Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Never Again

"What if our politicians weren't the bitch of the NRA?"

The first time I saw it, I cringed. The 100th time I saw it shared, my heart sank. Just now, I saw a young man post his own March for Our Lives video and copy this phrasing word for word. I cried.

What if we could express our opinions and advocate for our causes without degrading women?

See, I'm a bitch. I'm a bitch when I tell a man no. I'm a bitch for being ambitious. I'm a bitch for wanting equal rights. I'm a bitch for standing up for what I believe in. I hear from a lot of other bitches too. Some of these bitches are in elementary and middle school. They get called bitches and worse for standing up for themselves and standing for what they believe in.

I watched little girls in elementary school, some as young as kindergarten age, walk out of school for gun reform. A few days later, I woke up to breaking news, another school shooting. This time a boy shot his ex girlfriend and another student was wounded in the process.

I was here for #YesAllWomen. Remember that? That started after a mass shooting in California. "I don’t know why you girls aren't attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it," the shooter said. I've been here to see women leaders in the fight for gun reform face sexist attacks over and over and over again.

Over and over and over again there has been a commonality among perpetrators of gun violence - toxic masculinity and violence toward women. The Parkland shooter was abusive toward women.

It's 2018 and some women are choosing to take the word bitch and reclaim it as a term of empowerment. I am one of those women. Some women don't like the word at all. That is our choice as women.

But still, in 2018, what terms are so often used to insult someone? The worst thing you can call a woman is a woman and the worst thing you can call a man is a woman. I didn't come up with that one; I heard it somewhere. Welcome to the patriarchy. Do I think all men who use words in this way intend to contribute to toxic masculinity and the disempowerment of and violence against women? No, and that's exactly the point. That's the problem. This stuff is so ingrained in our culture it often passes without a second thought.

When we have young children watching the big kids, it's up to the big kids to set the right example. I don't want young boys learning that using the word bitch in a derogatory way is a cool way to get attention and applause and I don't want young girls learning that it's acceptable. I don't think it belongs in a movement for gun reform sparked by a mass shooting when between 2009 and 2014, women made up 51% of the victims of mass shootings. I don't think it belongs anywhere in our political discourse. I especially don't think that it belongs in our political discourse when women don't have equal representation in Congress nor equal rights under the Constitution.

I'll be marching this weekend with the same principles I had when I marched in the Women's March in January. I'll be speaking this weekend and doing what I always do, looking out in the crowd for little girls because maybe one of them will say, "hey, I can do that too." I'll keep fighting so that the next generation of women doesn't consider being called a bitch like it's a bad thing normal and acceptable ever again. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Oh hi. I see young people are being paid attention to once again. You're so proud of us. We're amazing. We're going to save the whole world. There are the all-too-familiar headlines, "Teenager DESTROYS Senator!" Le sigh.

So, I could write a thing now destroying the governors and senators and the president, and if I did that, it would get a lot more clicks than this post will. See, I've learned what gets your attention. I've learned that if I give you some snappy comebacks and feed your tribal urges, you will pet me and give me treats. But what I want right now is not your attention. It's your action.

When it comes to wanting young people involved, a lot of adults out there are like a little kid who wants a puppy. The idea of having a puppy is great. But after the initial excitement wears off, someone else ends up doing the real work to take care of it. Then you decide you want a kitten, or a snake, or a goldfish.

About half of voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2016 election. Around 20% voted in the 2014 midterms. Young people don't need your table scraps. We need seats at the table.

It doesn't matter how many of us walk out of school in protest or march through the streets if we're not voting. And you know if we're not voting, we're most certainly not volunteering to help register voters and get out the vote in great numbers either. If we're going to change this, we all need to work together to not only motivate and engage people, but to help others through challenges and remove some of the obstacles we face in doing the important things as well.

I once walked into a local campaign office as someone fully trained and ready to get to work. There were a few people there who knew who I was, who had called me amazing and all the other things. I didn't want to be amazing. I wanted a job. I was basically ignored on that score. Later that same day, I was downtown in another town and I bumped into an organizer who was out doing voter registration. He had no idea who I was, but he was happy to put me to work. So my parents drove me 30 minutes each way on the days I could work, in between school, rehearsals, and everything else, to my campaign office instead of the one 10 minutes from my house.

I sometimes do talks geared toward young people getting active politically. At one of them that was nonpartisan and was for middle and high school kids, the adults dominated the discussion and wanted to focus on what they felt was preventing them from beating their political opponents.

I saw a volunteer from an organization doing voter registration at an event. I asked him if he knew we had pre-registration back in NC and that he could ask all the teenagers if they were 16 and pre-register them to vote. He didn't know anything about pre-registration and said he was focusing on the people who could vote in that election. He seemed skeptical that I even knew what I was talking about.

Yet, nevertheless, she persisted. I've persisted not only because I'm passionate and motivated, but because for every one of these stories, I have another one about people who have really supported me and worked both with and for me.

You don't have to look on TV or social media to find a young activist or a young person who wants to start getting involved. They are right there in your own community. 

I want to see headlines like "Record Number of Teenagers Pre-register to Vote in North Carolina," (and Florida and all the other states that have pre-registration) and "Voters Ages 18-29 Turn Out in Record Numbers for Midterm Election." I want to see some teenagers destroy some senators. I want to see that for real.

How can you be that person in your organization or at an event who is a real advocate for young people? How can you make young people welcome and really involved? How can you get involved in work young people are doing? What policies can you support that support young people? What lawmakers and candidates are supporting those policies?

Young people need you now. They needed you yesterday. They will need you tomorrow.

It is not our job to fix what you have broken. It's your duty to stand with us and our responsibility to do the work needed to fix it together.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Inaugural Address

As we await the inauguration of our 45th President, many feel as though this is the eve of destruction. I hope instead that this is a moment in which we begin to destroy those things within ourselves that led us here. The words legitimacy, normalizing, and resistance have been thrown around a lot lately. We need to think of these words not just as bombs we throw as weapons at targets of our fear, anger, and frustration, but as lenses through which we view ourselves. 

We, as a society, have legitimized apathy and normalized inaction. We have resisted participating in our democracy. We've normalized cynicism. We've legitimized silence. We've normalized making excuses for staying in our comfort zones. We've resisted preparing, empowering, and inspiring our young people to be knowledgeable, active citizens and leaders. We've legitimized making it harder for our citizens to vote.

We have normalized violence against women. We've legitimized allowing women to be treated as second class citizens. We've resisted granting women equal rights and protections under the Constitution. We might pay lip service to ideas like consent, but when consent is given we normalize shame and when it is withheld we normalize casting a woman and all her worth aside, as if the gift of her heart and soul is not enough unless she is willing to give her body as well. We talk about equality, but resist including women and respecting women if their appearance, backgrounds, identities, disabilities, or individual choices and opinions don't align with our ideas of womanhood.

We've normalized thinking that just because LGBTQ+ citizens can get married to who we love that further vigilance and action aren't required to protect that right and to ensure we have all the other rights and protections afforded to others. We've legitimized allowing people to say they love or respect LGBTQ+ people but then tell us to sit down and shut up when we express our fears or stand up for our rights. We've resisted making sure the identities of all human beings are not delegitimized by being dismissed as lifestyle choices or something to be ashamed of or cured like a disease.

White people have legitimized the idea that whether or not black lives really matter is just another matter of opinion. We've normalized the exclusion of black history from all lives. We've legitimized allowing white people to determine which black lives are celebrated and which black lives remain hidden figures. We've resisted entering black spaces and letting the legitimate emotion of black struggles enter our spaces because it makes us uncomfortable.

We've resisted the moral imperative to ensure all citizens have access to food, clean water, housing, and health care, the most basic human needs. We've normalized inequality in access to quality education and the re-segregation of our schools. We've legitimized judging who is deserving of what so many of us take for granted and have normalized taking for granted what so many do not dare dream of having. We've resisted welcoming refugees and immigrants and ensuring they feel the same sense of security and are part of the same promise we make to children who were born here. We've normalized shirking our duty as one of the great and prosperous nations to protect the planet we all share.

We've normalized ignorance. We've resisted sharing knowledge and ideas of substance over what just so happens to illicit the most base responses from an audience at large. We've legitimized the making up of facts. We've normalized forming an opinion over a headline instead of evaluating information with critical thought. We've legitimized choosing to be entertained over being informed.

The time has come to leave the path that led us here and for each of us to quarry, chisel, and lay our stones to pave a new way. We must smooth the road of democracy to make it easier for our neighbors to travel and make sure they have good maps to help guide them. It's easy to call out a president, a senator, an organization, people on the Internet. Let us instead look within ourselves and move out from there to those closest to us, for it is what we accept as normal and legitimate in ourselves and from those we interact with every day that will be reflected as normal and legitimate in a nation built on We the People.

We have a choice as to whether we sit on the eve of destruction or stand in the dawn of awakening. To whom and to what will we transfer our power? To what ideals will we pledge our allegiance and to what ends will we go to uphold and defend them? We must choose whether we will look outwardly for heroes to save us and villains to blame or inward to transform ourselves into defenders of democracy, allies of the oppressed, vanquishers of inequality, and champions of justice. We choose whether we wish to be antagonists through inaction or protagonists in the great American story.

"Do not go gently into that good night...rage, rage against the dying of the light." - Dylan Thomas

Friday, November 11, 2016

Forward Together

When I was 12 years old, I was scared about some of the things going on in my state. I went to a Moral Monday event. I've been to many others since then. It was there I first met Rev. Dr. William Barber and it was he who first showed me how to fight.

Yes, this is a sermon and no, I am not religious, but listen to these words. The work we are about to undertake is going to require us to not allow things like our religion, our class, our gender, our political party, or any other label to divide those of us who are serious about the work we are called to undertake. Take some time when you can, listen to these words, and ask yourself where you fit into this message. 

I know a lot of people are scared right now. Many are angry. I share those feelings with you. But we can't allow those feelings to overcome us and allow them to paralyze us into inaction. It is inaction that got us here in the first place. We also cannot allow these feelings to influence wrong actions.

Make no mistake, the fights we may very well be facing soon will not be easy and results will not be quick. But we can make a difference. 

So let me get back to Moral Monday and the Forward Together Movement for a moment. A lot of people might be tempted to see our gatherings as protests, but they are so much more. These are opportunities to organize around issues. Representatives of organizations and people directly impacted by legislation speak to inform. We have teach-ins where people gather in small groups to share ideas on taking action. We meet new people and network with each other. We contact our legislators. We practice peaceful, non-violent, civil disobedience when our legislators, the people who are elected to represent us, refuse to listen to us and communicate with us. We mobilize people to vote. We can follow this model now, nationwide.

When it comes to my state legislature, Senate, and House of Representatives, I know how to watch them in session and when I can't watch, I know who to follow to get updates on issues. I know how to look up bills and find out who voted how and what districts those people represent.

I see a lot of people talking about elections in two years or in four years. We have elections next year. What and who is going to be on the ballot in that election in your area? Where is justice going to be on the ballot next November in your area? What is happening in your area to get justice on the ballot? What is happening in your area to allow and encourage as many people as possible to vote for justice on the ballot?

What we need to do now is organize and take action. We need to focus on issues. We need to hold our lawmakers accountable and tell them what we expect. The time for excuses as to why we can't do this is over. There is a difference between I can't and I don't want to. There is a difference between I don't know how and I'd rather stay in my comfort zone where things are easy. There is a difference between I don't have time and I'd rather spend my time doing something else.

Instead of arguing with people, gather with those people who share your vision and mobilize. Sharing productive things on social media is great to find more people to gather with you, but also share your feelings and ideas with legislators. Call them. Email them. Show up at their offices. Find organizations that work for social justice and work to help vulnerable populations, join them, and get to work.

We need to tell our legislators what we expect and give them the opportunity to do right. Even if they have done wrong in the past, we need to allow them the opportunity to hear us and change and do right. When they do wrong, they need to hear from us, every single time. 

When I was 12, I saw my state legislature remove pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds in a voting reform bill. This was wrong. I spoke out and communicated with legislators. I tried to meet with my Governor. I did not shut up. I kept speaking out. Other people saw me speaking out and decided to speak out too. The issue was brought into Federal Court along with other parts of the voting reform bill. Parts of that bill were struck down by the court and pre-registration was returned. On election day, my state elected a new Governor. That was a three year fight. That was a victory for teenagers who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. That was a victory for the state and the country as a whole encouraging more people to participate in democracy. That was a victory for justice.

When we organize, when we show up, when we have each other's backs, when we keep our eyes on the prize, when we don't get distracted by those who want to work against us, the victories will come. They will not come easy. They will not come fast. They will not come all at once, but they will come.

We need to be the change we want to see. We need to take the moral high ground when they don't. If we want them to change their behavior, we have to change ours. There will be people from across the political spectrum who will stand up with us. Not all people will join with us in all areas, but we have to go issue by issue, forming coalitions of support and working. Now is not the time to focus on red or blue, liberal or conservative. Now is the time to focus on right and wrong.

We have to be brave and stand up boldly with the courage of our convictions.We must try to do this in every area of our lives. At work, at school, at home, in our relationships. We must stand for those who are weak. We must stand for those who are persecuted. We must stand for those who are in danger. We do not ask for justice, we demand it. We demand it with our words and with our actions, but most importantly with our actions.

Who will stand up with me today and lead? I'm not giving up. Forward together, not one step back.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear President-Elect Trump,

I was brought up to respect the office of President of the United States. As a voting rights activist, I deeply respect and revere the opportunity we have as Americans, that has come as a result of great service and sacrifice, to exercise our most sacred civic duty and choose who represents us in government. I congratulate you on being elected to the highest office in our nation.

In your election night speech, you said, “For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can unify our great country.”

I did not support you in this election. Today, I am taking you at your word.

A transgender teenager I’m connected to on social media committed suicide at 4 AM Wednesday morning. One of my best friends went to school on Wednesday where other students were walking up to one of his Muslim classmates saying they hope he gets deported. I got another message from another friend saying that a boy grabbed a fellow student’s crotch while other boys laughed and shouted, “Make America great again.” Many kids and teenagers are very scared right now all over America, and many of their parents are scared for them. I myself am scared for my safety and my future.

While I do respect the office of President of the United States, I do not respect positions and attitudes that are violent, sexist, racist, bigoted toward the LGBTQ+ community, or discriminatory based on religion or national origin. The actions some people have chosen that result from these positions and attitudes are unacceptable and have no place in a great America. On this, I hope we can agree.

I would like to offer you some guidance and help today in unifying our great country, sir. I would like to invite you to join with me in offering the leadership our nation needs right now. This starts with denouncing, very vocally and prominently, the positions and attitudes that threaten the equality, well-being, security, and lives of our fellow citizens, especially our children and teenagers.

I know firsthand that the political world is tough. I know how hard it is to personally struggle through feelings and attitudes that aren’t in the best interest of our country or its people. I know that saying what you know will be attention-getting or well-received by your audience is easy, but digging down after deep reflection of what’s right is much harder. The past several hours have been incredibly hard for me. My audience would probably much rather read some very different words from me right now. But my country needs me now, and sir, it needs you too.

I would also like to let you, and anyone reading this, to know that it is in large part because of Hillary Clinton I am able to look forward today. It is because of her leadership and what I’ve learned while working on this campaign that I am able to put my country first today. I hope that, in your desire to unify our country, you can look past the ways in which you might differ with Secretary Clinton on policy and look to some of her outstanding examples of inclusive leadership that have, and continue to, offer hope to millions of us.

I am not religious, but I believe in forgiveness and redemption. I believe that people have the ability to change. I believe now that the time for campaigning is over and the time for governing nears, you can look at some of the rhetoric that has led to my friends reaching out to me in fear, anger, and despair and reflect on the kind of leadership these young people need from you right now. Your silence and failure to act in the face of this turmoil is complicity.

I promise you this. Moving forward, I will do my best to focus on the words you use and actions you take from this day forth and not dwell on the words and actions of the past. I promise to help my President and First Lady in any efforts to encourage our young people to actively participate in our democracy in positive ways. I’m sure there will be times when we do not agree on policy, but it is my hope that we move through the next four years agreeing on what constitutes common decency and the importance of providing positive leadership for our young people. I also promise you that I will do my duty as a citizen to continue to speak up for the young people of this country and fight for their freedom, equality, and opportunities and I will hold my lawmakers accountable for their words and actions. In the times my lawmakers fail to step up, I will stand up.

The sun has come up in the morning. Whether the view out of our windows is a shining city on a hill or the burning rubble of destruction is up to both of us, I think. You reached out for help. I am willing to help. I choose this thing not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

Forward Together,

Madison Kimrey  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Your Apathy Is Killing Us

When you're an activist of any type, you know that those moments when mainstream media covers your issue, whatever it is, you've got a very small window to get the viewers and readers of those stories to turn from passive consumers into action takers. It's very easy to get people to comment on stories. It's a little harder to get people to share information. It's really, really hard to get people to take action and contact a legislator. It should not be this hard.

When a big story hits, your inbox goes crazy. Mixed in with information about what other people in your networks are doing and people asking you legitimate questions are some of the most vile and disgusting messages. These range from the ridiculous to rape threats and death threats.

Worse than this are the people who know you and actively try to discourage you. Yesterday, an activist I know got messages that she was going overboard with her gunsense information and call to action posts, in the wake of a great tragedy and on a day when it was especially important to get as much legislative contact from the public at large as possible.

Worse than this is the silence from people who, when you need them to show up, are nowhere to be found.

People need us now. They need you now. They need you every day. They need you to show up.

Young activists are tired of you talking about the future. We are here and now and trying to make a difference right now. Where are you?

There are those in the LGBTQ+ community who are scared and hurt. Some of these people are out and some are not, but knowing that someone cares about them enough to publicly take action on their behalf to show support could be the ray of sunshine that cuts through the clouds and reminds them that someone cares and helps them go on. Where are you?

If you are tired of excuses from our legislators as to why they can't do anything, where are you?

Stop making excuses. Stop being a coward. Inform yourself and take just one moment out of your life to do something. Have somebody's back. Show somebody you have their back.

Here are the emails, phone numbers, and Twitter handles of every member of Congress:

This is the easiest thing in the world you can do.

This will take less than five minutes.

Seriously, all you have to do is call or email or tweet and say "I care about this thing."

What do you care about? What important things do you care about? Show up.

Thoughts and prayers are for you. Do something for somebody else.

Your silence hurts. Your silence kills.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Call Me a Bitch

This quote is about the situations women face involving inappropriate behavior, such as catcalling, unwanted touching, and other forms of male aggression.

I posted this quote and received the following comment:
"But then people get on you for being a bitch and it becomes another problem. Gotta find a middle ground."

No. No women don't have to find middle ground when faced with sexism and misogyny. Finding middle ground requires respect. No one who calls me a bitch for standing up for myself is interested in finding middle ground. This comment also implies that when a man calls a woman a female dog, she should internalize that comment and adjust her behavior to his liking.

Some men have the audacity, as a result of growing up in a society that endows them with privilege, to believe that they can treat women any way they want without consequence. They believe that degrading women by calling them names or otherwise implying that a woman who commands or demands respect is undesirable is a legitimate way to empower themselves. When women talk about the issues we face, they come in to our spaces to argue against the importance or even the existence of these issues.

A friend of mine posted another quote shortly after I posted the one above.

It's not only the culture mired in patriarchy that contributes to the issues women face; it's a culture mired in ignorance. The same person who implied that being called a bitch is somehow a woman's problem later denied the existence of rape culture but doesn't understand the concept of date rape.

Anyone who is truly interested in furthering the cause of equality and in empowering men and women will take the responsibility to inform themselves seriously. Anyone who expects me to take them seriously will undertake that responsibility with respect. Otherwise, prepare to meet a bitch who doesn't care what you call her.