By Brad Erickson
Patriarchy—the values and practices by which men dominate institutions and social relations—produces many toxic artifacts, from rape culture to the marginalization of women in political leadership. In this political moment, women and their allies are confronting patriarchy head-on through the #MeToo movement and an unprecedented number of progressive women of color candidates challenging male incumbents for political office—and winning. This essay is about how the partners of these women can support their campaigns for public office.
My wife, Nikki Fortunato Bas, had been encouraged to run for City Council but had firmly refused. She had led nonprofits for decades and spearheaded groundbreaking policy advances that benefitted working families. She had done more for local residents as a private citizen than some elected officials. But after leading a national organization for three years, she missed working at the local level and started to waiver. Testing the waters, she told me she would only do it if the family agreed. “You should do it,” I said. I knew it would mean sacrifices but I also knew that she would rise to the challenge and that Oakland deserved an ethical, dedicated champion of her caliber. Besides, we had collaborated on other projects over the years, from campaigns for immigrant rights to raising our daughter, and I looked forward to working on something new together.
What to Expect and What To Do
You can provide three types of support: 1) personal support to your partner, 2) logistical support to her campaign, and 3) programmatic support according to your skills.
Your partner will be busy from dawn to deep of night; she will have little attention for anything unrelated to her campaign. The partner has two choices: be miserable or re-set expectations. I advise the latter, perhaps after reading some Stoic or Buddhist philosophy. This is both existential and practical. Because your partner will have less time for her regular tasks, you will need to take stock of your household division of labor and find responsibilities to take off her plate and load onto yours. It will not be perfect. Deal with it.
Second, your duties supporting the campaign are whatever needs to be done. For me this has included serving as driver, bodyguard, photographer, caterer, door-knocker, phone-banker, fundraiser, local businesses liaison, errand runner, office space finder, handyman, yard sign deliverer, office drone, campaign staff and volunteer supporter, mural painter, and short term lender.
Apart from these unglamorous tasks, if you have relevant skills you may be able to contribute programmatically to the campaign, especially in the early days before your partner has hired staff and consultants. My skills include professional writing, editing and communications. Accordingly, I drafted responses to the never-ending endorsement questionnaires, produced social media posts and email texts, copyedited and proofread campaign literature, worked with graphic designers and printers, updated the campaign website, produced video clips, and designed and purchased targeted advertising. As the campaign brought on communications volunteers and a consultant, I stepped aside from coordinating communications and took on a more limited role to fill-in where needed. As the partner of the candidate, you have to walk a fine line working with staff, volunteers, allies, vendors, the media and the public. While you might be authorized to serve as the candidate’s surrogate for some purposes, you are not the candidate nor are you in charge of her campaign.
As an educator, I invested my summer break into my partner’s campaign, pulled back from consulting work and organizing with my union, and put my creative and research projects on hold. I invited my friends to campaign events, which was the only way I got to see them. Instead of a summer vacation, I got season tickets to a local theater company so that we could occasionally enjoy some drama that wasn’t campaign related. I planned a long weekend for two for after the election and a family trip over the holidays to make amends to our neglected teenage daughter.
Campaigning is exhausting but also invigorating. You will meet lots of new people and bond deeply with some of them, and learn a lot about the political process. Some people will actually express appreciation for your role as spouse of the candidate. And yes, I appeared next to Nikki, looking sharp in a suit, as she gave her inaugural speech. To the public, this might look like my only involvement. But dismantling patriarchy and making way for women’s leadership is more than a photo op; it takes sacrifice and putting your partner first.