Bernie vs. Hillary: What’s A Feminist To Do?
America’s Only Elected Female Socialist on Women and the Presidential Race
Originally published on 03/02/2016 at huffingtonpost.com
Last Fall, I brought a proposal for 12 weeks paid parental leave to vote in the Seattle City Council. As a female city councilmember and socialist, I see the question of women’s rights vs. corporate interests come to the floor on a regular basis.
As has been so often the case, the two other women on the council (both Democrats) voted against this progressive proposal, while the two other members of the council’s left wing (both men) voted with me.
During the fight for the $15 minimum wage in Seattle, these same female councilmembers also voted for sub-minimum wages (mostly affecting majority-female occupations) known as “tip credit”, and further for almost every corporate loophole in the ordinance.
Do these women not consider themselves feminists? I think they do, though I won’t speak for them.
Perhaps more importantly, do elected officials like them deserve the support of feminists?
For women and the left, this question has moved to the center of the presidential election.
Young Women and Hillary
Throughout the Democratic Primary, Hillary Clinton and her supporters have sought to portray her ascendance to the presidency as the next logical step toward gender equality in America. And for most of that time, her nomination as the first female Democratic nominee was assumed to be straightforward and assured.
Yet instead of the expected coronation, Hillary Clinton has had a real fight on her hands from the self-proclaimed socialist from Vermont, and that turn of events has perhaps been most clearly reflected in young women’s enthusiastic support for Sanders.
The Democratic Party establishment has been dumbfounded at young women rejecting Hillary, and have made various ham-fisted efforts to turn back the tide.
“Why are establishment feminist icons on the defensive with young women?”
Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chair, helped kick things off by suggesting young women were “complacent” about women’s rights in not supporting Hillary, followed by a social media backlash. But the firestorm hit in February with Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright’s widely discussed comments. Steinem’s remarks about young women supporting Bernie because “that’s where the boys are” particularly hit a nerve, as young women who had long looked up to Steinem were stunned to hear what sounded, more than a little, like a demeaning sexist put down.
Feminism and Identity
Why are establishment feminist icons on the defensive with young women?
At the heart of the matter is the deep divide between the substance of women’s rights and the identity question of gender in this race. And the sticky problem facing Clinton defenders is the undeniable fact that Sanders’ platform and record are far more pro-woman.
In looking at Sanders’ commitment to women’s issues, from an unwavering commitment to reproductive rights, to the $15 minimum wage, to single-payer healthcare, or a dozen other issues — it’s clear ordinary women stand to gain greatly from what Bernie is campaigning for.
Hillary’s own political history reveals the hollowness of her expressed oneness with ordinary women. She helped champion Bill Clinton’s gutting of welfare funding in the 1990s, which plunged hundreds of thousands of women (particularly black women), into a deadly spiral of intergenerational poverty.
Clinton’s position on abortion has long been that it ought to be “safe, legal and rare.” Safe and legal, yes, but her addition of “rare” is a frightening backtracking on the hard-fought battle for reproductive rights, and only serves as bait to encourage right-wing attacks. As recently as September last year, Clinton made overtures to anti-choice Republicans, saying, “if there’s a way to structure some kind of constitutional restriction [on abortion] that takes into account the life of the mother and her health, then I’m open to that.”
“If the question is one of policy and not of identity, can there be any doubt that Bernie Sanders is the real feminist in this race?”
As Secretary of State, Clinton was stunningly silent on the widespread abuse of women’s rights in U.S. supported regimes like Saudi Arabia, and put U.S. corporate interests squarely ahead of questions of women’s and human rights. Bloomberg Businessweek noted approvingly that “Clinton turned the State Department into a machine for promoting U.S. business,” and sought “to install herself as the government’s highest-ranking business lobbyist.”
As has been noted by many, one of Hillary Clinton’s legacies as Senator and Secretary of State is as a foreign policy hawk. This is revealed not only in her support for the war in Iraq, but also the bombing of Libya, and her disastrous role in the bloodbath in Syria. And war, of course, has a particularly brutal and devastating impact on women.
Her support for NAFTA and later TPP (which of course she’s done an election-campaign backflip on), again underlines her willingness to sell out working people, not least of all working women who have been deeply affected by corporate trade deals.
Sanders, in contrast, has been a consistent advocate of reproductive rights, and a leading opponent of Clinton’s welfare “reform,” NAFTA, and TPP.
If the question is one of policy and not of identity, can there be any doubt that Bernie Sanders is the real feminist in this race?
Women and the White House
Of course, it is entirely understandable that electing a first woman president would be seen as a progressive event in American history. And we do need more women in elected office generally.
But which women? Obviously we do not need more Sarah Palins or Margaret Thatchers in office. We also don’t need more Nancy Pelosis or Hillary Clintons.
At the moment, under the domination of these two corporate parties, genuine people who are fighting for the interests of the 99%, and who are not bought-and-sold by corporate interests, are extremely rare anywhere in elected office. And while I don’t agree with Bernie about everything, he is one of them.
Which Side Are You On?
Perhaps young women have been most offended by the implicit assumption that they should set aside their own political views, and along with them the interests of the vast majority of women, in an act of “solidarity” with ruling class women like Hillary.
Instead, they are demanding someone who will fight for their rights. They are correctly angry at the corporate domination of politics, at inequality, and at the failure of the Democratic Party establishment (not least of all the Clinton Administration) to even effectively defend women’s past gains.
Under such “leadership,” women have had to keep fighting the same battles that their mothers and grandmothers did, and losing ground.
Bernie’s campaign is the opposite — it has served as a lightning rod against the domination of the establishment’s anti-worker and anti-woman politics over our lives and our bodies.
“Feminism, solidarity and socialism are interconnected and inseparable.”
As oppressed people we face the question of how and with whom to build the solidarity necessary to win progressive change. The solidarity we need is with the 99 percent, not with ruling class women against the rest of us.
It is our task to build that solidarity — to fight for the needs of women, of people of color, of immigrants, of labor, of the LGBTQ community — of all working people. That means building a #Movement4Bernie now, and most importantly using this campaign to build a new independent force that can continue the fight after the presidential election. We will need to build our own political party — a party of the 99 percent.
If we do not build or own independent strength, we will continue to see the right-wing advance. As the Tea Party developed in the void prior to the Occupy Movement, Donald Trump and the like will continue to gain ground in the emptiness of corporate Democratic Party politics.
I believe that raising socialist ideas is one of the most important things Bernie has done with his campaign.
The struggle for socialism is the fight of all oppressed people for economic, racial and gender equality. For a sustainable world, in which the economy and political system are run by and for the 99 percent.
Feminism, solidarity and socialism are interconnected and inseparable. Let’s fight for them — together.