by Tori Kroeger
On the last Thursday of July 2016, I sat on my family’s couch watching Hillary Clinton take the stage at the Democratic National Convention. After months of being an avid supporter of Bernie Sanders and being critical of Clinton’s policies, I had to take a step back and allow myself to watch history unfold without my opinions getting in the way. For the first time in American history, a woman has won the nomination of a major party and is one step away from being President of the United States. Despite my own criticisms of Clinton, I wanted to remember this historical moment and be able to tell my children and grandchildren where I was when a woman stood in front of the nation and accepted the Democratic nomination.
Watching Clinton speak at the convention reminded me of a time back in first grade when I was designing an “All About Me” poster. The idea was to imagine my life as an adult: my home, my car, my career. I remember being stuck on my career. Would I be a teacher? A ballerina? Or maybe a stylish lawyer like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde? My mom pointed out that I could be the first woman president of the United States. My mom was born and raised in the Philippines, which elected Corazon Aquino as its first female president in 1986. I remember her shock that the United States, which granted sovereignty to her home country in 1946, still had not elected a female president. And I remember her insistence that I could be president anyway.
Fast-forward 15 years. I am now watching the Democratic Party throw all its support behind electing the first female president. 15 years after my mom told me that I could grow up to be president, I am organizing with female politicians in my home state of Washington and serving as Vice Chair of the Women’s Caucus for the College Democrats of Massachusetts. Although in the intervening period between first grade and college I was decidedly uninterested in a career in politics, my life has switched courses and being a woman who works with other women in politics is on my horizon.
As a college student I worked at Rosie’s Place, a non-profit community center for low-income and homeless women in Boston, where I witnessed some of the most marginalized women in society become empowered to lobby at the State House, meet with city councilors, and volunteer time to educate others about issues pertaining to race, gender and class. Their point of contact at Boston City Council is Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council. Seeing women and marginalized people wield political power as citizens or elected officials at all levels of government is the most rewarding and empowering part of my job.
Hillary Clinton’s nomination is a groundbreaking moment in American history and her presidency will be even more. History books will note the nomination of a woman 96 years after the ratification of the 19th amendment as though the glass ceiling is finally broken for good. But unless we empower women of color and marginalized women to climb through the same ceiling, the 2016 nomination will be like the passage of women’s suffrage: a victory only for white women and not the masses of marginalized women—nonwhite, queer, trans—who fought and sacrificed to achieve it. We must not let history repeat itself and instead open our political spaces to the women who are systematically excluded and erased from history. If we hold to an intersectional vision of what politics should be, we will see more women win nominations and elections. And one day we will watch a major party nominate a woman of color for President of the United States.
Women’s Caucus Vice Chair: Eleora Pasternack, UMass Amherst
Eleora (Ellie) Pasternack is a senior at UMass Amherst, majoring in Political Science with a concentration on women in politics. She has previously interned for the Violence Policy Center, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, and EMILY's List. Some of her favorite female political figures are Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Cecile Richards.