Q&A: State Sen. Mallory McMorrow discusses political polarization, women in politics
Mallory McMorrow is a Democratic state senator representing the 13th District, which includes some of the Northern suburbs of Detroit. Due to redistricting, she is now running in this year's election to represent the 8th District, which is also in the Detroit area.
In April, Michigan State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) sent out a fundraising email accusing McMorrow and "progressive social media trolls" of wanting to "groom and sexualize kindergartners" and teach that "8-year-olds are responsible for slavery."
McMorrow denied the accusations during a speech on the State Senate floor on April. The speech was then posted to Twitter, where it now has over 15 million views. As a result, she rose to national prominence and has appeared in both television and print media in Michigan and beyond.
Central Michigan Life spoke with McMorrow about her experiences dealing with political polarization and the importance of elections.
We are more than six months removed from the incident with Sen. Theis. How have the responses you’ve received impacted you as a woman and as a mother?
I don't think I ever could have imagined that I would wake up one day to find out that a colleague of mine – and not only a colleague of mine, but another mother – effectively accused me, a mom, of molesting children. The responses to my speech have been overwhelmingly positive. For months, our PO box was completely full with letters of people writing me their life story and how much (the speech) meant to them. We had positive responses from older people, younger people, conservatives, Democrats, people who are religious and people who are not religious. It really tapped into some universal values about who we all are, so it's been really wonderful – and in a strange way – reinvigorating.
Are there any responses that surprised you?
I graduated from the University of Notre Dame, so I went to a Catholic school. Getting a lot of responses from fellow Notre Dame grads – you know, it's a really divisive time right now – to get letters from people who really said to me that they're so proud of what I did, because they said that I embody the values of the university and what it means to be Catholic and Christian. Some people are out there attacking trans kids, or our Black kids or the LGBTQ community at large. I think that’s been really moving to me, just getting those letters. That was a scary thing for me to talk about – my relationship to the church – especially as somebody who moved away from it, as a lot of people do when they get older. That surprised me in a really good way.
In a recent piece on Time Magazine’s website, you said you think of your career in terms of “before the speech” and “after the speech.” What was life like for you before the speech?
It was hard. I ran for office for the first time in 2018. This was not what I ever thought I would do with my career. I was somebody who, in the wake of the 2016 election and all of the hate and vitriol that led to – with Donald Trump openly bragging about sexual assault and targeting immigrants and handicapped people – it started this kind of ugly pattern that we've seen in our politics. I represent a district in Oakland County, Michigan, so every time there were lies about the 2020 election and Mike Lindell (CEO of My Pillow) that went on TV somewhere and said that computers in China changed votes in Oakland County, our offices got hate mail and sometimes death threats. It really wore me and my staff down when we were just trying to help people. We helped more than 1,000 people access unemployment – trying to be of service to our community – but the constant vitriol was challenging. To see such an overwhelming response in a good way – and getting calls and emails from people who say that my speech and my actions inspired them to get back involved – that’s really incredible.
Do you feel that women in politics have more of a target on their backs compared to men?
I do. When we learned of the plot to kidnap and potentially kill Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the same group – the Wolverine Watchmen – also wanted to carry out burning down our state capitol and public executions on the front steps. They listed some names and they were almost all women. The types of phone calls and emails that we get are graphic. There are rape threats. I'm not easily rattled these days, but there was a Twitter account…and this person would respond on posts, basically revealing where I lived – talking about my house and parks around it and…talking about my childcare situation. That was really terrifying. You hope that it's never going to turn into something serious, but in this day and age, you just don't know.
My office staff is all women right now. I feel like there are so few of us in these roles. That is something that I think about a lot – how do we make this space safer for women so that there are more women in these roles?
A couple of years ago, I was very public in reporting and filing an official complaint against a colleague who sexually harassed me, another sitting senator. I did that in defense of a young reporter who was sexually harassed by this senator. He tried to call her a liar and say she was politically motivated. I knew I had a similar experience to back her up. It's only going to change if more of us get into these roles and acknowledge the challenges. The future is female, but it's also challenging.
It’s on men to talk to other men when they see something happening. We need men to say, ‘Hey man, that’s not okay.’ If it’s only women talking about it, it will get minimized.
What would you say to college students in Michigan about the importance of voting?
It's super important, that's true. There's always this like, ‘you have to vote, it's gonna change everything.’ Especially when Roe v. Wade fell, you saw younger women expressed frustration and they would get texts from Democrats saying ‘Roe just fell, donate 5 dollars,’ and it feels super disingenuous. If you don't vote, you're letting somebody else decide for you – that's the reality. What we see in traditional voting patterns, is a lot of older people vote and it skews where the policies lie. Change takes time. This election is not going to change everything, but it will…start to move things in the direction that you want to go.