Charlotte Goddard grew up in Kentucky in what she described to me as extreme poverty. “The lights were cut off, the water was cut off, it was hard keeping food on the table and there were times when we were homeless all together.” There were three things that kept young Charlotte’s body and soul together, the American social safety net, the stable lifeline of a public school, and hell of a lot of determination. No surprise then that when Charlotte went to college with help from Pell Grants, she chose to become a teacher. Now Charlotte teaches in Fulton County in Western Kentucky; a school district where 100% of children qualify for free or reduced lunch. Charlotte told me that when her kids walk in the door, she can look at each one of them and know right away what kind of trauma they might be suffering, because she’s seen it all.
Like a number of other red states, Kentucky has been rocked this year by a teacher’s movement that has demanded better for the public education system. This fight has drawn Charlotte into politics into a way that she never imagined before. First she showed up to a forum on the issue and was stunned that none of her legislators bothered to attend. Then she organized her own townhall and was stunned when more than 100 people showed up on a few days notice. Then she signed up for a women’s political leadership program called Emerge. The first day of class she walked in, took one look at the accomplished women around her with long resumes and fancy degrees and announced to everyone that she didn’t belong. But her sisters were having none of it. They wrapped themselves around Charlotte, pushing her forward, encouraging her, telling her not only did she belong, but that her voice was essential and missing in the places where decisions were being made. With their encouragement, Charlotte decided to run for the state house. Her name will be on the ballot this November.
When you’ve been told in ways large and small your whole life that your voice doesn’t matter and that you don’t count, it’s not an easy thing to get over. Each time Charlotte would get up in front of a crowd she’d be wracked with nervousness. Just this last week was a kind of low point. On Thursday, a lawyer with an expertise in pensions quizzed and berated Charlotte just before a big speech, calling her stupid and unqualified. She was rattled, and it showed when she got up in front of the audience. Worse still, the big annual Kentucky political kickoff event was on Saturday and Charlotte’s confidence was badly shaken. On Saturday at Fancy Farm, Charlotte would have to stand on stage in front of hundreds of jeering and booing partisans, not to mention television cameras, and deliver a rip-roaring old school southern style barn burner. It’s about the most intimidating set of circumstances you can imagine. Sure to send butterflies into the stomach of even the most seasoned orator. But Charlotte’s sisters were not going to let her fail.
Between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, they worked through a complete rewrite of her speech. Sat up late with her drilling her. Had her give the entire Fancy Farm speech at another Democratic event so that she’d have a full dress rehearsal. Still nerves were high when it came time for Charlotte to face the unforgiving crowd on Saturday. As she stepped up to the mic, we all held our breath. And then out from behind the podium, came a strong and confident proclamation: “My name is Charlotte Goddard and I stand with Kentucky teachers!!!” The crowd went wild. Charlotte smiled and proceeded to deliver the speech of her life.
Charlotte Goddard is the story of 2018. There are a whole lot of Charlotte’s out there this year. You do belong. You are worthy. And you sisters? We’ve got your back. Go get em.
Krystal Ball is the co-host of “Rising,” Hill.TV’s morning news show.
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