The first time I ran for office, and won, I was part of a three-person school board which happened to already have two other smart, hard-working women on it. They were the ones who encouraged me to run, because women… we tend to wait for invitations to run for office. (Something I learned from EMILY’s List and never forgot.)
I was so proud and so intimidated. I worked hard studying acronyms, learning complex tax systems, and forging relationships with townsfolk and teachers. We lowered taxes and helped build a strong leadership team in the school. We completed long-stagnant projects and solved problems like hungry children in classrooms and lack of affordable child care in our county. In short, we rocked that shit. Hard.
Empirically, we couldn’t have possibly been doing more right. Taxes were down, the school budget was down, teacher turnover was down, test scores were up, kids were getting three meals and two snacks per day for free, we had free preschool and free before and after school child care. We re-roofed the school, replaced the leaky windows, and updated our playground equipment. Our teachers were so satisfied, they declined to join the local union, saying we were offering better deals than the union could negotiate. Heck, we even continued to offer an ailing teacher health insurance two years after she became ill and had to quit.
One day, someone in town said to me in passing, “You know what they call you three, right?” I had no idea. “The Kindergarten Mafia!” he said with glee. I was devastated.
The phrase was not meant kindly. It was shorthand for, “You uppity bitches came in here and steamrolled through everything you wanted. We liked things the way they were, no matter how fucked up, so screw you.” It took the wind out my sails for a while.
Another time, two taxpayers ran into our meeting, screamed threats at us about the school budget, then ran back out. No matter how many times we offered to go through the numbers, right there, line by line, they screamed louder. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that many words for vagina in one sentence.
It happened again and again. Incomprehensible rage. Nonsensical arguments. Just plain down and dirty hate coming our way. I learned when to block it out. I learned when to call the sheriff.
Over time, as I ran for other offices, it dawned on me. The hatred, the vitriol, it was shorthand for other things: “Things are changing. I’m scared.” “I don’t understand, but I’m too embarrassed to ask.” “I don’t think I’m on the right side of the argument, and I need to call you names to save face.”
I have a better understanding of this knee-jerk reaction. I don’t condone it, but at least there’s some insight. It’s stunning just how strong the bonds of communal hatred can be. That doesn’t put anyone on the right side of history, it just makes them louder. And you can be as loud as you want, because I’m the fucking Kindergarten Mafia.