by Judith K. Witherow
On November 5, 1996, I did not vote for Bill C, Ross P., Bob D. or any other Guy running for president. Nor did I cast my ballot for the various secondary parties at the bottom of the wannabe list, parties also led by Guys trying to separate me from my conscience via the voting booth.
For more than 20 years, I have written about and participated in numerous picket lines, protests and causes. The possibility of change has always burned brightly within me, but this last presidential election shifted my thinking. When feminist friends, as well as trusted feminist leaders, kept saying “We have to vote for the lesser of two evils,” I knew my bottom line and my gag threshold were on a collision course. Perhaps others could devalue their vote; mine would not be used to further the agenda of someone whose own party affiliation couldn’t be determined. Here stood a woman too broke to buy that concept.
I had always voted the Democratic ticket in the past. Since childhood, my impoverished family indoctrinated me with the belief that the Democrats were for the people and for the poor while the Republicans represented big business and the rich. Yet I could find no name on the sample ballot worthy of the Democratic tag. Clinton lost his tag when he signed the so-called welfare reform bill and the Defense of Marriage Act.
The decision I had been agonizing over became clear: I would write in my own name. The choice interested and excited me; the criteria I used to judge other candidates I now applied to myself Was I willing to make unpopular decisions that would benefit others, not just myself and the chosen few? Could I genuinely feel others’ pain, or would I just squeeze out a tear for the sake of a photo opportunity? Would donations to me be used for the purpose intended?
Would I rethink my position on friendship and understand that money could indeed buy me friends-so many friends, in fact, that it might take other countries to hold them all? Did I inhale? If so, did I exhale? Would Sue, my partner of 20 years, make a presentable First Femme? Did I own a tuxedo? If not, was there a thrift store nearby?
I chose to run for president because I believed I was the best qualified candidate; the past year has borne this out. We have seen our country’s past social and economic accomplishments unravel at a pace unequaled for decades. Welfare, child-care assistance, Medicaid, affirmative action, subsidized housing, energy assistance, gays and lesbians in the military, supplemental security income for those with alcohol or drug dependence, food stamps, government-funded health clinics, domestic partnership, immigrant benefits. What used to be called entitlements, meant to aid the least privileged of us, have become venomous curses meant to incite those who have against those who never will have.
Where were the frontline feminists who asked me to give it my all for the Democratic party? When the government cuts started affecting everyone around me, I could no longer buy the movement rhetoric I’d been hearing for years: “Just wait, Judith, your time will come.”
Well, it hasn’t. You know that glass ceiling everyone’s been talking about? I find that after all I’ve done, I don’t have enough of it to install even the smallest of skylights. Why is my view of the sky still blocked by those who have claimed their class privilege and sold out poor women so that they could compete with the big guys? Why can’t they reach out to us, pulling us up until the swell from all the empowered women will crash the thickest of glass barriers?
A number of feminists were offended by my decision to write myself in. They told me I couldn’t do it. I would answer, “Well, yeah, I can. I know how to spell ‘Witherow.'” My answer appeared blasphemous, to say the least. The horrific absurdity of what was going on in the real world seemed to be of little relevance. Couldn’t these wise women see and feel the terror and helplessness in my decision? Did they honestly believe I could cause Clinton to lose? Excuse me, but if he was a loser, he was a loser on his own terms and lack of merit.
Clinton’s first shot at four years of Democrat leadership still rings round the progressive world. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” sounds like a warmed-over version of Reagan’s “Just Say No.” Bill’s support of the Defense of Marriage Act completed the negation of his “Some of my best friends are…” promises of the 1992 campaign.
While I agree with Hillary that it takes a village to raise a child, you’d better have a few elders around who sincerely care about its inhabitants. We don’t need those who are in it for the short run, nor the ones whose malnourished agenda have weakened us to the point of settling for the ‘least of any evils.”
While Bill and Hillary’s first-term promises for universal access to health care were left blowing in the wind, Bill’s second-term budget made deep cuts in federal funding for health care. I live with systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis and other problems acquired from the diseases wallowing around in my gene pool. My body, poisoned by the environmentally destroyed, strip-mined environs of my childhood, requires 16 additional poisons daily – including chemotherapy and steroids – just to survive. I have fought and lost as my state tries to recover from diminished federal funding by turning over my health care to a for-profit HMO system. Now, instead of celebrating universal access to health care without a Medicaid label, I fear that my doctors will succumb to HMO incentives of more money for less treatment.
While we sweat the cuts Clinton laid on us in the budget-balancing effort, military funding remains unscathed. My 48-year-old sister, Josie, who works at a local gas station, supplied me with the statistics for the May 16, 17 and 18 air show at Andrew’s Air Force Base. (This is the home of the president’s plane.) The event was billed as the Department of Defense Joint Services Open House. Half a million people were invited to ogle war toys and war games. Whenever I hear the words open house I know something is being sold. Just because something is being sold, do we really have to buy it? Josie said that customers were bitchin’ 5 to 1 about the cost, necessity and congested roads in our area during this event.
True feminists and other progressives should have flocked to my been-there-don’t-need-a-crystal-ball outlook for the future rather than trying to shame me into voting for the lesser of the evils as they saw it.
Granted, my campaign started a bit late – October, to be exact. And my energy level was probably not up to campaign standards because of my health. But, unlike other presidential candidates, I had no problem revealing my limitations. Did the medications affect my mental outlook? Unfortunately, not in any way that distorted the ugly truth.
My platform included a “tunnel to the future.” I didn’t mean the light at the end of the tunnel either – this campaign was to be totally woman-identified. (If you have a psychoanalyst, ask her to explain it!) To questions that I couldn’t or didn’t want to answer, I replied, ‘Tm your president, not your mother. Next question.”
To complement my campaign, I asked for input from trusted experts. My sister Josie provided me statistics about the way things are from her perspective at the corner gas station. My son Mark alerted me to how the privileged live, which he learns from servicing their air-conditioning units. My friend Michael from West Virginia offered me this tidbit: “The wealthiest 358 individuals in the world today possess as much combined wealth as the poorest two and a half billion people, hi fact, there is a greater gap between rich and poor in the U.S. than in almost any other industrialized country. More than one in five American children today lives in poverty.”
And just what is the Democratic party doing about it? What are feminist leaders (who urged me to support the Democrats) doing? I want more than “feel-good feminism.” Don’t give me any more speeches, books to buy, newspapers to subscribe to. Give me something I can share in. I’ve always been there – that is, until the last election, If they lose me, Democrats and their supporters are in more trouble than could ever be imagined.
Obviously, I didn’t win. But none of us are winning. The remaining question is this: Do we allow frontline feminists to continue to sell us out for a seat at the table? Or do we demand they practice the dogma they have always preached?
Remember this the next time you’re driving down the road, and spot a bumper sticker on the vehicle in front of you that reads “Don’t Blame Me – I Voted for Clinton/Gore.” Remember that somewhere in Maryland there’s a woman with this sticker: ‘Don’t Blame Me – I Voted for Myself”
While I agree with Hillary that it takes a village to raise a child, you’d better have a few elders around who sincerely care about its inhabitants.
Judith K Witherow is a Native American poet and essayist whose work appeared in Sojourner, Sinister Wisdom and off our backs. She lives in Maryland.