Erika Prosper: A vote is an act of love to your city, to your family

By Glenda Wolin

Not guilty! That was one of the themes of the rousing keynote speech by Erika Prosper at the San Antonio League’s 2018 Annual Luncheon, held April 19, 2018.

Not “not guilty” in the sense of a verdict, but in the sense that as women, we cannot let ourselves feel guilt over not being able to do everything we feel is expected of us, said Prosper, who is married to San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

watch complete video of her speech here, scroll down to read more

“On average, women do twice as much housework and child care as men, even when they work full time. It is calculated that women are working an extra month more than their spouses every year on what is called the second shift at home," she said.

“Our time, our resources, our energy often drained, and tired as we are, we still give, and we still get up tomorrow, and we do it all over. We will coach, we will teach, will manage money, we will cook, we will, we will, we will," said Prosper.

“I’m here to tell you that work-life balance is a guilt trip and it has been rammed down our throats to convince us to chase an impossible phenomenon that we will never achieve.”

In describing how the outdated expectation of work-life balance distracts us from going after goals like politics, policy and power, she got a knowing laugh and applause from the 145-plus guests at the luncheon.

“If I’m out encouraging voters to exercise their rights and have to feed my son dinner, I’m probably going to go to a Chick-fil-A drive-thru. And I should not feel guilty about that. If I’m accepted to a leadership program and I’m not there to do the laundry, why should I feel guilty asking Ron to do it?  I urge you to consider that modern womanhood isn’t about work-life balance any more, it’s about boundaries. Boundaries that you choose, not anyone else,” she said.

She explained how this related to the League.

“Voting and engagement and policy and politics are one of the typical upending things that we push to the side in pursuit of the other. The most recent elections surprised people because women have upended balance. The most recent movements changing policy around gender relations and women’s safety have come about because women have upended balance.”

Two events happened the day of the luncheon before she arrived, she said, that brought it all home: the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and a breakfast with the archbishop.

At the wedding, the bishop in his sermon spoke so frequently about love that “by the time I turned off the TV, all I could think about was the word “love.” And in many ways, that’s what an extension of a vote is: It is an act of love to your city, to your family, it is an act of love even if you don’t agree with what the popular sentiments are.”

At breakfast, she asked the archbishop what you do about people who try to undermine our faith in government and in the vote while we are trying to make a difference. His answer? “Don’t let them steal your joy. Don’t let them steal your joy in knowing that what you’re doing is moving forward and trying to convince people that an act of love for your city is an act of compassion, an act of faith, an act of hope, and that voting is at the very center of many of those decisions you will make as a parent and as a citizen.”

She concluded with the reminder that just as we would not put off care for our children in need, “I don’t think we should be inactive in protecting their future via our votes either. It’s an extension of our responsibility to take care of one another. It’s not a partisan issue – we all need to take care of one another. So whatever you decide to do with your acts of love and compassion, do it! Do it!”

League today and tomorrow

The luncheon opened with a beautiful a cappella rendition of “America the Beautiful” by Northeast School of the Arts freshman Daniela Landa-Gonzalez.

Then San Antonio League President Madhu Sridhar addressed the need to close the participation gap between the number of people registered to vote and those who actually vote.

“What is it, voter apathy or is it voter despair? Is it voter fear?

The San Antonio League took a bold initiative to mitigate the situation, she said. Many citizens don’t know their basic rights when it comes to voting, so the League prepared the Texas Voters Bill of Rights, provided it in English and Spanish, and had it signed by both Mayor Ron Nirenberg and County Judge Nelson Wolff as well as Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen and Sridhar. It was distributed through other organizations and placed in the League’s Voters Guide.  

Sridhar also discussed other initiatives, such as the “Vote – It’s in Your Best Interest” brochure, the Running for Office workshops and perhaps the biggest, the Empowering Voters Project, a vision for the future that involves a healthy, vibrant and inclusive democracy.

“On San Antonio’s 300th birthday, let us come together and kick off the Empowering Voters Project, a project that will strive to ensure that all voters in San Antonio know their rights and their responsibilities on Election Day and go to the polls informed and empowered. The project will aim to focus on those communities that are underrepresented in the electoral process and most vulnerable to voting problems.

“Let us give San Antonio a great birthday gift by committing to vote together and turn around this horrendous voter turnout performance. Let this luncheon be our call to action.”

Sridhar announced that the first person to respond to the call to action was the keynote speaker, Erika Prosper Nirenberg, who agreed to chair the honorary committee for the Empowering Voters Project and also donated 50 T-shirts custom-designed by San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz, which the League sold to raise funds for the project.

Fixing the system

Starting a speech with a joke is a time-honored tradition, but the one District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldaña told on himself hit close to home.

He “explained” that the word politics comes from the Greek poly meaning many, and tick, a blood-sucking parasite.

“It’s a time in which it seems to be true. And I think to myself, why is it that anybody would ever consider voting with that much of a sense of feeling in some ways of anger, disappointment, frustration?”

He spoke of leaders of nonprofits and organizations like the League who are working to get people to vote looking to accomplish a certain goal, and he spoke of himself growing up on the South Side, in a community that felt overlooked.

“So what I was looking for, and probably many of you, was to try to find a better system. You try to find justice.

“The opposite of justice isn’t injustice, it’s indifference. Indifference is not caring one way or another what happens if I vote. Indifference is not caring one way or another who wins or loses. Indifference is not caring one way or another if a community progresses because it is not about the community, perhaps it’s about me. That is what we are battling against, that indifference, that apathy that we feel.

“So the question is, who do we blame?

Surprisingly, his answer was himself and others like him: elected policyholders. Not because of what they do in office, but because of the way they get there. They hire consultants who advise them to spend their time and money on long-time, consistent voters and ignore the nonvoters.

This has been going on for decades, as the city has grown, mostly on the North Side, while the other three sides continue to get ignored. It’s time, he said, to reach out to the people who have been ignored and engage them.

“My ask of you,” he said, is to continue our work in a focused way, for focus on those areas that for a long time have been forgotten. In these marginalized communities, “some of these folks, given a choice, will support their communities in drastic ways. Some people vote because they’re inspired, some vote because they’re angry, some vote for an issue, but some people don’t vote because we don’t ask them.”