In January, I wanted very much to attend the Women's March in Houston, to be a part of something that felt deeply personal and important, both in the present and from the perspective of looking back on a historical moment. I wanted to take my family, especially my four-year-old son and one-year-old twin daughters, to introduce them the incredible energy of love and human connection that I saw leading up to all the various marches. I wanted to attend, but for a handful of reasons, I couldn’t.
Instead, I followed coverage of the D.C. march throughout the day. I liked the hundreds of photos that brightened up my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I cried some. And I started to think about how I could harness that impressive momentum and make a meaningful contribution to work that makes the world better.
A friend of mine started making a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center or the American Civil Liberties Union every time someone on social media said something to him that felt dismissive of human beings or outright hateful. Others made donations to Planned Parenthood in Vice President Mike Pence’s name.
I wasn't in a position to make a significant monetary donation, and I was overwhelmed with where to send my money if I could budget for it. So I looked for local opportunities to volunteer my time. At one point, I had a couple dozen Google tabs open to pages for food pantries, women's shelters, a local mosque, and random searches for charitable groups that might need a writer.
But I have young children who are always with me. My husband and I are frugal. We don't go on dates. We don't hire a babysitter ever. For me to make time to serve my community outside of my home, we would have to juggle his hodgepodge of jobs and the kids. I felt restricted, both financially and in terms of time and personal freedom. I also felt like I was failing to live out the values of compassion and generosity I have always held as essential. I had to find a way to contribute that worked with my current situation in life.
Around the same time, I was also trying to take self-care more seriously, and I had picked up hand embroidery again, a hobby I’ve dabbled in sporadically. I wasn't sure what kind of project to start, and then Mitch McConnell uttered his now famous explanation for silencing Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
"Nevertheless, she persisted."
Senator Mitch McConnell
How many people have memorized this short piece of speech? I got goosebumps when I read them the first time. Like so many others, I was moved, not by Majority Leader McConnell's explicit message, but by the force of will he inadvertently acknowledged in Senator Warren.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
It was simple, succinct, and resonant for many of us who have ever felt silenced or dismissed. Immediately, his rebuke was reclaimed as a rallying cry.
"And suddenly I had a project."
Melanie Sweeney Bowen
And suddenly I had a project. I embroidered a simple piece with the words, Nevertheless, she persisted. I made it because it felt like the kind of thing my daughters (and my son) should see in our house, a rallying cry for fortitude in the face of challenges. It was also a message I needed to see regularly, to lift me up when the world felt too heavy on my shoulders, whether in politics or the often overwhelming realm of parenting.
When I shared the in-progress piece with a few friends, some expressed an interest in buying one. I decided to make and sell some and to donate half of the money to the ACLU. The portion I kept covered my minimal costs of fabric, embroidery floss, and hoop, and I pocketed a couple bucks for the dozen hours I spent stitching each one. I was pleased to finally have a way to make a modest but guaranteed, recurring contribution to an organization that is doing very important work.
I don't churn the pieces out quickly -- I'm parenting for most of my day -- but I have committed to making that 50% donation on every She Persisted piece I make. As I stitch these hoops (and sometimes patches), I get the benefit of honing a craft that calms and fulfills me creatively, but I also get the added pleasure of knowing it will be a positive message in whatever home it ends up in and that it will allow me to support people doing the work I can't.
As a person who struggles to justify self-care and creative projects that cost rather than make money to contribute to my family, this has been a monumental choice. More than ever, I feel entitled to my self-care because it pays for itself, but also because it has a clear connection to caring for others.
If you feel constrained by money or time or some other obstacle, but you are burning to give something to a cause you care about, maybe there is a creative way for you, too, to contribute through art, making, or some other talent you have. And if you're like me, tapping into your unique gifts to make that contribution will feel all the more rewarding.