The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Because of Kavanaugh — and a tweet — people across the country suddenly care about a PTA election in D.C.

Jessica Raven walks her then-3-year-old, Max, from Brentwood Recreation Center's Little Explorer day camp in June 2017. (Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post)
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On the day that Christine Blasey Ford described her alleged sexual assault by Brett M. Kavanaugh and testified about his “uproarious laughter,” Jessica Raven was compelled to step up in a way she’d never expected.

At 6:27 p.m., the D.C. mom and sexual assault survivor tweeted: “y’all, a woman is running unopposed for PTA president at my kid’s school & tweeting in support of kavanaugh today. some days this fight feels so massive.”

Less than two hours later, at 8:13 p.m., she posted a five-word update: “she is no longer unopposed.”

Raven hadn’t planned to run for president of the Parent Teacher Student Association of her 4-year-old child’s school in Northeast Washington, but her reason for doing so immediately resonated with strangers. Suddenly thousands of people from across the country, and even outside the United States, were paying attention to an election between two parents at Langley Elementary School.

“At no point did it occur to me that I’d be following a DC PTA election from New Jersey but 2018 keeps getting weirder and weirder,” one person tweeted. “Good luck! You got this!”

“This stranger in Atlanta supports you!” another person wrote.

“I’m following from Shropshire, United Kingdom!” wrote yet another. “Go Raven!!”

That it took just a mention of the Supreme Court nominee’s name to draw international attention to a hyper-local election is telling about where we are now as a country.

In the past, two moms wanting to play a more active role in their children’s education would not gain much notice (or recognition), and discussions at PTA meetings might not go beyond bake sales and teacher appreciation displays.

But the Kavanaugh hearing — and the uncertainty about whether a man accused of sexual assault will sit on the U.S. Supreme Court — has struck so deeply for so many people that it is changing the conversations we are having about sexual violence and where we are having them.

I couldn’t stop reading #WhyIDidntReportIt stories. Then I realized why.

We are now talking about rape and consent and the “devil’s triangle” at ballparks and playgrounds and, yes, PTA elections.

We can discuss what is gained and lost by this because in this divided environment, that’s what we now do. But if we do, it’s important we keep in mind what remains beyond debate: Both of these moms decided to run for PTA president in hopes of creating a better environment for children at a school where most students are black and from low-income families. Both women stepped up when others didn’t.

“I decided to run for Langley Elementary School’s PTA because I wanted to help our community and children’s school,” said the mother who is running against Raven. “The underlying thing that unites all of us is that we want to make the best school for our children, one where they have resources at their disposal to best learn and grow.”

She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she never invited the national attention and now worries about it. It’s a valid concern at a time when the nation’s politics have become so polarizing and personal that “Do you believe her?” can also mean “Do you believe me?”

The woman said her tweets do not reflect her personal political beliefs. She described them as “a reflection of stories covered and issues being discussed.”

On the day of the hearing, she shared a video on Twitter of Kavanaugh crying when speaking about his family and tweeted his denial of the allegations against him, quoting him as saying, “I know any kind of investigation will clear me.”

But in an earlier tweet, she also quoted Ford as saying, “I thought Brett was going to accidentally kill me.”

Jessica Raven is the executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, a grass-roots organization that describes its role in one sentence on its website: “We’re working to make DC safer for everyone.” She had recently cut back her hours so she could become more involved in the life of her 4-year-old transgender daughter, Max, but she said that before the hearing, she hadn’t decided how she was going to spend that time. When she saw the other woman’s tweets, she said, they struck her because they “seemed defensive of Brett Kavanaugh.”

‘Just plain wrong’: Flake, Collins criticize Trump for mocking Kavanaugh accuser at political rally

Knowing the other mother was running unopposed, Raven submitted her bio that night to the parents’ association and, with that, secured her place on the ballot.

“I thought no one is running, and I’m someone,” she said. “My child needs a safe community at school, and I want to be a part of creating that.”

Her tweet that announced the race was no longer uncontested has now drawn more than 20,000 likes and nearly 2,000 shares. The comments it has spurred have been overwhelmingly supportive, with people lauding local action and praising PTAs.

“I had no idea I’d ever be rooting for someone in a PTA election run, let alone in the US,” tweeted one person. “But good luck to you from me in Canada!”

One person through Twitter created a campaign flier for Raven. Another offered to be her assistant. Others have donated more than $600 to the school’s PTA in small increments. Someone in California gave $5. A teacher in Illinois gave $10.

“The powerful response from all over the country and from my own community has sent a message to me that I am not alone in this vision for a school that respects people from all walks of life,” said Raven, who describes herself as Arab-Latina. “At my school, and at schools nationwide, I want to see school leadership that values diversity and establishes a firm commitment to gender justice and racial justice.”

She also hopes that her actions will inspire others to get involved in their own communities, even if they just donate to their local PTAs.

“If they can give to mine, they can give to theirs,” she said.

As for the actual election, Raven said it could go either way because it will come down to what parents at the school decide. The many people who have shouted their support for Raven on Twitter don’t get a vote.

Even so, if their posts are any indication, they will be watching from afar.

“I just have to know how this ends!” one woman tweeted. “Good luck from Ohio!”

Read more from Theresa Vargas:

‘I hope that they find normalcy’: What a D.C. dad’s fight for his daughters’ education says about girls of color in school

I couldn’t stop reading #WhyIDidntReportIt stories. Then I realized why.

As kids go back to school, this teacher hopes a form will help save student lives