Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.
– Susan B. Anthony
I was in 8th grade when Bill Clinton was inaugurated. Our history teacher rolled in a television on a metal cart so we could watch history as it happened. I didn’t care about the president but a T.V. was in the room!
The T.V. meant fluorescent lights were shut off. I could goof off in the lukewarm darkness of the classroom. Write notes to my friends and fold the paper up into intricate origami. Laugh, lay my head down close to a friend’s and tell secrets.
I ended up in detention.
My teacher, a man who was eventually fired for mysterious reasons (my parents told me it was because he had “inappropriate contact” with a female student but I don’t honestly know), told me that I was disrespectful. I didn’t grasp the importance of the moment.
But, why should I have cared about Bill Clinton becoming our president?
I always knew, growing up, that the ultimate authority in our country was a man – a white man, Christian, middle aged. Rich. Powerful, more powerful than I could ever be. Little girls did not aspire to be the president of the United States where I lived. Minorities – black kids, Latino kids, queer kids, non-Christian kids did not aspire to be president of the United States.
You can be anything you want, adults used to tell us. No one sidelined the little girls and said, except you. But, we all knew who could be president and who could not. Who could lead and who could not. Who mattered. Trickle Down Discrimination.
In that history class, that man, that authority, was my teacher and he sent me to detention and called me disrespectful.
In jobs, that man was my boss.
In clubs, he was my adviser.
In the world, he was my leader. And, even watching other countries elect women and minority leaders, I knew it did not happen here. It could not. For some undefinable reason, not here. No one would say it outright:
Because you are not white.
Because you are not Christian.
Because you are not man.
I have known many powerful minorities and women in my lifetime and they are all important. But, the ultimate authority in our country was always the same. Rich, powerful, middle-aged white men.
Until President Barack Obama.
The day Obama was inaugurated, it snowed. I was so excited after watching him be sworn in, Michael and I went outside and made a bucketful of snowballs. Then, we went to our neighbor’s house across the street and told the couple living there that they had exactly 20 minutes to assemble their arsenal. The men ran back inside, dressed in bulky layers and started packing their own snowballs in their front yard. I felt light, like a kid. Something had shifted, something important. A possibility had opened up.
My daughter will not grow up knowing what I knew. Her world is so amazingly different than mine was. All the times, growing up, when I substituted some man’s opinion for my own because I understood that my opinion was somehow less – that will not happen to my daughter. Every time I silenced my voice because I assumed he knew better – that will not happen to her.
Because I’m voting today. And, I sincerely believe that women and minorities are going to be the predominant voices in this election. We’ve had enough. We’re done. We’re tired. We’ve seen the hatred and bigotry and racism and misogyny and xenophobia lash out time and time again during this election cycle. Death throes of a system that is coming to a halt right in front of our eyes.
I understand that there is a whole subset of Americans who hate the idea of a woman president more than they hate a truly, truly bad man. No matter what he says. No matter what he does. He could go to prison for treason (and honestly, isn’t that what happens next?) and people will still support him. That knowledge makes me so sad because my daughter will feel that. She’ll know it, I can’t protect her from that. Initial change comes quickly but lasting change grinds at a pace we can barely measure.
Maybe all of this – this election cycle, Black Lives Matter, Marriage Equality – is the second wave civil rights movement. I hope so. But, it is slow and painful. This kind of trauma lasts generations. I’m sorry for it.I’m so sorry for the price real, important people have to pay. All of this is a reaction, maybe, to the first black President of the United States. Or, a reaction to the idea of a woman rising up and claiming her spot in history. A reaction, maybe, to that big, powerful system dying. That system, that institution that told me growing up who the authority truly was in my life. It wasn’t me.
But, today it is.
I’m voting today.