Politics are currently saturating the airwaves, yet actual, real-world politics often go unnoticed. (Though, it’s no secret that for most Americans, priorities are out of whack.) Here, writer/director Sascha Rice, granddaughter of the late California Governor Pat Brown, shares how little things like meeting with and mentoring others can make a big difference, so you can be a leader—and create positive change.
If you follow the news, you have no doubt been witnessing the Republican presidential primaries unfold. What is most striking to me is that the voter turnout is so low. It reminds me that I live in a country where more people watch the Super Bowl than vote in our presidential elections. It is worth pondering for a moment our relationship to politics.
When we use the term ‘politics’ in everyday conversation, politics usually means that there were dubious dealings, often below the surface, difficult complexities, and/or strained ties. It’s a shame really that these are the connotations that spring to mind. When thinking about politics in the more formal sense of the word (in relation to government), I would love to say I think of the art and practice of government at its best. Honestly, political discussions often leave me either feeling that I simply don’t know enough or with an uncomfortable feeling that I am being disagreeable.
I come from a political family in which issues and news of the day are commonly discussed and hashed out. Yet growing up, I was still coached to ‘be nice.’ (“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”) Maybe this is a cultural trend that might explain why so few women are in government. Startling figures show:
- The number of women serving in the Senate is stalled at 17.
- In the last election, the number of women serving in the House of Representatives dropped for the first time since 1979.
- Women hold only 17% of the seats in Congress.
- Only 22% of all statewide elective executive office positions are currently held by women.
- State Legislatures are only 24% women.
- Only 6 out of 50 states have a female governor.
- The United States trails behind much of the world—ranking 90th in the number of women in our national legislature. (*Note: The U.S. is listed as 73rd, but after accounting for tied rankings of other countries, the ranking for the U.S. is 90th.)
- Women of color represent only 4% of Congress and 23% of women Members of Congress.
In spite of feeling like a fish out of water when it comes to politics, these statistics motivate me to be someone who feels more comfortable being political and more importantly, to be a part of a generation that changes the political landscape. I think having a government that represents the people is a reasonable expectation, so having 50% of elected officials be women should be a reasonable goal. So how do we get there?
How do we make the electoral process sexier and more appealing? Going back to the Super Bowl, I think maybe we haven’t done enough to associate hot wings and beer with voting. Besides the fact that chicken wings are about the messiest things on the planet to eat, I don’t actually think that modeling civic engagement on a Super Bowl party would result in a great outcome, but I do think looking for a moment at some fascinating Super Bowl facts can give us some ideas:
- 41: Days in advance, on average, Super Bowl plans are made.
- 293,000: Number of miles of potato chips, laid end to end, consumed during the game.
- 1 billion: Number of chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.
- 325.5 million: Gallons of beer consumed by Americans that day.
- 493: Number of Olympic-sized swimming pools that could be filled with all that beer.
OK, some of those facts really do not relate to my point, but these illuminating facts about the biggest national event of our great land do point to the baffling fabric of America. The wild visuals painted by these figures are merely the backdrop. The most important fact is that on average folks plan over a month in advance to gather and watch a football game. Certainly, ladies can come up with snacks and beverages to accompany a gathering centered on something more meaningful. And I don’t mean the Oscars! While I absolutely will be watching the Oscars, I am suggesting we make a point of connecting around issues that matter to us.
It is important not to run the other way when politics are on the table. This is our country and it’s up to us to take charge of our collective future. For too many of us our bodies have become the final frontier. I am ready to get over my obsession with my weight, my age spots, my hair, and the ever-changing fashion landscape. Whether we are part of the plastic surgery crowd, the tattoo pierced hipsters, or the granola-princess tribe, we are all at risk of being utterly obsessed with ourselves and our place in our tribe. I can’t help but think that I would be contributing more to society if I spent half the amount of time studying world geography as I do mapping the blemishes and imperfections of my body. Certainly how we shop, what we eat, and the way we live are political actions, but as we head toward another presidential election, I challenge each of us to get a little more comfortable being a little political.
I believe in keeping it simple, so here are three things you can do to make positive change this upside-down world:
Mentor: No matter what business you are in (and that includes stay at home moms), you know more than someone else. Use this knowledge and experience to give another woman a leg up. Mentoring is easy and feels good, too. It doesn’t have to be formal. Just be available to listen and share your wisdom.
Meet: Make it a habit to meet with others to talk about books, local goings on, relationships, and yes, even politics. The Internet is a great way to connect, but it is also teaching us that a “search” starts with a click and ends about three seconds later with a page curated by some genius logarithm that magically spits out what it knows we want. Take time to venture out into the world and to gather in person. Forming bonds is the foundation of life. Find a space where you can be intelligent, curious and connected.
Making history: It sounds big, but it can start small. Read a little, be willing to ask questions, and go out on a limb and share your opinions. (We know you have them!) There are tons of ways to be active online and armchair activism is a new powerful tool that might feel like a safer and easier way to join the conversation. We all do so much, but take some time to reflect on what you are contributing to the dialogue. We are so blessed in the USA to live in a democracy, so let’s embrace it. Simply showing up to vote is a start.
Having two kids and a career, I often find it hard to wrap my mind around the big picture, but I try to take time to be grateful that I live in a country where I have a voice and a vote. It is easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and I confess I often get my news from late night comedy shows. Sometimes I need the levity to digest the gravity of it all. Next time I feel I don’t know enough or that I am heading into uncomfortable political territory, I am going to remember something my mother told me, “Everyday history is unfolding.” I will pause and think more carefully about where I stand. I feel ready to get a little political.Sascha Rice, a native Angeleno, is a director and writer. Ms. Rice has received numerous awards including Park City Film & Music Festival’s “Director’s Choice Award: Gold Medal for Excellence.” She directed and co-wrote the feature romantic comedy Mango Kiss which screened internationally at over 80 venues. Her current film, a documentary feature CALIFORNIA STATE OF MIND: The Legacy of Pat Brown is an inside look into political power and an intimate portrait of former Governor Pat Brown—the man Tom Brokaw called ‘the Godfather of modern California,’ and perhaps best known as current Gov. Jerry Brown’s father. He was also her grandfather. Ms. Rice’s goal was to make a film that inspires viewers to feel empowered and optimistic about our collective future. The film has had a great festival run with screenings at the prestigious Palm Springs Int’l Film Festival, Mill Valley Film Festival, New York’s Doc Fest, San Francisco Film Society, Carmel Film Festival, MOCA in Los Angeles, and at the Big Bear Int’l Film Festival. The documentary will air on public television in May, will screen in Sacramento as the Closing Night Film at the Sacramento Int’l Film Festival on April 21st (fittingly on what would be pat Brown’s 107th Birthday!) and recently the film was selected to show at The National Archives in Washington DC in March. For more info or to view a trailer visit www.patbrowndocumentary.com <http://www.patbrowndocumentary.com> In addition to filmmaking, Sascha is a mother of two and serves on the board of the Pat Brown Institute which focuses on non-partisan public policy issues.