It was the cry heard around the world: a newborn baby in her masked mother’s arms, on the floor of the California State Assembly. She was a rising star before last week’s viral moment, and now Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) has been hailed as a hero by working moms.
“The image of me speaking on the floor with my daughter and trying to keep my mask on, and trying to calm her down and speak quickly to this bill that I was very passionate about, I think it resonated because every working mom has been in that position,” she said, adding that while the location was certainly unique to her, it’s a reality many parents are facing right now.
Rendon has since admitted that he made a mistake and should have recognized that a new mom with a one-month-old baby would want to minimize her exposure to the coronavirus and that he has to do better.
Wicks said that she and Rendon have spoken “on and off” since last Monday’s incident. She added that he initially wanted to grant her proxy, but he was given the legal advice that there were concerns about what that would mean for the votes cast for the bill, so he ultimately told her he wasn’t able to provide that accommodation. But she added that she is optimistic about the future.
“I think coming out of this—I think both in the assembly and the senate—there will be some further analysis of the best way to allow for remote participation for our legislators,” she said. “Truthfully, a lot of institutions are dealing with this, right? How do you provide workplace flexibility that keeps, in our case, our members safe while also allowing for the government to continue to run?”
One of the bills Wicks voted on was an expansion of family leave. It passed by 41 votes, with a few extra added later that night. She said that she knew it was going to be a close vote and that it was important for her to be there for it, saying her wish is for a national paid leave policy, which she thinks won’t happen under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Wicks also expressed a need to tackle the child care crisis, saying that in 33 states, it’s cheaper to send kids to college than it is to send them to preschool.
In the past week, she’s heard from parents all over the country who have shared their struggles and stresses of trying to teach and care for their children while working from home.
“Unfortunately, this disproportionately impacts people of color,” Wicks said. “It disproportionately impacts low-income communities, there’s a lot we have to unpack here.”
Fundamentally, she said, we need better policies that support working families.
With November’s Presidential election around the corner, Wicks said the spotlight she’s been given is a huge opportunity to make sure the conversation becomes a movement, not just a moment, and believes it’s a much more “robust” issue under the Biden-Harris ticket.
“I do hope, coming out of this, that it’s a real catalytic moment for us to be having a national conversation around the value of these types of policies,” she said.
In the midst of Covid-19 and the economic fallout from it, Wicks added that she wants to move forward instead of going back to a system that wasn’t working for so many Americans. She said that in her district, there has been a 47-percent increase in homelessness in the past two years.
“Normal wasn’t working for so many people to begin with,” she said. “I don’t want to go back to that.”
In addition to affordable housing, paid leave policy, and early childhood care, Wicks wants politicians to focus more on affordable healthcare and showing respect for working-class families in order to paint a “broader, better vision” for the country.
“I truly do believe that this is the most important election of our lifetime,” she said.