Disclaimer: I’m not going to talk about the ongoing US presidential campaigns or the candidates or who I think people should or shouldn’t vote for. As I wrote in my article, “On the Subject of Politics,” that’s not something I’ll ever do on this blog, my Newsfeed, or even in person. This article is not about the current campaigns.
But I do want to talk about one very specific thing that former President Bill Clinton said in his speech to the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday. When recounting their lives together and all the work Hillary had done to build up her political resume, Bill said at one point that he:
“suggested she go home to Illinois or move to New York and look for a chance to run for office. She just laughed and said, are you out of your mind, nobody would ever vote for me.”
Whatever you may think of her as a candidate now, this is a woman who, many years ago, said to her husband that she wouldn’t run for office not because she didn’t want to, but because she believed people wouldn’t vote for her.
Despite her own personal aspirations to public service and a clear determination to use politics as a force for social change, Hillary worked from behind the scenes while her husband became first the Attorney General of Arkansas (1977-1979), then its Governor (1979-1981 & 1983 -1992), and finally President of the United States (1993-2001). It wasn’t until after she’d helped her husband succeed, that she finally sought out an elected office of her own. In 2001, Hillary became the first woman to ever be elected Senator of New York (2001 – 2009) and in 2008 she won the most delegates of any previous female presidential candidate. Then on Tuesday, she made history as the first woman to ever receive the nomination of a major US political party for the office of President.
Whether you agree with her policies or not, whether you vote for her or not, you must wonder what made an experienced, confident woman like Hillary Rodham Clinton hesitate. What would have made a woman like her say, “nobody would ever vote for me”?
The millennial generation was raised to believe that we could be anything and that we could do anything we wanted if only we set our sights high and put our minds to it. But we all know that that’s not really true and it certainly wasn’t true 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. There are, and have always been, racial biases and glass ceilings and socioeconomic obstacles standing in our way, and there are still prejudices and bigots waiting to crush our spirits and heckle us just for trying.
Some of us may succeed at breaking through these barriers. Some of us, like Hillary, may feel like the world isn’t ready, like maybe we have to wait our turn before taking the spotlight. Some of us won’t make it at all.
In her TedTalk “The Story We Tell About Poverty Isn’t True,” Mia Birdsong said:
“I’m tired of the story we tell that hard work leads to success…because that story allows those of us who make it to believe we deserve it, and by implication, those who don’t make it don’t deserve it.”
But our fight is worth fighting. Not just as men or women, but as minorities of many races, ethnicities, national origins, religions, and sexual orientations. We all have value, we all have dreams, we all matter, we all deserve more. And it is our responsibility as citizens – not just of America, but of the global community – to help those who have been beaten back by society, those who’ve been told through quiet subtext and systemic inequality that their lives and their successes are less valuable than others’.
We have to fight back against a world that makes a smart, educated, and experienced woman think she has no chance of getting elected. We have to fight back against people and standards that tell us that we’re not good enough. We have to fight to create a world that encourages people to try, a world that lifts people up instead of one that relies on outdated laws and regulations or walls built of fear and hatred to keep people out.
Because we all deserve to make it and we all deserve to live in a world where society and social norms aren’t actively working against us. We all deserve a truly equal opportunity for someone to vote for us.