Keep it honest, take it personally

Dubuque letter writer Barbara Rank struck a chord, according to a Washington Post headline. I have another assessment: Rank took it personally.

Rank attended the Dubuque town hall event hosted by U.S. Rep. Rod Blum. She heard her Congressman say it was time to end some “crazy” Affordable Care Act regulations, “such as a 62-year-old male having to have pregnancy insurance.”

The following day, as she walked through her community, she thought about that statement and other past controversies surrounding how taxpayer funds are used. Then, she penned a short, authentic response to Blum that she submitted as a letter to the editor.

“I ask, why should I have to pay for a bridge I don’t cross, a sidewalk I don’t walk on, a library book I don’t read? Why should I pay for a flower I won’t smell, a park I don’t visit, or art I can’t appreciate?” Rank asked.

“It’s called democracy, a civil society, the greater good,” she wrote.

A letter authored by Barbara Rank published in the May 12 edition of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and quickly rose in prominence on several online sites.
Barbara Rank’s letter to the editor appeared in the May 12 edition of the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald and quickly rose in prominence on several online sites.

If there has been a theme woven through the advice I’ve given before women’s groups, it has been that we need to set aside cultural warnings about becoming emotionally attached to public policy issues. Drawing from the 1996 commencement address given by screenwriter and journalist Nora Ephron at Wellesley College, I’ve encouraged women to take more things personally by viewing policy debates through the lens of their own experience.

During a speech last month before the state conference of the American Association of University Women I said, in part:

“When society hands a woman who has been hurt on the job a pain killer and then later jails her and takes her kids away because of opioid addiction, I hope you take that personally.

“When you learn that less affluent people right here in Cedar Rapids must walk home in the dark after work or school because this community refuses to invest in public transit that runs after 7 p.m., I hope you take that personally.

“When neighborhoods are emboldened by elected officials to fight so that ‘those people’ can’t have homes built in certain sections of the city, I hope you take that personally.

“When any number of women who step up and run for elected office are held to a different standard, discussed based on their age or appearance, or dismissed as emotional, I hope you take that personally.

“When elected officials decide its fine if only some women have access to legal and affordable health care, I hope you take that personally.

“When you find out that your company is likely hiring men and women for the same job at different wage levels, I hope you take that personally.”

Taking something personally, viewing it through the lens of common sense and speaking out is important because when people like Rank draw from their own lives, they provide an honest voice not easily ignored or dismissed.

Before Rank’s letter became a national sensation, I posted a photo of it to my Facebook page along with my intention to buy her lunch the next time I was in Dubuque. The offer stands, Barbara, and my contact info is below.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 20, 2017.