Something's happening in these elections that feels like a tipping point.
From a national women's media training to my local women's book club, from
exchanges among long-time feminist activists to conversations with my feminist
son, I hear a buzz about why so many feminists are deciding to vote for Barack
Obama. Count me among them.
Almost without exception, we'd love to see a woman president. Anyone who thinks
gender doesn't matter hasn't seen Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin or Wisconsin
Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton before a room full of women hungry for
solutions to low pay, unfair treatment and lack of time to pee, much less care
for loved ones. To paraphrase Eleanor Holmes Norton, we're well aware that the
under-representation of women in political positions has nothing to do with
talent or merit. A woman in the highest job would inspire many more women to
push against the barriers. And we're outraged at the sexist treatment of
Hillary throughout the media.
But we know the Big Boys have also excluded people of color of both genders from
the halls of power, and constructed a massive set of racial roadblocks and
indignities. We won't allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed into choosing which
matters more, sexism or racism. Both hurt women. Both profit the Big Boys and
allow them to maintain the status quo. Justice matters.
In Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, voters have a choice between two
smart, capable and energetic candidates, either of whom would be far preferable
to the current occupier of the White House who has made our nation an occupier
in Iraq. Both stand for many of the changes we want to see, including fair
pay, living wages, workers' right to organize, and new standards like paid sick
days and family leave insurance, so family values don't end at the workplace
So what's tipped so many feminists to Obama? For some, it was when the Clintons
began treating him as women are treated -- patronizing him as merely a "good
speaker," trivializing his accomplishments, minimizing the importance of his
early judgment and risk-taking in opposing the war in Iraq, and using
surrogates to demonize his morality.
For me and many others, the key attraction is Obama's vision that people need to
be eager, desirous for and participants in the change we want to see (the very
strength the Clintons either don't get or deliberately misstate). Barack Obama
doesn't just make people feel hopeful about the possibility of change -- he
inspires them to become part of that change, makes them feel it's the only way
we'll get there. And in doing so, he's motivating the base, reaching
independent and swing voters, and perhaps most important, inspiring young
people and many undecided-whether-or-not-to-vote voters -- people most affected
by injustice who often feel their votes, and their lives, don't matter in
elections where money has so much sway.
This public mobilization is precisely what Hillary failed to do with health care
reform in 1992. She owns that failure but not the reason for it.
As long as money determines elections, we won't have the perfect candidate. Many
of us wish the two leading candidates took stronger stands, like Edwards and
Kucinich have, against the role of lobbyists and corporate greed and the
continuation of poverty. As activists, we know that whoever wins will be
subject to huge pressure from the Big Boys and will go only so far as organized
movements of people demand that they go. It may take a president to push through
a law, but it takes a movement to say, "Ignore us at your peril."
I believe Barack Obama has the best chance of helping to galvanize that movement
and to stay connected with it.
Ellen Bravo is a long-time feminist activist and author who teaches women's
studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her most recent book is Taking
on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the