Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Remarkable and Historical Night

In her speech following tonight's primaries in Montana and South Dakota, Hillary Clinton said that her campaign has allowed mothers to hoist their little girls up on their shoulders and say, “See? Your really can do anything!” She spoke glowingly of the many 90-year old women who went to her campaign events, women born before they had the right to vote yet who were now thrilled to watch one of their daughters nearly win the U.S. Presidency. These are true and powerful statements, and Barack Obama can say very similar things.

I am only 21. My earliest political memories are of Peter Jennings reporting from Iraq in 1991 and of asking my parents who they were going to vote for in 1992. I am, in no uncertain terms, a baby, and it gives me major pause to reflect on the realization that there are people alive today, both women and African Americans, who were born into an American society that did not welcome them. It’s easy for us young people to look at Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement as pages in a history book, but the fact is they aren’t so distant after all. Those movements are very much alive in far too many people’s memories.

And that is why tonight matters. For the first time in history, a major political party has nominated a black man for the U.S. presidency. I have to wonder, in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy at his side, did any of them think this moment was only 44 years away? Our two current longest serving Senators, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, were new legislators at that point – did they think they would live to see this day? Did such a day seem even remotely possible to African Americans reading about the new law at home, still fighting school segregation?

I know that there are many angry Clinton supporters, bitter that their candidate had the nomination taken from her and that her historical moment was lost. People who have fought so hard for so long for women’s rights were so very close to finally coming full circle. My heart goes out to them, and I hope that the day we elect a qualified woman to the Presidency does indeed come soon. But the fact is, tonight is still just as historical, for just as women did not gain the right to vote until 1920, African Americans were not given the practical chance to vote in many states until 1964. In fact, at the time of Obama’s 1961 birth to an interracial couple, interracial marriages were illegal in 22 states.

America has a long way to go. African Americans still face redlining and astronomical prison and dropout rates, women aren’t paid nearly as much as men for equal work, and Latino migrant workers are forced into slave-like conditions. But for all the problems of the present, there is no denying, we really have come a long way. Whether or not you agree with Obama’s policies, whether or not you plan on voting for him, surely we can all be happy that one of the two parties nominated him. Similarly, whether or not you admire Hillary Clinton, surely we can all be happy that a woman was able to be a serious contender for a party’s nomination. Against any other opponent, she probably would have won, and just as Al Smith cleared the way for John F. Kennedy, perhaps Senator Clinton has cleared the way for another of America's oustanding daughters. She and Senator Obama have each done us this nation a huge favor these past few months.

Tonight is a golden moment in our country’s history. I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be a Democrat.


Jordan said...

Unequal pay for equal work? I'd have to check the numbers on that. On average yes women make less than men, but on average women don't take as many high-risk and high-paying jobs men do.

But off my soap box on that tangent.

Yes, I am happy that a historic event occurred tonight, but I'm even more grateful the candidate himself said nothing of it. To me, and apparently Senator Obama, his race is a minor matter in terms of this election. And I hope most people keep in mind it's just as racist to vote for Senator Obama because he's black, as it is to not vote for him.

However, I'm sure most Americans will look at the views of each candidate and vote for the one that most reflects their own....

Nathan Empsall said...

It's an incredibly well known fact that women get paid less then men - according to the Census Bureau, 77 cents to the dollar. Just ask any middle-aged woman you know how much the male counterpart for her same job gets paid.

A Time article and AFL-CIO stats, but I can't get the link to work right for them.

I would also say that while it would be foolish to vote for Obama because of his race, it's not racist to value creating history and overcoming barriers over your own views on health care. There's nothing racist in considering that kind of achievment a bigger step for America and one that creates more equality than a sound foreign policy. Foolish, perhaps, but not racist. The Klan is racist. Slurs are racist. Appreciating progress in a distorted way is not the Klan.

Jordan said...

Just because women on average make less then men do does not mean they are doing the same work. I would argue that's because in most homes in America women are the primary caretakers and that's where their priorities lie; while with men it's most common for their priority to be bringing home the paycheck to support the household.

So naturally if work is not your priority your job is to make sure your children are doing well in school; it is not making sure you get that raise in the next quarter.

Acknowledging the difference in race is in and of itself a form of racism in my opinion.

Now that's not the same as acknowledging one's cultural identity; that is something entirely different. I am talking purely about the color of someone's skin, their handicaps, anything not related to the individual's self image.

These "barriers" being broken are highly overrated in my opinion. I don't drool over the fact that JFK was the first practicing Irish-Catholic to be elected president; even though I have mostly Irish heritage.

Nathan Empsall said...

These stats are not the average woman vs. the average man, Jordan. They compare similar work, they account for your concerns. Dig deeper into the subject if your cynicism is that strong.

As for race, I hardly see how acknowledging the difference of race is racist. There is nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong, in noticing the obvious: that Obama is black and McCain is white is racist. How is that any different than noticing the difference in their hair color? It's racial, yes, but racial and racist are not the same thing, and the fact that so many people get them mixed up is a huge impediment to social progress in this country.