm so surprised because everybody just openly assumed that you're supporting Hillary, whereas in the west, in this conservative state, you would never make that assumption ever.”
Emma: So that, just to me, speaks to the power of organizing with your folks and I love your point about holding each other accountable, because it's very easy to slip and it doesn't matter if I call Orrin Hatch's office because that old bastard's just going to do what he wants to do anyways, but it's something else if you have 20 other people standing behind you.
Valerie: That's right and it does matter and it is cathartic and it is energizing. So, it's like when I call, I feel like, “Yeah, today I did something.” I mean, I'm not a political organizer by trade. I mean, I go to work as a teacher every day. This isn't a path I thought, “Oh, I really want to be involved with politics. I was really involved in focusing on language acquisition.” But, we can all do this in a few minutes a day. It's just doable when we're in it together and I don't have to do everything. I just have to do something.
Emma: Right, because you were not an organizer before and this was not part of your life a couple of months ago.
Valerie: No. I organize parties, Emma.
Being a single mom in the resistance
Emma: Yeah, well you can combine them. I had this postcard party this past week and let me just tell you this. I want to talk about how we're both single moms. I know that you are a very majority of time single mom, I mean, you're not doing a 50/50 deal. This is what I did. I did it with my neighbor, who lives across the street, who happens to be a colleague of mine. She invited her friends. I invited my friends. I'm like, I have an apartment that can accommodate the party, so I will have the apartment. You bring the postcards to be printed and everybody brought in pot lock and there was lots of good wine and it was fun and it was productive and kids were welcome. Of course, men were welcome. Everybody was welcome. It wasn't a women's only event. And the kids were welcome, so the childcare became a non-issue. And it was fun, too.
Valerie: Fun. Fun is key. Some of
Emma: Well, okay, you said something once on Facebook. We talked about going in person, going to the town hall, going to the office, going to Chuck Schumer's house and you said, “Oh, it's really fun.” Because even me and I fancy myself as somebody who's rather bold in the world, it sounds like of intimidating to go into a national political figure's grill in the flesh and yell at them. That sounds a little intimidating to me, but if you've got 50 people or five people behind you.
Valerie: Oh yeah. You're not alone.
Emma: What is that like? So, you've done that?
Valerie: I am just getting started doing that. I really go to things where I can take my daughter, who is eight.
Emma: Why is that important? Why is that important to you?
The importance of civil activism with kids
Valerie: Oh, well, it's important for a variety of reasons. One, I need the child care, so I need to be able to have her with me often for these things, but also, I want her to see what it looks like being an engaged and active citizen. I took her to the Women's March in Chicago. I've taken her to marches in response to the election and I want her to have that sense of community and I want her to have that sense of agency. You know, when she is an adult, I want her to feel like, “Well, this is what you do as a citizen.” You don't just kind of sit back and think, “Oh, I'm helpless. I can't fix it. That's just Washington politics.” But, you know, I want her to see, this is what it is. Show up in the streets with your friends. Make calls. This is what it is to be engaged.
Emma: Right. And I feel like there's such a trend in parenting. There's family time and then there's adult time. Well, maybe you show your kids us working and then you see us taking care of the house and the yard and they need to see us being engaged in the world. It's like they don't need to be entertained separately as precious children. Like, this is life and it's important. It's an education and it doesn't have to be like a conscious education and cultural enrichment experience. This is just shit's real, this is your world, let's just do this.
Valerie: You said it all, shit's real, let's just do this. It's really true.
Emma: My daughter had a fit about something so stupid the other day. She's also eight and which I'll tell the story quickly about how we met, but she's having a fit because she didn't like the outfit she was wearing … it's an eight-year-old thing and I was like, “We are not crying because your tights are too, whatever.” I'm like, “Listen to the radio that's on right now. The world is falling apart. Let's put things in perspective right now.” So, parents, there you go. There's a little parenting tip. Use our national catastrophe as a discipline tool.
Valerie: Teaching moment.
Emma: A teaching moment. Global shit storm.
Showing kids how to be politically involved
Valerie: You know, though, Emma, a friend of mine who has children much younger than ours, she was wondering how do I talk to my kids about this? How do I get them involved? And she has a three-year-old and I said, just take your three-year-old with you. I mean, they don't need something special. If you're going to go volunteer, volunteer somewhere and bring your three-year-old. Go on a march with your three-year-old. Let your three-year-old hear you making calls. I mean, that's what it is.
Emma: Just by osmosis. I always think about this women's studies class I took in college and one of the big takeaways for me was the idea of childhood. The idea of childhood is this sort of precious time that we're entitled to innocence is an advent of the 20th century. After the industrial revolution when we became really so mass affluence, the rise of the middle class and that's when we had toys. Toys? We didn't have toys. Children's literature or children sized furniture, these are brand new concepts. Kids worked. Kids were laborers. They were just … they were part of the economy. They were not-
Emma: … They were just like, they were part of the economy. They were not just like a marketing substance.
Valerie: It's true. We've really lost sight of them. It's fine for them to take a break from the iPad to go on a march with you.
Emma: I mean, honestly, my kids, I feel like in here, [inaudible 00:32:21] can remember, I've just always had NPR going on in the morning. Again, a symptom or indication of my east coast liberal self, but the kids just listen. They listen more than I do and I swear they get all their political education from like Steve Inskeep in the morning. And I remember Helena was, I think she was three. When was gay marriage passed? She's eight now. So she was three or maybe four and she comes to me. She goes, “Mommy, what is same sex marriage?” And in her mind, it was one word. “What is same sex marriage?”
Emma: And I said, “Well, you know that like a mommy and daddy can get married. Well now, a mommy and a mommy can get married and a daddy and a daddy can get married. Isn't that great?” She goes, “Ooh, that's so great. And a pony and a pony can get married.” She got it and I didn't have to do anything except answer her question.
Valerie: And I guess she heard it on NPR. I bet Steve Inskeep would love to know that your kids are getting their political education from him.
Political education for kids
Emma: Right. It's not hard. The only thing I think is a little challenging, like the single parent angle, it's like if I had a really cool partner that lived in my house, then we would just be talking about the events in the morning. So there's just not that adult dialogue that kids are exposed to all the time like they would be in a heterosexual whatever, like a perfect family. But whatever. I feel like I have to be a little bit more conscious about having people over for dinner, or having that party, or just being around other adults that the kids can pick that stuff up by osmosis.
Valerie: Yeah, no. Agreed. That's one of the … I just was thinking about that this week too, how hard it is sometimes just being … I want to revise that. Not hard, but it is one of the challenges of being a single parent, is not having that ongoing dialogue. So one of Emma's uncles, my college friend-
Emma: Well yeah. You have this incredible group of, not necessarily group, but you just have a lot of really awesome gay men in your life that are … I'm kind of jealous of that.
Emma: I'm trying to think about redecorating my apartment. Not to be stereotypical, but that would be really great. Anyways, go on.
Valerie: So Uncle Lance came to visit last weekend and it was great because it was three days of just that, talking very openly about what's going on and Emma being able to just hear that being at the house. So it's something that I definitely feel is lacking and we have to be really conscious.
Emma: I love that. Okay, because moms, single moms, it's very easy and very legitimate to say, “I'm so busy. I'm so busy. I'm already overwhelmed. I don't know how you do it. I don't have time.” So what's your answer to that?
Single moms have time to make a difference
Valerie: Okay. Here's my answer to this. It takes 30 seconds to make a phone call and I've made phone calls to my senators while walking into the school building. Emma and I have a little joke now, Emma being my daughter. We have a little joke. I'll say, “Tell me what democracy looks like.” And she'll say, “This is what democracy looks like,” is her response. Every time she hears me making a phone calls, it's so cute. It takes no time. Here's the thing, lots of people are already organizing. You can join in. If you feel like you don't have time, you don't have to be the leader, but if you can make three phone calls a week, you're taking action. That takes almost no time.
Emma: Right, I love it.
Valerie: That's the first step.
Emma: Yes, it is. Okay, I just want to quickly share. I don't know why I think our love story is so cute. We're both from out in the sticks in Illinois, different parts, and I was visiting my family there where I grew up. It was this place. If you guys are from northern Illinois, you might know Blackberry Farms, which is actually kind of a cool place. It's like, I don't know how to describe it. It's like if Little House on the Prairie was an amusement park.
Valerie: Correct. That's a good description.
Emma: Yeah, whatever. It's like there's rides, but then it's about early settlers in the Midwest. I don't know. For that kind of crap, it was actually pretty good.
Valerie: It's really good. Plus, it's fenced in. It's easy to-
Emma: Right, but it's not like glitzy. It's kind of-
Valerie: It's easy to wrangle your young children there.
Emma: Yeah, but it's not like cheesy. Anyway, it doesn't matter. So I was killing time there with my kids. This was like, well, I know what it was. I had just started my blog so it was four and a half years ago. My daughter started bumming around with this other little girl named Emma that was her age and I was kind of saying hi to the mom. I was like hm, I smell single mom. A single mom, I can smell it from a mile away. You were with your folks and then we kind of said hi. And I was like, oh, you should read my new blog that I started. And that was it.
Emma: I don't think we exchanged phone numbers or anything. I don't think, I don't even know how you found me, but all of a sudden this woman started commenting on my blog all the time named Valerie. And I somehow put it together that it was the same woman, and then we just picked up this really nice friendship. And then we see each other a couple times when I go back to the Midwest, and you were so gracious and gave us your apartment for a couple of weeks, which is awesome because that meant I wasn't staying with my family for two weeks. I had a dinner party with some of my kids' uncles at your place actually.
Valerie: Oh, good. I love knowing that. It really was kismet. I remember when we met, I had just gotten separated and you were full of this great empowering single mom message that I remember feeling like, no one's ever spoken to me like this before about being a single mom. I was still kind of in the aftermath.
Emma: You were in it.
Valerie: I was in it, yeah. So it took me awhile to kind of digest and I was like, I'm going to look up that wealthy single mommy blog. What's all that about? And the rest is history.
Valerie Schull as political mentor
Emma: And life comes full circle because now you're my total political mentor. I literally messaged Valerie last week. I was like, “Okay, all right. So I have 40 people are coming to my apartment. What am I supposed to do with them? Tell me what to do.” Like every day, what do I do, Valerie? Giving a micro action. I'm overwhelmed.
Valerie: I love that you texted me in the midst of one of our calling actions because you and your group were also making calls and it was like, “The voicemail is full. It's blocked. What do we do?”
Emma: What do you do? That's really common. It's a good problem to have, but then what do you do? I'm asking, what do you do?
Valerie: If we're targeting one person, let's say everybody's calling Orrin Hatch in their state or something, or you're calling Chuck Schumer. Just keep calling. They do empty the voice mail. It's important to keep calling if you're targeting that person, but there's also now a fax service where you-
Emma: Right, because we're 1989 and we all have faxes in our living rooms.
Valerie: Isn't that amazing? I know. I found that insane. When I saw the fax thing I was like, I don't know how to send a fax.
Emma: That's ridiculous.
Valerie: It is kind of ridiculous. They will accept faxes because apparently, the Congress is still in 1986 and accepting faxes, but just even the writing letters, showing up, you just keep calling. I've heard a lot from people in just our group about being worried with social anxiety and making phone calls and having to talk to strangers on the phone. So I did a Facebook live a few days ago about how to make phone calls if you're really nervous.
Valerie: If you are somebody who's really nervous, you can also just leave messages. A lot of the congressional offices have voicemail and you can leave an after hours message. So even if you're somebody that doesn't like speaking in public or this gives you a lot of anxiety, you can still take action by leaving voicemail messages after hours.
Emma: Okay. So let's put these in order of priority of the power. So number one, well number one is to run for office.
Running for office, showing up at representatives' offices, phone calls, writing letters and emails
Valerie: Number one, run for office is right.
Emma: Okay. But let's go for the most powerful things. If you're like, I have a giant hair up my ass, I've got to do something today, what's the most powerful things in order?
Valerie: If you can, show up at your member of Congress, whoever your elected officials are, show up at their office. That is the most powerful thing. However, if you've got a day full of meetings and you've got one minute, make a phone call. Phone calls are what you can do in one minute today if you can't show up.
Emma: Why a phone call over writing a letter or an email?
Valerie: Well, here's the thing. Staffers don't have to deal with emails immediately and they don't disrupt office procedure. So if you have staff that have to man the phones and be answering the phones instead of doing anything else, taking care of their senator's to do list for the day, vacuuming, whatever it is that they need to do, when you call, you are disrupting their normal business flow. And that's essentially what we want to do. It really gets their attention, so that's why phone calls are really important because they have to deal with you immediately.
Valerie: Whereas emails, it's so easy to just fill up an email box. They can deal with you later. Letters are effective because, again, they have to deal with you. They also have to tally responses and if you are a constituent and you've given your address, they also are supposed to be responding to you personally.
Emma: And that's a mandate of their office or that's because they want to do that because that's good political maneuvering?
Valerie: No, I believe that is a mandate of what they're supposed to be doing. So if you write a letter and you are a constituent, you've given your address, they are supposed to give you a response. So mail is also effective.
Emma: Okay. So number one, run for office.
Valerie: Run for office.
Emma: Become super wealthy and give lots of money.
Emma: Okay. Show up. So show up to the town hall. Show up to their office.
Valerie: Show up to Town Hall, show up at their office.
Emma: Okay. Then call, then physical paper old school mail. I'm not even gonna give any … The faxing is just pissing me off. I don't know.
Why a phone call to your Senator means more than an email or letter
Emma: But the mandate of their office to respond to written correspondence does not apply to email. Is that what I'm understanding?
Valerie: Yeah. They will email you back, but that is not disruptive. They don't have to deal with you immediately. So email is really ineffective, period. It's really not a good use of time.
Emma: Now, how about going to a local rally? On Sunday, there's this big musical thing down in Washington Square down in The Village that I think a lot of people are going to go to. I'm going to be political, but also I think it would be really fun. So what's the power of showing up?
Valerie: Show up.
Emma: Yeah, but in the hierarchy of all those things that I just said, how powerful is that?
Valerie: It's very powerful. The thing is, especially over time, right now, we're still kind of just in the reactive mode, but if three months from now, six months from now, we're still showing up at events like that, that's powerful. This administration wants to wait us out thinking that we're going to get tired and stop. So it's important to show up at those things. But showing up at your elected official's office is probably the most effective thing you can do. But go to rallies, go to protests. We to be visible.
Emma: Okay. So if people want to get started, they've been doing nothing, they feel bad about it, they want to do something now. Give me three places they can go online to get hooked up to start taking action.
Valerie: All right. One, go to indivisibleguide.com so that you can find a group and get started there. Follow wallofus.org or dailyaction.org and sign up so that even if you're not part of a group, you can start making phone calls and you can start taking action that way. Those are the things that I would say start there. That's the first step.
You don't have to lead the resistance – you just have to participate
Emma: Great. I love that, and I love the takeaway that you don't have to be the leader. You can just participate. Even if that's your personality, even if you're a Type A and you like to be the star of the whole thing, you don't have to, but you have to. If you really believe in this, you have a moral obligation to do something. So do something and if nothing else, just be part of the cosmic consciousness to move this forward in the right direction. That's my spiritual two cents for the Saturday morning.
Valerie: If you've done nothing thus far and you make two phone calls this week, you've gone from zero to 60.
Emma: Yes, that's great. All right. Valerie Shaul, she's like a local hero. She's a mom in Edgewater Chicago and she is a local activist that is making big changes with lots and lots and lots of small steps all the time. I'm so grateful for you. Thank you, Valerie.
Valerie: I'm grateful for you. Thanks, Emma.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.