Do you care about Universal Preschool and Childcare? How about paid maternity leave? And child tax credits? As Moms, these are rhetorical questions, regardless of where you live. And as Moms, we are a massive voting block but are desperately underrepresented amongst lawmakers, both on Capitol Hill and in State Legislatures. That’s where the Vote Mama Foundationcomes in.
The Vote Mama Foundation wants all women to consider a political career. Founder Liuba Grechen Shirley had two small kids when she ran for Congress in New York four years ago and made history in the process. She had quit her job to run but couldn’t afford childcare — so she changed the law to help pay for a babysitter!
While Shirley didn’t make it to Washington, she’s fighting to make sure you can. We are thrilled to share our interview with Shirley and her inspiration for you to, quite literally, be the change you want to see in the world.
Please tell us about yourself. How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Hi! I’m Liuba Grechen Shirley. I’m a mom of three and the Founder and CEO of Vote Mama.
My daughter Mila is 8, my son Nicholas is 6, and my youngest Andrew is 2.
In 2018, you ran for a seat in the US House of Representatives while you had two small children at home. Why did you run and what was that early experience like?
I had a representative that showed a total disregard for working families. He had been in office since I was 12 years old and year after year he supported bills that harmed my community. After he bailed on a meeting with me and my fellow activists at his district office, I knew I needed to do something. So, I launched my campaign for Congress.
I quickly realized that running for office was not designed for people like me—campaigning for nearly two years, eighteen hours a day, with no pay, and constant judgment for campaigning as a mother of young kids.
Campaigning as a mother, especially a mother of young children, is extraordinarily difficult. We are often met with questions like “who will watch your children when you run?” and I was even accused of using my children as “political props” and told it would be impossible for me to do it all. Moms are also confronted with hurdles such as the inability to afford childcare while campaigning full-time without a salary. These barriers force many moms to wait until their children are grown before they even consider stepping up to run.
You were the impetus for monumental change in election law. Tell us what you accomplished.
At the beginning of my campaign I would make calls to donors, while nursing Nicholas, while Mila covered my head in hair clips. For months I built forts, changed diapers, and made lunch with my phone attached to my ear. This schedule was unsustainable — but so was paying for childcare after giving up my salary to run.
So, I petitioned the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and requested to use some of the funds I was raising for my campaign to cover the cost of childcare. Everyone told me it was political suicide, but to my surprise my request was unanimously approved and I became the first woman to receive federal approval to use Campaign Funds for Childcare. Since the ruling over 100 candidates, both moms and dads, have used this resource to run for office.
What do you think are the most important goals for Vote Mama Foundation?
American policies were not designed to support mothers because our policies were not crafted by them. After my campaign, I launched Vote Mama to build the political power of moms and eliminate the cultural and structural barriers down the barriers that hold us back.
Vote Mama Foundation is fighting to expand my FEC ruling to state and local candidates and authorize the use of Campaign Funds for Childcare (CFCC) in all 50 states by 2025 – so far 28 states have authorized the use of CFCC! Vote Mama Foundation is also the leading source of research and analysis on the political participation of moms. We publish groundbreaking research and help form the national conversation on moms serving in office.
What’s your best advice for moms who are considering a plunge into politics?
Far too often women, especially moms, think that they are not qualified to run. But here’s the deal, there are so many people in office that are not really there to fight for the people they represent. If you care about the issues and know your community — you already have what it takes to lead. My biggest piece of advice is to be confident in yourself, care about the issues, and get out there and do the work. We need your voice in office!
Is there any motto or piece of advice that you use daily or offers strength in a low moment?
Trying to fix our broken policies is hard, emotionally taxing work. On days when it all feels like too much I remind myself that fighting for a better future for my kids is always, always worth it.