Volunteer /ˌvälənˈtir/: a person who voluntarily offers their time and skills to an undertaking without receiving financial remuneration.
When Ebony Murphy-Root is not teaching English at a middle school in Los Angeles, she volunteers for progressive and feminist political candidates throughout California and across the United States. Her volunteer work started when she was in her 20s with CT NOW (the University of Connecticut chapter of the National Organization for Women), and grew from there. Today she lives in Long Beach.
What motivates you, and what is important to you?My parents, though not wealthy, raised me to see that I’ve been privileged enough to share what I have. Many people think that you have to be a parent to be invested in the next generation, but I think that says more about how we silo ourselves away from one another. I’m not a mother, but I want better for everybody’s kid. If we can explore space, we can make sure our fellow humans are not evicted during a pandemic. We can look after each other.
What keeps you going as a volunteer?I grew up in a union household. The ideas of going on strike and collective bargaining and shaking the table of power are not far off for me. I grew up with food and clothes and books, solid health insurance, and access to healthcare because of the labor movement. My dad paid 75% of my college tuition with fair wages and overtime driving a tractor trailer. It’s not theoretical for me.
Was there a moment when everything changed for you?Al Gore/Joe Lieberman in 2000 was my first election. Hanging chads, all that. That was my freshman year at the University of Connecticut and also the year my mother passed away from breast cancer at age 39.
It reminded me of the Gil Scott-Heron lyrics from the ’70s that my dad recited:
“How much more evidence do the citizens needThat the election was sabotaged by trickery and greed?And, if this is so, and who we got didn’t winLet’s do the whole goddamn election over again!”
My parents always voted. My grandparents left the South so they could have access to the franchise.
What part of the political process do you hope to impact the most?I want to create future voters who hold our civil servants accountable. They work for all of us; I think we all forget that sometimes. And if they stop working for us, we can vote them out.
Part of my work is granular, day-to-day modeling and teaching of reading, writing and critical thinking skills. Not every kid is going to be a doctor or a physicist or a nurse. But if they do, I hope they come home and read the paper, or pick up a novel or a collection of poetry.
Some people will install air conditioners, become artists, work at the grocery store or maybe all of those jobs over the course of a lifetime. And that’s OK. All those people need to be able to call their mayor’s office or email their congresswoman’s staff.
Every job has dignity, and if we really do value hard work as part of our American ethos, then people who work 40 hours a week should be able to have a decent standard of living. If you can read closely, write clearly, and speak with confidence, you will show up with confidence to take part in our democracy.
In my experience, people who don’t read, don’t vote. Read everything. Read Jacobin, Sports Illustrated, Mother Jones, The National Review, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Sacramento Bee, the magazines at the dentist.
What’s one lesson you’ll never forget?
My dad always told me, “You’re not better than anybody, but nobody’s better than you.”
I am endlessly proud to be the daughter of a Teamster, to be three generations removed from South Carolina sharecroppers who moved up North as part of the Great Migration.
I can walk into any room and find someone with whom to chat. I’m rarely intimidated, and if I am, it’s by someone’s bookshelf, not their money or their fancy house – OK, maybe their fancy bookshelves. … I’ll admit to coveting a few of those.
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Editor’s note: On Sept. 20, the newsmagazine “Body Politic: People Making Democracy Work” went out to subscribers. While so much media attention goes to politicians, the truth is that citizens at all levels of engagement keep democracy going. “Body Politic” highlighted players in our region’s political ecosystem, getting beyond platform points and party ideology to find out what motivates them, what they care about, and what they hope their part adds to a healthy political process.
Source: Orange County Register