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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018 12:19 am

Blue Wave? More like blue sweat

It’s no secret to my family and friends how troubled I’ve been by the devastation wrought by the Trump administration. The NATO summit and Trump’s meeting with Putin was outrageous. And he lies about seven times a day just for good measure.

To keep sane, I’ve been following the developments of the Democratic “Blue Wave,” led by unprecedented numbers of women candidates running, some for the first time, for the House, Senate, governorships and other offices.  A few months ago, I attended a meet-and-greet party for Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, the Democratic nominee hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis in the 13th congressional district.

At the event, I joined a group of friends rehashing all the marches and rallies we’ve all attended in the past 18 months. I mentioned the criticisms I hear before each Women’s March. I don’t get it, people say. Is this a march to get out the women’s vote, for more common-sense gun control laws, to protest Trump’s tax plan or to support the #Me Too Movement?

It was Londrigan, a pretty, dark-haired woman in her mid-40s, who answered that question. “All those issues are women’s issues,” she said. “But that also makes them people issues.”

That’s when I knew I wanted to get to know her better. Could this woman from central Illinois be one of the ripples in a blue wave that truly puts us back on course and erases our national nightmare?

If there is to be a blue wave washing out the current Congress, it will be candidates like Londrigan who make it happen. She’s not in the national spotlight, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Queens, or Amy McGrath, the former Marine fighter pilot running in Kentucky. She doesn’t represent a high-profile district, and that’s the point. The 13th congressional district is about as Middle America as it gets, an unlikely place to start a wave, perhaps, but an essential one.

Blue wave? Londrigan calls it blue sweat. She is all over the district, discussing expanded health care one day, winning the endorsement of the United Steelworkers Union the next, visiting a Muslim mosque in Champaign, joining a parade in rural Gillespie, then attending an NAACP event.

“When I meet people, I focus on issues they want to talk about,” Londrigan says. “Pre-existing conditions don’t pick parties. Republicans want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  That hurts all of us and our health and they frame it as ‘us vs them’ policy.”

A working mother, wife and daughter, she has worked for Democratic causes and candidates over the years, but her activism took on new meaning in 2009, when life provided a wake-up call.

That’s when her son Jack, then 12, suffered a life-threatening illness brought on by a tick bite. Jack was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit and was placed in a medically induced coma to relieve the swelling in his brain. In critical condition, he spent the next 24 days in the hospital. During her long days and nights by Jack’s side in the hospital, Londrigan met many families fighting a similar fight as her own, but some were also experiencing another terrible worry – not having sufficient health Insurance.

Since then, Londrigan and her family have worked in their community to raise awareness of the importance of children’s hospitals, raising funds for the Children’s Miracle Network and St. John’s Hospital, to ensure that other children receive the same quality of care as Jack did. Then, last year, Londrigan watched on television as her congressman, Rep. Davis, celebrated with Trump on the White House lawn after passing yet another attempt to restrict Obamacare. At that moment, she knew she had to run.

“No family should face bankruptcy because of an unexpected medical emergency, or because of pre-existing conditions,” she told me. “Our people need to have confidence they will be able to afford their care.”

I think about Londrigan if I’m feeling overwhelmed by the news, because it feels like we’re at a marathon to reach the November midterms.  And those of us cheering on candidates like Londrigan have to show up on the sidelines with cups of water, yelling, “You can do this!”

Londrigan put it this way. “If as women you are horrified about what the Trump administration is doing, you can march, sign petitions and go to town halls. But none of it matters if you don’t vote.”

Nora Duff of Chicago writes essays and memoir. Her own involvement in women’s issues led to a forum where she met Betsy Dirksen Londrigan. She is not affiliated with the Londrigan campaign.

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