Words by Deborah Keelen

Words by Deborah Keelen
Keansburg, New Jersey

I was just a kid during our nation’s Civil Rights Movement. As part of the graduating class of 1973, I had seen many injustices and remember feeling enraged by the blatant racism and sexism all around me. I also remember the sadness and inhumanity of the draft and Vietnam War. As a teen, I was involved in high school government all four years and was elected by my peers to lead as Student Council President. One of my proudest achievements, even above academics, was advocating—and winning—for a change in the schoolwide dress code. While a seemingly small movement in the needle, the ability to now wear jeans to school would be the symbolic first step in accepting and embracing individuality.

Like many girls from my small hometown in New Jersey, I married shortly after high school graduation. At age 21, I moved across the country to Washington State with my husband, who was in the Navy. I raised my two daughters in the South Puget Sound without the immediate help of my mom or in-laws. It was hard!

For 20 years, I worked full time as a state employee at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Diversity was a key part of my work environment at the prison. I always held steadfast to my liberal beliefs, but there were most certainly rough days at the office. The work I did was challenging, and it was often disheartening to see the state of some of the women I received in the Intake Unit. I wondered how their lives could have been different had they been given safety at home, a better education, or compassion and assistance with addiction.

As my daughters aged into adulthood, my husband and I went our separate ways. I decided to move back home to New Jersey, where my sister and nephews continue to run the family business that my parents started in 1964. It seemed as if our then Republican Governor, Chris Christie, was trying to put us out of business because the infrastructure in our town is literally crumbling around us. Between the Governor’s shortcomings and Hillary’s announcement that she would be running for president, I was hooked on politics. My mid-life crisis suddenly became the realization that we have a significant lack of female leadership in America! As a woman and mother of two daughters, I felt compelled to get involved. I wanted to find my voice and do everything possible to help elect Hillary.

I began volunteering at the Democratic phone bank in Monmouth County, New Jersey and found local campaign events and fundraisers. The first event I attended was a star-studded fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall, where the one and only Sir Elton John performed many of his hit songs and spoke at length about Hillary’s contributions to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. My daughter was especially interested in the Katy Perry performance, while Andre Day moved us with her performance of Rise Up. Chelsea Clinton spoke highly of her mom’s dedication and accomplishments as an attorney, First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, which consistently centered around healthcare, children and families.

In my next rally of support at Rutgers University in Newark, Hillary told us that New Jersey would be pivotal in deciding the Democratic Party nominee in the Primary Election. After I voted for her on June 7, 2016, I took a train to New York City, where I watched her clinch the nomination at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was especially moving to attend a profound campaign event on the same day that I cast my ballot for our first female Democratic Nominee. We all witnessed Hillary put another crack in that glass ceiling.

Following the General Election I was left feeling overwhelmed with its outcome. Like many of us, every day was a battle where I had to comprehend and accept the fact that Hillary was not our president. In January 2017, I marched in the Asbury Park, New Jersey, Women’s March, and as the year went on, I applauded the record-breaking amount of women who ran for office. When the second Women’s March happened in 2018, I joined my daughter and the Hillary Clinton Brigade in New York City. The passion and drive surrounding me was rejuvenating. It was an incredible feeling to be in the midst of so many people who shared my hopes and dreams for the future of America. As I read the clever signs and listened to the protest-chants, I knew that it was time for me to get more actively involved again.

I returned home and got to work. I began hosting the local Democratic club and business association meetings at my family’s business, and became Keansburg, New Jersey’s 3rd District Democratic County Committeewoman. While moving forward into the unknown, I hope that in my new position I can inspire and drive meaningful change.


This essay appears on page 30-31 of The Revolution Is Female.