California State Assemblymember Buffy Wicks went viral after bringing her newborn baby onto the legislative floor to pass a housing reform bill. She took the stand on Aug. 31, wearing a face mask and holding her swaddled, crying baby in her arms. The image of Wicks embodies the struggle of new mothers, forced to balance her career and the responsibility of being a full-time parent.
Wicks was in the middle of feeding her child when the housing bill was presented, but she didn’t let that stop her from speaking on the assembly floor. According to CNN, she surprised her colleagues by ending her speech with a plea to pass the housing bill and saying, “I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
Unfortunately, the bill did not pass, but Wicks tweeted a promise to “always show up for housing — no matter what.”
Wicks requested to vote by proxy, which would have given someone else the opportunity to vote on her behalf, because she had just given birth in July. She was concerned that her recent labor would put her at a high-risk for contracting the coronavirus. However, according to Politico, her request was denied because “maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting.”
According to the Associated Press, the request was denied by Democratic Assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, who received backlash from fellow mothers and the media for being inconsiderate. Rendon later apologized for his decision and said, “the Assembly needs to do better.”
Wicks handled the situation graciously, bringing her baby from her home in Oakland all the way to Sacramento to vote. She said she was not upset that her request had been declined. Instead, she reflected on how most mothers are feeling as they juggle parenthood, a global pandemic, and a full-time job.
“I think it touches a chord of what a lot of women are feeling around the country right now, especially with COVID,” Wicks said in an interview, according to the Associated Press. “It’s not really about me, it’s about the constraints I think families are feeling across the board.”
Wicks’ daughter, Elly, was crying during the speech, which symbolized the frustration of mothers everywhere. Videos and images of Wicks speaking on the assembly floor with her one-month-old daughter went viral, causing a sea of outrage on social media. Prominent figures including Hillary Clinton and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also tweeted about the moment to express support for Wicks.
“Caring for a one-month old is a heroic feat!” Gillibrand tweeted. “That @BuffyWicks showed up to vote on important paid family leave legislation—with child in tow—is both heroic and poignant. It’s a welcome reminder that we need to do better by all working parents and caregivers across the country.”
Wicks recognized that her situation is a lot different from experiences of low-income mothers who do not have paid leave or access to babysitters and daycare. Ironically, one of the bills she voted on that night proposes to expand paid family leave for workers. If passed, the bill will give mothers longer maternity leave without the fear of being fired. Her decision to bring her newborn to work reflects the growing need for family-friendly policies that can provide relief for low-income households and mothers struggling to choose between their family and their job.
The Women’s Caucus Leaders, an organization that advocates for women and children in California, issued a statement on Sept. 2 about the need for maternity leave reform. The Legislative Women’s Caucus said it is their responsibility to “do better” and “try to correct these wrongs.”
“As Women’s Caucus leaders, we are deeply troubled that a member of our Caucus was required to travel to Sacramento with her newborn baby—in the midst of maternity leave during a global pandemic—so that she could vote on end-of-session measures,” the statement read.
Wicks voted in favor of paid leave benefits because she believes no family and no mother should have to face the dilemma she was presented with.
“What are the social safety nets that we are providing for working families?” Wicks said in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s clear this is a racial equity issue and that poor communities are the least likely to have leave.”
If you agree with Wicks, you can take action by sending a message to your senators and representatives demanding paid family and medical leave. You can sign up to send an automated message here.