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June 26, 2008

Ernestine Anderson Needs Our Help Right Now

Jazz and blues great Ernestine Anderson is in danger of losing her central area home if she doesn't come up with $45,000 to pay her mortgage lender by this coming Monday. That's just four days from now. I won't go into the sad story of all the bad home loans that people have gotten into because I'm sure you know one or two yourself who are in that situation. I know I do.

Ernestine Anderson is a Seattle treasure. In fact, she is a world treasure. She deserves a lot better than what she is dealing with now. You can do something to help. Go to any Bank of America near you and donate what you can to the Ernestine Anderson Fund. And please do it today. Time really is of the essence.

Listen to her singing Miles Davis' All Blues...

Posted by shoephone on June 26, 2008 at 12:47 PM in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 08, 2008

Maybe It's Time to Talk about Sexism and other Important Things

Even though I've come to be an Obama supporter, I puddled up when Hillary conceded yesterday.  Like many other women, it felt like a dream dashed.  Her candidacy was a recognition of all of us women who had come of age during the great shift in gender roles.  As I looked at her fiercely loyal supporters, I think it was knowing what she had to have gone through to get there, that accounted for much of that loyalty.  We saw the public sexism that she endured in the campaign and felt it in our bones. 

As we think about how we are going to embrace not just these older white women but also older Latinos and the forgotten white working class voters in Appalachia and elsewhere,  it occurs to me that simple recognition of people's struggles is key to bringing people fully to Obama and to a unified Democratic Party that can take our country back. 

Our Experience

I have been so proud of Hillary, a woman just a bit older than me, who has made it so far.   We almost forget it now but the women my age and Hillary's age were not groomed to be lawyers or Senators or President.  If you had the right family and aimed high, you might just be able to marry someone who could take you along into that world. 

The great shift in the gender roles happened while we were in our early twenties.  We had opportunities that our mothers and aunts and older women friends did not.  But it was not what we or anyone around us expected to happen when we were younger and we weren't prepared for it.   

In my High School, and I'm sure this was common, the girls were every bit as intelligent and articulate and poised as the boys.  Heck, generally way more so.   It was a place and time of privilege.  Almost everyone went to college, even those like me who did it entirely on scholarships and loans. 

Ten years later, at our first High School reunion, I remember being struck at the differences in what the women and men were doing.  Of the hundred or so men who showed up, a huge number were lawyers, doctors, or successful business owners.   About half the women worked outside the home and, of those, almost all were either teachers or nurses.   There were two lawyers and a very few in business.  Over time, we wound up with a magazine publisher and a woman who ran her family business and a few others of us who had done pretty well in more non-traditional roles.  But we had a ways to catch up. 

Almost every woman who has been in the workplace over these decades is familiar with the effort it took to work in organizations when there were few women and we had to try to figure out how to fit in with the guys.  To succeed, as Hillary has, requires the effort of trying to understand and make a place in the guys' culture, overlooking the lack of recognition for our accomplishments, and sometimes putting up with rude and condescending behavior. 

Like most of us, she carries some of the scars of that struggle with her and it shows up when she is under pressure.  She is over-cautious; she has damped down her emotional responses so that we don't feel like we really get to see her.  We know she compromised in her personal life. 

Nevertheless, Hillary's candidacy has given us all a sense that we'd been recognized for what we'd done.  For most of us older women, even those like me who have come to support and applaud Obama as the better candidate, this has been a time of pride that one of us has made it past all the barriers to this place of prominence. 

Hillary's Hardcore Older Women Supporters

I had an unnerving experience last weekend.  I was calling committed Democrats - Precinct Committee Officers and folks who'd been selected as delegates and alternates out of the Democratic precinct caucuses in February, inviting them to a grassroots organizing meeting in another legislative district, not my own (meaning I didn't know these folks)

Mostly people were pleased to hear from me and pleased to be invited to join in organizing grassroots this year.  But I ran into three women in a row who were staunch supporters of Clinton who were furious with the Democratic Party and angry about the way the Michigan decision on seating delegates to the national convention had played out.  I heard in person what we'd been hearing and seeing nationally.  They just unloaded on me, a stray Democrat who had chanced to call them the day after the Rules Committee Meeting.  Here's a piece of what I heard:

They just took votes from Hillary, gave them to Obama
Acting like Republicans
I won't vote for Obama
A bigger issue – the treatment of women – at stake
No real problems if McCain wins (a Democratic Congress will prevent a President McCain from getting right-wingers onto the Supreme Court)
Sexism, no man would have been treated like this   

I know this is not the whole of the Clinton supporters.  I'd called people earlier that same day and then the following evening and had quite normal conversations with them.  All of my many friends who are staunch Clinton supporters may not like the outcome but will certainly swing behind Obama. 

But these are the women we need to understand, listen to and pull back in.  If we can do that, we will also get a fuller, more energetic support of the good soldiers, the ones who will shift their support to Obama but not necessarily happily.

The Presenting Problem vs. The Real Problem

For many women my age, the sexism that was directed at Hillary was eye-opening and unnerving.  In this campaign we've seen the press and bloggers denigrate her that has torn away the veneer of respect for hard-working women that I think many of us had assumed had taken root.   Women who had "worked hard and played by the rules" took it very personally.   It was hard to see that people were unable or unwilling to give Clinton the respect she deserves for what she has accomplished under what had to be very difficult circumstances. 

As I mulled over the tirades I'd heard, I realized that the ferocity of the feelings that Clinton supporters have, that is so hard for people to understand, is probably because we are looking at the wrong thing.  This is not about some misplaced loyalty to Clinton.  This is about a recognition for a generation of women who went out in the world to work in ways they never expected to do, often with pleasure, sometimes only because the financial circumstances required it.  This is about a generation of women who faced down a prodigious amount of sexism and have gotten scarce recognition for their efforts.

I think that recognizing that effort publicly in various ways would go a long way toward smoothing the way for most of the strong woman supporters who haven't known if they could support Obama. 

Certainly Obama has the grace and ability to articulate the issue to help this work.

And Racism and Anti-Semitism and Class Issues as Well

We've seen a cultural prohibition on talking about sexism in any serious way since the 1980's when we got deliberately side-tracked by the right's derision of "political correctness".   Back in the day, there were conversations about the impact of sexism and racism and anti-semitism.

Let's bring real discussions about these subjects back into the public conversation.  Perhaps we can add in discussion of class and the impact that being raised poor has on children and young people and how we as a society can help mitigate that.  Perhaps we can talk about how much fear of anti-semitism drives our lop-sided pro-Israel national policy.  If we were able to acknowledge the underlying fear publicly, perhaps we could wrench back a more balanced Middle Eastern policy.   Perhaps we can talk about racism and its insidious impact on our children of color.  It's one thing to have a candidate who has managed to transcend race quite successfully.  We can hardly expect that every other person of color has or will be able to do the same. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on June 8, 2008 at 07:52 PM in National and International Politics, Taking Action | Permalink | Comments (4)