When artist and author Jackie Ann Ruiz stayed up late into the night last week to finish designing her now-viral portrait of Elizabeth Warren, she had no idea the response she would get. Ruiz’s portrait depicts Elizabeth Warren in red, blue, and white, backed by a flag, and surrounded by the words: “SHE’S ELECTABLE IF YOU FUCKING VOTE 4 HER.” Just after finishing it last Tuesday, Ruiz created a Teespring account to sell t-shirts with the image, offering half of the proceeds to support Warren’s campaign. The image quickly went viral, with people sharing extensively on social media, many making it their profile picture. In under a week, Ruiz has sold over 7,060 t-shirts, stickers, and totes and raised more than $100,000.
In an interview on Saturday, Ruiz discussed the momentum of her artwork, why she believes in Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, the power of anger to enact change, and the need for women in leadership roles.
I feel like you creating this art catalyzed something that a lot of people were feeling. I wonder if you could start by talking about the impetus for making the art?
Sure. I have a solid group of mom friends. We are in a Facebook group, but we also have a side group in Marco Polo. And my friend saved a video I sent her and sent it to me. It’s me exhausted in the middle of the night going: “I’m making a t-shirt right now. I should be asleep. I’m so fucking angry about the amount of conversations I’ve had with people lately who say the same thing, which is “I love all of her policies but I don’t think she can get elected.” Or the other thing I was hearing a lot was “there is just something about the way that she talks.” Which is exactly what people said about Hillary.
And then she sent me this video where at the end I said, “And I’m going to charge $40 and I’m going to give half to Warren—but do you think that someone is going to buy a $40 t-shirt?” And I was really doubting myself. People say this all the time—but it’s really hard to take this seriously, especially as a woman—that you should pay yourself fairly for your work. So I just kept thinking: What if that were true for me? What if I could harness this advice that I freely give other people? What if I could do that for myself and fake it ‘til I make it? So I did.
I’ve been writing a book for the past almost three years and it just came out.
I saw that—tell me about it.
It’s called There’s No Manual: Honest and Gory Wisdom about Having a Baby. And I wrote it with my best friend Beth Newell who is the co-creator of Reductress.com. And it’s basically the version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting that your best friend would write when she tells you what it’s actually like. So because I’ve been so deep in that, I didn’t have any Internet presence. My resumé still says I work at a teen center in Vermont. So I made a Teespring account after doing some research. I was frustrated with other sites and their profit margins. And on Teespring not only can you set your own price and see what the profit is, but you can also automatically donate and put that verified sticker on there and they take the money out.
Okay. So it makes it easier for you.
Right. I thought, I’ll put two t-shirts, a v-neck and a crewneck. I’m going to do one color. I’ll keep it simple. All I did was post it on a small Facebook “activist” subgroup of my mom group and was like: “Hey, I made these shirts.” And I posted it on my Instagram which, at the time, had around 350 followers. That’s all I did.
I was looking at my texts to friends and I remember being like, “Guys, I just put it up a few minutes ago and I’ve already sold four.” And then I woke up the next morning and I was like, “Oh, shit, 40?” And I drove the kids to school—which is ten minutes away—and when I checked again it was 50. And I was like, hey, what’s happening here right now?
So, in three days, I’ve sold over 6,000 shirts.
That’s incredible. At first, you thought: maybe my friends will buy some shirts?
Yeah, I was like, maybe I’ll get enough money to fix my dishwasher. The impetus was that I’m angry about a lot of things in my life and the world right now. Since I was a teenager, the way I process my emotions is drawing. And I always had a book with me. And once I had kids, I had to switch over to having an iPad cause my kids would grab my sketchbooks and draw all over things.
I have an entire iPad full of things in the works, things I haven’t had time to do. I’m in the process of a pretty horrendous divorce, and I have primary custody of my kids so I am hashtag neveralone. What I basically had to do was commit: I am going to finish this, it feels really high stakes and important. This is an idea that came to me in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep and I was worried about the future of the world and for my kids and I said, I’m going to commit to five days of going to sleep way too late to try and finish one thing. The momentum behind this has changed my life.
It feels like also one of those moments—you couldn’t predict this outcome, but I think about any kind of artistic production and when you just have a feeling that you need to do something and it is a priority and that sounds like what you are talking about.
Yes, and you know what? Somebody from the campaign reached out to thank me. Several of them have now, but the first one was this email—this was before celebrities started tweeting about it. This staffer said: you made this because you had to because this a message that needed to get out. And that is exactly why Warren is running. She’s not running cause she wants to, she’s running because she has to—because she feels a responsibility to rise up and help.
And that is so true. And I have all the faith in the world that not only will she eviscerate Trump in debates if we can get her there—to the point that there will be no logical way that he could win unless everyone just went to sleep—but also that she will make things better.
And I was a Bernie girl. In 2016, I voted for him in the primaries. I am a radical. I love so much of what he says. But I also think America will not be united by him in this time.
It’s so funny that people keep calling her angry. It’s just that “shrill” bullshit. We don’t like to hear women being angry cause it reminds us of our mom yelling at us. And that’s a conversation I’ve had with many men that I love and respect. Which is: If you could get to the point where you could acknowledge internalized misogyny as a reality. If you could say: Despite the fact that I know logically that I love women, I know that I have been raised in a country where female anger is not okay and scares men. And if you realize you are viewing her through that lens, then you would be free. Cause I had to do that in myself and I’m a woman. I didn’t always love Hillary and it was because she’s scary. It brings out something really primal to hear a woman being really angry about something because we were all made by and raised by women whose anger could scare us.
But anger is also the agent of change. That was the best thing my therapist ever said to me when I was going through my shit and pushing my anger down. That’s how you change things. And that’s your indication that things need to change.
It’s very hard for people to embrace that. But her anger is just and will move mountains.
It was interesting to me, too, because I feel like at the debate a couple of weeks ago when she really was calling people out—that is when she couldn’t be ignored anymore. She had dropped out of the media and people were ignoring her. The Wall Street Journal didn’t include her in a poll. And then she came out and couldn’t be ignored.
Yeah—and it’s wild to see other people’s reaction to the same debate that I watched. I had a lot of conversation with friends where they were like: she was going after people, she was throwing dirt. People watched the same debate as me and came away with her not being a clear choice. It made me worried. But the more I talked to people the more I realized that was coming from fear that they were the only people. That there weren’t enough people who thought she could win so they had to push that out of their mind.
Somebody in the comments section of one of my posts was like, “There aren’t enough people.” They were arguing that a couple thousand T-shirts means nothing. I was like, “Listen. I am not a political scientist. I am an artist. All that I can offer is anecdote. And anecdote is for me the true essence of America. Not polls. Because polls we know are slanted, they change all the time, they are subject to the will of the pollers.” But I’m looking at: I had zero following, no one knew who the fuck I was, and in four days, I’ve raised over $100,000.
There is no possible way that it is because of anything in my network. This is being shared by a lot of people who feel the same way and it’s changing minds. My Boomer dad is voting for Warren now. And my friend called me last night and she said: “I wasn’t sure what I should do but now I’m proud and I’m going in and I’m going to vote for her.” It’s changing people’s minds to see that momentum. And that makes me feel emotional.
Especially, personally—it’s been an intense and scary year as I leave a marriage that was truly unhealthy. I needed to leave and in the process of doing that, I lost a lot of my power and felt very scared. To have this happen to me now is giving me hope not only for the future of the country but also for my life. It’s like: Okay, you can do this. I want to go into my next divorce court proceeding singing Lemonade.
And I love how many people are commenting positively on the price. And how they are glad that I paid myself fairly. There was one bro who was like: “You’ve priced out the middle-class by doing this. Isn’t that who you are fighting for?” And it’s like, if you think the answer is making goods cheaper, then you’re missing the entire point of what’s wrong with America.
I think that’s been a motivating factor amongst what I’ve seen. You being really honest and transparent on the website has also spoken to people in addition to the image. People are saying this person and what they are saying resonates with me. I believe in this message and I want to support them so I’m going to buy a few a few t-shirts.
Yeah, and I love the idea that I can create this ripple effect in the thoughts of people who hadn’t considered this before. Like: “Oh, she paid herself and she paid others fairly. Am I paid fairly?” What’s the protection for me? Where is that money going? Why are some people so rich and I’m not paid fairly? There are a lot of people who work really hard who say “I pulled up my bootstraps.” But they’re still struggling. Those people have bought the lie that there is no more for them. That is the best trick that the one percent ever pulled. Pointing at someone else, saying there’s a problem, while they just rake in all our money.
That makes me think too of Elizabeth Warren founding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is about—in the context of the banking and credit card industry—protecting people from being exploited, from getting their hard-earned money taken.
I don’t know if you saw that link that’s been going around with her—she predicted the 2008 financial crisis years before it happened. She is watching and she sees what the problems are. And the whole reason they are trying to make her invisible is because they don’t want to fix those problems because they serve them.
In my opinion, she is even more “burn it down” than Bernie. Because she’s coming from the inside, having it watched it all happened, having studied it for decades. And she’s like: I have the solutions, y’all aren’t going to like it but here it is. Clean your room.
And could you share about some of the responses you’ve gotten or the pieces that have felt the most impactful?
Personally, as a writer and a [soon-to-be] divorcée, I lost my shit when Cheryl Strayed posted. Part of the reason that was so impactful for me to have her to share my work is because of my book process. My marriage was falling apart as I was writing it, I was leaving the situation as I was editing it, and I didn’t have a moment to be like: Do I want to change my name? The book decided it for me because they were already printing it. It was an intense thing to grapple with. I kept thinking about Cheryl Strayed. I don’t know if you know why her name is Cheryl Strayed.
Yes. (She talks about in Wild how she changed her surname to “Strayed” after her divorce to recognize and honor her veering in her path.)
I thought: Maybe I’m “Jackie Phoenix.” But I didn’t get a chance to do that. And when I saw that, it was like full circle. Cause I kept thinking of her while it was happening.
The most impactful messages and the ones that have made me cry are the people that have related to my story and are sending messages. Telling me that they are also single moms. I saw one person offering to buy another person a shirt who couldn’t afford it.
I’m hopelessly expressive at all times. I put that shit up and I didn’t sign it. All these people started messaging me with these beautiful messages—they were trying to protect my work. They said, “We keep tagging it.” I felt this incredible zen about it because I was watching all this money pour in for my family and for Warren. I was like, “It’s okay. Thank you so much for helping me.” But I was like: If I try to hold onto it all—it’s a metaphor for motherhood. If I try to do everything, if I try to hold onto and claim everything, then I will have no energy left for or anything else.
Don’t get me wrong: Copycats suck. And they’re not donating money and that sucks, and people should buy from me. But the spirit of generosity of her campaign and the people trying to help, protect me, and share the message far outweigh these weird sites trying to sell my shirt.
I didn’t have a voice before. And I feel like I have one now. Now I have to decide what to do with it.
And her campaign director called you too?
It was hilarious. I was in Target with my two kids who are borderline still sick. And because the Coronavirus is happening, every time they would cough or sneeze, everyone would stare at me and I’d think, I’m irresponsible. But I needed some stuff.
[I had told my kids] we are going to Target to buy toys and clothes. It’s been so tight that I’d been avoiding taking my kids to stores so it was our celebration. So we’re in the in the parking lot and they’re getting cranky and hungry and I’m putting them in their carseats and my phone rings and the person says, “Is this Jackie Ann Ruiz?”
And he said, “This Roger Lau, campaign manager for Elizabeth Warren.”
And I had to be like: “Hang on one second—yes you can hold it in your seat, no you can’t open it ‘til we get home cause they’re too many pieces—I’m sorry, hello!”
And he just told me he called to say thank you. He said the same thing the other campaign person said: “I think you’ve put into a drawing what a lot of people are thinking. And I showed it to Liz and she got a real kick out of it.” And unfortunately I died then so I don’t know what he said the rest of the conversation.
What do you think this response reveals about the cultural moment that we’re in?
I think it is showing, not like we needed more proof, not to fully trust the media. I think it’s showing that what is being covered is not the truth of what actual America is feeling right now. I think that what it’s showing is that there are many of us and we are a legion. I hope so much that people will be brave enough to walk in and vote for the person they want to be president. Because I think that millions of people truly in their hearts want someone like her in charge.
What are the ways this impacts you in this moment? I saw your post about being able to pay to get your laundry done.
My legal fees are gonna be taken care of—I have several large legal bills from divorce. The justice system is really broken. I have always known that but now I’m in the middle of feeling it. So I think eventually, once excitement dies down, I will maybe experience a relief from anxiety.
But it’s also opening up. This is a pivot point and I have to figure out what that means for me.
My book is big part of my voice. It’s the call to mothers to acknowledge how hard their job is and how much work they’re doing. There’s a chapter called “The Emotional Labor Union Welcome Guide.” Our goal in writing the book was: There are so many women who are new mothers and they are not in their power because their job is fucking impossible but no one is acknowledging that. And if someone can say: your job is really hard, you are doing a good job, and you should be the boss that is going to empower even more women to stand up and to stand up for other women. We [white women] have it hard but not as hard as women of color. We’re all on the same team. We have to fight together as women for women.
When the book came out, we got tattoos of image from the book. You know the Join or Die snake? I covered it in boobs and wrote Matriarchy Now. And we got it tattooed on us the day the book came out. It feels radical and scary to say I’m here for the Matriarchy. But I don’t feel scared anymore. Because it’s time that women had a chance to lead. I think that’s what our book is about. That’s what my drawing is about. I’m ready for us to step into our power and try and fix this mess that men have made. And men are welcome to be a part of that, too. Because the patriarchy hurts them just as much as it hurts us.
From Ruiz’s book: There Is No Manual: Honest and Gory Wisdom about Having a Baby.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length