Today – Nov. 8, 2016 – is the first day that my three daughters are all able to vote in a presidential election – and they have done so: two by absentee ballot, one in person (with her husband). For me, that is history enough, but for them there is the added twist that they are able to cast their ballots for a woman who stands a solid chance of winning. All my years of hoping they understand that nothing is out of their reach because of their gender, are profoundly reinforced.
But the progress is bittersweet, because it comes in the presence – and the shadow – of the most horribly regressive major campaign waged in my lifetime, and in an era when the phrase “rape culture” rolls off the tongue as easily as “glass ceiling.”
Is it easy for me to feel spontaneously proud of my three daughters. It is easy because of the people they have always been, because of the people they are now, because of everything that is possible for them. It is also easy for my heart to break because of how they are sometimes treated by other people in our world, in our nation, in our communities – and because their possibilities are not available to many others who also deserve them.
This year offers extraordinary examples stretching toward both ends of the spectrum of possibility – and our tremendous elation at being able to vote for a woman who can actually win the contest to occupy the Oval Office, is also tinged with tremendous sadness for the relentless, chronic obstacles so many Americans – and particularly, women – face in their efforts to fashion rewarding lives for themselves and their families. In my adopted home state of Connecticut, the gulf between those with money and those without, has never been wider or deeper – and in our modern world, that money can provide a person with power and mobility and proper access to the fundamental needs of education and health care – and respect. I can confidently say that this wider, deeper gulf exists in many – most – of our nation’s communities, and not just in Connecticut.
We still have work to do.
Setting aside the exploration of all the women who have run before for president (some are listed below) – today remains historic for what it represents: Hillary Clinton is a strong contender for the top elected position in our nation.
This is historic in the same way that Nov. 4, 2008, was historic because Barack Obama, a person of color, was a strong contender for president.
But Obama’s election was not an indication that racism had been conquered.
And if Hillary is elected, it will not be any indication that we have made it past the rampant gender discrimination that affects everything from opportunity to wages to safety from violence.
We still have work to do.
For the record … Our nation has been electing presidents under our current Constitution since 1789, two years after that document was written.
Under that guidance, we have now elected presidents 58 times, including today (I am writing this before knowing the outcome of the 2016 voting).
In those 58 contests, we have elected 44 people to serve as President.
Twenty-six were lawyers.
Twenty-two had served in the military.
Many had held multiple elected offices before being elected President.
Nearly half a dozen were close family relatives of previous presidents, such as John Quincy Adams, who was elected in 1825, 24 years after his father, John Adams, left the office.
In fifty-seven elections, the person we elected was white – Caucasian – until 2008, when we elected Barack Obama.
In at least fifty-seven elections, the person we elected was a man.
Actually, women have been on the top ticket in the U.S. – in the running for president or vice president – for nearly 150 years.
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president (with Frederick Douglass as her running mate), even though Woodhull would not have turned 35 – the Constitutionally established minimum age for a president – until 6 months after the inauguration.
In 1884, Belva Lockwood ran for president, with Marietta Stow as her running mate.
In 1972, the revered Shirley Chisholm was a serious contender for the Democratic Party nomination for vice president.
In 1980 and 1984, activist and former Black Panther Angela Davis was the Communist Party USA nominee for vice president, running with the perennial presidential candidate Gus Hall.
In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic nominee for vice president, running with Walter Mondale.
In 2000 – the year of the hanging chad – Winona LaDuke, a Native activist and graduate of Harvard, was the Green Party nominee for vice president, running with Ralph Nader.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton sought the Democratic nomination for president, losing a close race to Barack Obama.
In 2008, Sarah Palin was the GOP nominee for vice president.
In 2012, Jill Stein was the Green Party nominee for president.
There have been many others, but today is nonetheless historical – given Clinton’s status as the first woman nominated for president by one of our major parties, the first one who may actually win.
But yes, we still have work to do.