Tonight: In Women's Equality Day Speech, Hillary Clinton Will Look With Long Eyes

All eyes will be on Hillary Clinton when she speaks tonight at the Democratic National Convention.

pundits and McCain loyalists will be parsing her every word,
scrutinizing her every nuance, analyzing every element of her body
language for quite a different reason. They love a political food
fight. They’ll pounce on any whiff of tepidness, real or imagined, in
her support for Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. The Republicans
have even set up a “Happy Hour for Hillary”,
lying in wait to whip up animosity toward Obama, whether their spin is
real, or if all else fails, conjured up by their Rovian attack dogs.

while talking heads will strain to see any shred of conflict between
the Democratic nominee-to-be and the second-runner, some of us will be
looking at the occasion with what the Tohono O’Odham people call “long eyes”.

historic significance of the first time a woman came close to winning a
major party’s presidential nomination gives special meaning to the
serendipity that today, August 26th, is Women’s Equality Day
--the 88th anniversary of American women’s right to vote. And the fact
that Thursday, when Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech,
will mark the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, gives the Democrats powerful symbolic bookends unmatched by any convention in recent memory.

In her own elegant speech last
night, Michelle Obama observed that she herself resides in the
intersection of advances that have been made for both women and African
Americans, acknowledging Hillary’s “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling”
and Dr. King’s dream.

Women’s Equality Day, it is important to note that history always has
long eyes. The movement to get women the right to vote began during
the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in
Seneca Falls, NY. It took 72 years of diligent organizing, continuous
campaigning, and courageous speaking out before the 19th amendment to
the Constitution was adopted. Only one attendee of the Seneca Falls
convention—Charlotte Woodward—was still alive by then; she cast her
first vote at age 81. I thought of her when Senator Ted Kennedy spoke
so movingly about his long quest for universal health care in his
extraordinary “season of hope” speech that brought the convention to
cheers and tears just before Michelle spoke.

In the face of
charges that women were too emotional to be entrusted with the serious
act of voting (or alternately that women would just vote like their
husbands, so why bother giving them the franchise), the suffragists
persisted until they prevailed, and female citizens of our nation
achieved that basic right of free people: to have an equal voice in
electing those make the laws and policies that govern our lives.

of the suffragists, and all the courageous activists like Clinton
who’ve taken up the torch and run with it to ever-greater height, women
have reached a power point unparalleled in our nation’s history.

Hillary must feel a sense of disappointment that she’s not breaking
that “highest and hardest glass ceiling” in politics. So do I and many
of the women who ached to see a woman president in our lifetime.
There’s no substitute for a clear win. But Hillary Clinton is a great
leader precisely because she sees with long eyes that, while history is
important, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of
their dreams,” in her mentor Eleanor Roosevelt’s words.

in years past couldn’t have even dreamed of Hillary’s candidacy, let
alone more subtle advances: Ted Kennedy mentioned gender as one of the
divisions our nation must overcome so that “the dream lives on”; the Democratic platform for the first time highlights sexism as an injustice that must be rooted out; even greeting card companies are putting out Women’s Equality Day cards these days.

And everyone says that because women vote
in greater percentages than men and are more likely to be swing voters,
women will determine the outcome of the general election.

There’s much to celebrate this Women’s Equality Day. But John McCain’s inherently anti-woman agenda
places in sharp relief that there is ever so much more unfinished
business we must still act upon every day going forward. I anticipate
Hillary Clinton’s speech will urge us convincingly to see our way clear
to do exactly that.

Cross posted at Women and Politics, Heartfeldt Politics and Majority Post

© Gloria Feldt 2008


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