Shirley Chisholm in 1972 was the first black person to announce for President, and the first woman as well.
Shirley said, “I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men.”
Shirley faced death threats and knew she might likely fail but ran anyhow to “change the face and future of American politics.”
In 2008, two separate candidates vied to “change the face” America presents to the world.
America fulfilled part of Shirley’s prophecy in 2008 with the election of then Senator Barack Obama.
This year we are trying to meet Shirley’s second hope – to inoculate the oval office against the sexual discrimination Shirley suffered.
I’ve worked for some great women over the years who pushed against the glass ceiling and some were certainly inspired by Shirley.
What sex discrimination has been and mostly remains today is that a woman must excel, be better than a man, to hope to be treated equally.
Over the years, I’ve worked with Bella Abzug, and Liz Holtzman and Mary Sue Terry and Emilie Miller and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Maxine Waters and Loretta Sanchez and Nancy Pelosi. I served as Special Counsel to Rep. Patsy Mink from Hawaii and Rep. Zoe Lofgren from California.
All these women were strong, striving to make a difference, to advance individual rights, with the stamina required of women to break through the slights they suffer, like when a woman makes a point among men and women, but is not heard until a man repeats the point she made.
It’s an encouraging shift toward equal rights this year that more men found they could hear what Hillary had to say.
When I won my congressional primary in 1984 in Virginia’s 10th District, our VP nominee was Geraldine Ferraro. Geraldine described herself as “the daughter of an immigrant from Italy” but it was as a “daughter,” nominated for the second highest office in our government, that Geraldine narrowed the chasm of sexual discrimination,
Geraldine, however, didn’t get to close the gap.
We’ve since been stalled this side of that loathsome glass barrier.
It took a former First Lady, former U.S. Senator, former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to become the first woman to bridge that divide.
When I worked for Hillary in 2008, and as her delegate in Denver, she conceded she didn’t have the numbers to win, so she counseled we work hard to unify the party behind then Senator Obama.
That’s how Senator Obama became President Obama – because we pulled together. Obama showed respect for Hillary’s efforts, ran an historic race, and made her Secretary of State.
Hillary is now our presumed and inevitable presidential nominee.
If I attend the Convention this year, I will work hard to unite our party, and participate in the historic celebration of equal rights for women.
If I attend, I will be going to Philly to honor the memory of a close friend, Mame Reilly, a political force in Virginia, though no longer with us, who led us Hillary activists in 2008 in Virginia and when we were Delegates in Denver.
I thought of Mame several days ago when the California primary votes were being counted. I could feel Mame, in heart and spirit, almost heard her laugh, her head rolling backward, a grand smile across her, for the goal she fought so hard to achieve, had been achieved.
I felt, despite the mid-distance separating us that she knew this, at the very moment I did, when the rush of the media screamed across the land – that Hillary had sailed well past the delegate threshold to become our democratic nominee.
Shirley said, “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”
Not this time.