As a Black queer woman in politics, Erin Maye Quade has faced her share of obstacles, but one of the most daunting—and demoralizing—was when members of her own party, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota, refused to suspend balloting between she and her opponent at their convention when she went into labor. During her convention speech, her labor contractions were so intense she had to stop speaking—and then she didn’t get to make up the lost time. Her opponent refused to agree to suspend the balloting.
With her labor advancing, Maye Quade withdrew from the convention and went straight to the hospital with her wife Alyse to give birth to their daughter Harriet. Her opponent received the party’s endorsement.
But Maye Quade didn’t give up. She’s facing her opponent in a primary race next month to represent Apple Valley, a city on the outskirts of Minneapolis. If she wins, she’ll become the first Black woman state senator in Minnesota history. Maye Quade is currently the advocacy director at Gender Justice, which advocates for gender equity through the law, and served from 2017–2019 in the Minnesota House of Representatives. In 2018, she ran for lieutenant governor and was the first LGBTQ person ever to be endorsed on the ticket of a major Minnesota political party.
Maye Quade spoke to Ms. about her experience at the convention, what it means for women in politics and why she’s not giving up.
Carrie Baker: Can you tell us what happened on the day of the convention?
Erin Maye Quade: I was 38 weeks pregnant when the convention happened. It was my first baby. A lot of people had said first babies are often late. We had tried to see if we could move the convention earlier, just in case, but I wasn’t super worried because I figured it was unlikely that the 24 hours that I’d be giving birth would happen on this day. But I woke up at 2 a.m. on the day of the convention with contractions. They were about nine minutes apart.
We knew that a really sizable chunk of the delegates had decided to be undecided. They had said that they wanted to see the speeches. They wanted to see the Q&A and talk face-to-face in the room. So, our calculus was that if I could go, we should try, because there were enough undecided folks that it could sway the vote either way.
I spent 12 to 13 minutes working the floor, and then I would go back into the campaign room and I would have a contraction. But at a certain point, walking actually increases labor. So, the more I was walking, the more intense the contractions were getting. It was really public and I didn’t have control over when one would come. So, if it came early, I would be talking to somebody and have to say, “Excuse me,” and lean on my wife and breathe.
We moved the agenda around a little bit so that the endorsing part happened earlier. After the first ballot, someone came out of the teller room [where votes are counted] and said, “I don’t know the final numbers, but neither of you got the endorsement.”
I said, “I can’t do this for five more ballots.” So, I went and found my opponent and said, “Can we just suspend and go to a primary because I can’t do this anymore.”
He said, “No, we should keep balloting,” and then he left.
I was like, “Okay, well, I can’t do this anymore.” So, I withdrew. I came home and my water broke not that much later. After that, it sped up very quickly. I showed up at the hospital 90 percent effaced.
The more I was walking, the more intense the contractions were getting. It was really public and I didn’t have control over when one would come. So, if it came early, I would be talking to somebody and have to say, ‘Excuse me,’ and lean on my wife and breathe.
Baker: What happened during your speech? Did you have a contraction?
Maye Quade: Yes, but they didn’t stop the timer. You only have seven minutes to give your speech and I had a one-minute contraction in the middle. So, I only really gave a six-minute speech. I had to cut out a chunk of it. But I was able to finish it. The Q&A period was 20 minutes long, so I knew I was going to have a contraction during that process. And that was even more vulnerable, because we were sitting next to each other with a moderator, and sitting really close to the delegates. My wife just sitting in a chair right in front of me. When I would have a contraction, she would kneel in front of me, and then I would put my head on her.
Baker: What was happening while you were having these contractions. Was everybody just sitting there?
Maye Quade: Yeah, watching me. Some people applauded when I was done.
Today in Minnesota, @ErinMayeQuade gave a convention speech while in active labor. And her opponent didn’t think to ask to postpone the convention as she, you know, had to go to the hospital to deliver her baby. What the hell. pic.twitter.com/Wmu5fh40I6— ashley fairbanks (@ziibiing) April 24, 2022
Baker: Did you appeal to the people that were running the convention to delay the balloting?
Maye Quade: So, the power really rests with the delegates. The conveners and the chair don’t really have that much power.
That being said, I think it’s true that if there had been a different kind of medical emergency, if somebody had had a heart attack or somebody had a seizure, they would have suspended the balloting. I think the fact that it was a woman who was laboring, meant it just didn’t occur to people that maybe this wasn’t okay that we just stick to this process.
Really, the only person we felt could help me at the time was my opponent and he had said no. It was a fast-paced day and he just was like, ‘No, let’s just keep going.’ I don’t think that his thought process was, ‘Gee, how can I help?’ It was more like, ‘I want to win.’ That’s what came through that day.
Baker: Who was in charge? If somebody had a heart attack and fallen on the floor, would everything have just gone on normally?
Maye Quade: I don’t think so. But it’s true that there’s currently no process for them to look to say, here’s what we should do. There were two delegates, two of my supporters, who had tried to make a motion to suspend, but it was during a part of the proceedings where the floor was frozen and motions weren’t in order. Hewing to the process kind of removes the humanity from the moment. We can say over and over again, this was the process and we stuck to it. But also, there wasn’t a lot of humanity in that moment for what I was going through.
Anya Rozario: Could you speak a bit more to what the responses of the delegates and the other party leaders were?
Maye Quade: Some thought I didn’t have to be there in order for balloting to continue, which ignores the reality of conventions and working the floor and talking to delegates and the impact that speeches and Q&A have.
During that day, it was very business as usual. But since then, a lot of folks have said that it wasn’t okay and we shouldn’t have kept going. I think time has given folks more perspective than we had in that moment.
Baker: Why do you think this happened?
Maye Quade: I think that there are a few reasons why it happened. I think some of it is the expectations we have of women, especially Black women, to just endure anything. Also, we heard comments on the floor from people like, “Oh, she’s faking it.” Also, I think endorsements and conventions are contest that activate a win/lose frame in people’s minds. The frame of mind of a bunch of people was not grace and humanity, or asking what should we be doing in this situation. I think a lot of people’s thought process was, “I want to win.”
It’s an amalgamation of all of those things. That I’m a woman of color. That it was labor that I was in and not a kidney stone or appendicitis or seizure. That it was childbirth. And the win-at-all-costs mentality. And it’s true that my opponent’s team and supporters were heavily male.
Baker: Can you say more about how sexism played into how they treated you?
Maye Quade: Absolutely. It’s implicit bias. I don’t think people would say, “I questioned her because she was a woman.” But that’s just how it’s baked in. We are socialized to take Black woman’s pain less seriously, and to take women less seriously, or to take birthing and pregnant people and their illnesses less seriously. We don’t even give people who’ve given birth paid time off to parent their kids, to bond with their babies. So that leaks into how we treat pregnant people in this country. So, I’m not surprised that individually, it didn’t go well.
Rozario: Looking forward, how has this experience influenced your political goals?
Maye Quade: It’s not lost on me that some of the things we’re fighting for in our campaign are to change the systems that don’t serve us. I don’t want to tinker on the edges and then be part of a system that fundamentally does not work and is not allowing people to fully participate. This experience shines a light on so many of our issues such as how we treat pregnant people. I was really lucky to have paid parental leave, but not everybody has that. My story in particular has allowed me the platform to talk about what we’re fighting for, and to use my story to say, here’s an example of how our systems aren’t working for us.
Hopefully, my story will inspire more people to run for office. You can run for office and be pregnant, you can run for office and be a parent. Hopefully, I can change that process a little bit so that it’s more inclusive and so that the next time someone run for office and they’re pregnant, giving birth doesn’t preclude them from participating.
We are socialized to take Black woman’s pain less seriously, and to take women less seriously, or to take birthing and pregnant people and their illnesses less seriously.
Baker: So how is the race going?
Maye Quade: My opponent is currently the endorsed candidate. We have a primary on August 9, and that will determine the endorsement once and for all, and who will be on the November ballot.
The campaign is going really well. We’re talking to voters and people are really resonating with the campaign and what we’re fighting for. I was the state representative for this area already so I’m a proven leader with experience. I think that really resonates with people in this time of economic uncertainty. I have experience writing bills and passing legislation, and connecting with the community. I think that really resonates with a lot of people. We’re excited about what we’re building and the vision we have for this community and state.
Rozario: What further obstacles or challenges do you anticipate in the upcoming August primary?
Maye Quade: It’s difficult being a new mom and campaigning. Your first six weeks after postpartum, you’re not really supposed to be doing a lot with your body. After that, we started door knocking and that’s certainly a challenge. And I’m breastfeeding, so I live my life in two- to three-hour chunks. I don’t sleep a lot at night. I’m doing fundraising call time and door knocking and all that stuff around a pumping and feeding schedule.
But I also think a big, structural obstacle that we’re working with right now is that people are really disillusioned with politics and feeling burnt out and feeling a little bit of despair. I always remind people that the last act of oppression is not death, it’s despair. And that’s why we have to be hopeful and make sure that we are holding on to joy and holding on to hope and building community together. So that we can achieve things together, so that people don’t take themselves out of the process, that they stay connected to their democracy and to their ability to make policy and make change together. But it takes mental fortitude to make sure that I bring that to every interaction we have every day to make sure I don’t buy into any despair or despondency.
Baker: Do you have any advice for young women who are pregnant or parenting while running for office?
Maye Quade: The first is build a really good team around you. No candidate does this alone, especially if you’re pregnant or parenting. I have an amazing team, I’m so grateful for them. I think so often we expect parents, especially moms, to do everything alone and really isolated. Then there’s a tendency to try to campaign that way. It just wouldn’t work well. So, reach out to your networks, ask people for help and don’t be afraid to do that.
Second, be really diligent about your schedule. There’s a lot of guilt that you feel. Every time I’m parenting and not campaigning, I feel guilty about not campaigning. Every time I’m campaigning and not parenting, I feel guilty about not parenting. Make sure you have in your mind, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now, and then the next chunk of time, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now.
And make sure you’re able to articulate why you’re running and what you’re running for, and use that to resonate with the community. Talk to people face-to-face, and reach out to your networks.
Baker: What’s at stake in your race?
Maye Quade: This is a historic campaign for many reasons. Once elected, I’ll be the first Black woman ever elected to the Minnesota State Senate! I don’t think you can have democracy without Black women.
I think what’s at stake is, can we continue on with business as usual? The resounding answer is no. The systems we have are not serving us. And we need to fundamentally change them so that we can get the things that we need so people can live and play and thrive in our state and across the country.