Chez Pazienza of The Daily Banter put it well: “If You’re Liberal and You Think Hillary Clinton Is Corrupt and Untrustworthy, You’re Rewarding 25 Years of GOP Smears.” Bernie Sanders has yet to face the brutal assaults of the GOP war machine in the way Secretary Clinton has for decades. Indeed, the Republicans want Sanders to get the nomination.
Brett Arends of MarketWatch compiled a list of the terrible things Hillary is accused of doing. My favorites are #12, “Unnamed and unverifiable sources have told Peggy Noonan things about the Clintons that are simply too terrible to repeat,” and #44, “She’s really ambitious and calculating, unlike all the other people running for president.” Bob Woodward says Hillary is too loud. Really? Has he heard Senator Sanders? Susan Sarandon slams Hillary for not endorsing marriage equality until 2013. Is Sarandon aware of the global LGBT rights initiative Hillary launched in December 2011?
Sanders opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 on states’ rights grounds. He endorsed marriage equality in 2009; but in 1982 he described marriage as “a lifelong commitment between husband and wife.” Granted, that was typical for the time. Few gay activists then focused on marriage. In 1981, AIDS had hit American cities, and D.C.’s first attempt to repeal its sodomy law was blocked by Congress. That was the year I came out to my family. I didn’t have my first argument with a politician on same-sex marriage until 1994, fifteen years before D.C. enacted marriage equality.
D.C.’s marriage equality victory resulted not from revolution but from strategizing, researching, organizing, drafting, negotiating, messaging, and electioneering. It required careful preparation, coalition building, and long-cultivated relationships with public officials. It ripened via sustained work that began long before the final bill was written.
Those seeking change must honor the struggle, not just the result. History will record the details of the marriage equality effort, and how the community, not politicians, drove it; in any case, determining who was first does not chart the course ahead. In moving forward, the allies we persuaded will be crucial, as will the altered expectations of young people.
On Feb. 18, I am to speak to the Gay/Straight Alliance at the high school that my father attended in the 1930s. In those days it housed Central High. It became Cardozo in 1950 when it was transferred from the white school system to the black school system. That was before Bolling v. Sharpe desegregated the District of Columbia Public Schools in 1954. Back then, someone like me would have been arrested, not invited to talk to students about public advocacy.
My father adjusted to my being gay. Had he lived longer, he might also have adjusted to my loving a black man. He might have seen his son’s return to his old school as a small sign of healing across generations.
Recriminations over who was late to various struggles are an indulgence we can ill afford. Reactionaries are threatening to reverse historic gains. We must not pull apart, but build on victory together by showing our nation a better path forward. Sanders, to his credit, disavowed the sexist behavior of some of his supporters. But that may only demonstrate the inability of rhetoric to solve a problem.
However frustratingly, we will not suddenly gain the votes for someone’s ideal version of legislation that could only pass imperfectly when Democrats last controlled Congress. We build our strength step by step, as the black people of Montgomery, Alabama did sixty years ago when they walked to work for over a year rather than accept discrimination on municipal buses.
A seat on a bus is small when weighed against the federal Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act that came years later, or the election of a black man as president five decades later. But those early steps were powerful ones.
The most experienced and best-prepared presidential candidate this year happens to be a woman. Let us not look for excuses to miss the moment, or make the perfect the enemy of the good. We have too much at stake, and too much work ahead. Progress does not happen magically at once. As Shakespeare said, “Ripeness is all.”
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2016 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.