Could cracking glass ceilings and breaking barriers repair America’s divisions?
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There was a party in the city of Philadelphia this week and everyone—and I do mean everyone—was invited. It has been four straight days of a literal love fest as the Democratic National Committee pulled off the most meticulously staged national convention ever seen on television. The moral of the convention? If you want to be sure everything runs smoothly, just put a woman in charge.
Like any good event, the music list was impeccable. From Broadway stars singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf marching to the podium to “Everything Is All Right,” the soundtrack to the DNC was full of love and optimism, with a short “Tubthumping” reference in presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s speech as well.
And what a speech it was. At first it took a while for Clinton to get her rhythm and pacing, an issue she almost appeared to reference directly in her acceptance speech. “The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” Clinton admitted wryly.
By the end, however, she had found her voice and poise, passionately explaining her policies for economic growth and social justice, while at the same time hammering the hateful, divisive rhetoric and literally dangerous plans of her rival, GOP nominee Donald Trump. “He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally,” she taunted. “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
For feminist wonks like me, however, the highlight of her speech was the acknowledgement of the decades of momentum in has taken to even get a woman to this point in the presidential race. Clad in a pantsuit of “suffragette white,” Clinton wasn’t just speaking to potential voters. She was addressing the little girls so many of us held in our arms as we watched, or had tucked snugly into bed just moments earlier, telling them that one more barrier had been removed from their paths to being anything they wanted to be when they grew up.
“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union,” Clinton beamed. “The first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president. Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Clinton’s historic nomination wasn’t the only new barrier broken over the four day long DNC. Never before had so many Republicans joined the podium with Democrats, all eager to explain why in this election they are simply unable to cast a ballot for the GOP nominee. “I came here tonight to say I knew Ronald Reagan, I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan … Reagan famously said, ‘Tear down this wall.’ Trump says, ‘Build the wall,’” said Doug Elmets, a former speechwriter for President Reagan.
As uncomfortable as it often became for an avowed progressive like myself, it was easy to see the hand being extended to Independents and disaffected Republicans throughout the entire prime-time speech lineup on Thursday night. Texas Sheriff Lupe Valdez made an impassioned plea to the “Blue Lives Matter” crowd, while an entire stage of decorated war veterans barked out Clinton’s qualities when it comes to being the Commander in Chief and keeping the nation secure. Meanwhile, in perhaps the most moving speech of the night, the father of a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq took Trump to task for his xenophobic race-baiting and questioning of Muslim Americans’ loyalty to the country.
“Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims,” said Khizr Khan, father to Captain Humayun S.M. Khan. “He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country. Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words liberty and equal protection of law. Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America—you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
The spotlighting of current and fallen soldiers, the embrace of police, the awe-inspiring, wall-rattling preaching of Rev. William Barber II—the noted civil-rights activist behind the North Carolina Moral Mondays movement—all showcased an urgent and genuine pitch to reach out beyond the traditional footholds of the Democratic party. As pundit Taegan Goddard put it, “Democrats are starting to make this election not Clinton vs. Trump but America vs. Trump.”
If Trump really intended to turn his campaign into an “us versus them” battle, well, Clinton made it clear both through the convention and through her own speech that there is a whole lot of “them” in the “not-Trump” camp, and she’s happy to bring them all aboard.
“If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage, and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty, join us,” she urged. “If you believe that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care, join us…If you believe we should expand Social Security and protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions, join us. And yes, if you believe that your working mother, wife, sister, or daughter deserves equal pay, join us.”
Clinton made history from that stage in Philadelphia, and it wasn’t just in accepting the nomination. It was in centering women all throughout the convention, day after day. It was in tapping so many of them to speak their own truths about equal pay, poverty, struggling to raise families, trying to get an education, trying to keep their children healthy. And it was in creating a forum where for the first time an advocate was able to tell her abortion story without shame or remorse, and instead celebrate the opportunities it offered her – which included raising a family when she was ready.
Now, the love fest is over, and it’s time to crack our knuckles and get right back to work. After all, there’s still one more glass ceiling that needs shattering.
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