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.