Hill: Why we didn’t fight hard enough for Elizabeth Warren
Courtney, who took a leave of absence from her job teaching fourth grade in Connecticut to be an Elizabeth Warren campaign organizer, just texted me a picture of the inside of her forearm. It was March 4, after Warren had experienced a poor showing both at the polls and in the lack of delegate votes through the end of the day on Super Tuesday.
"PERSIST," in a font resembling Elizabeth Warren's handwriting, is Courtney's first tattoo. Like the candidate herself, and like the other Warren volunteers and staff I met in February and March, Courtney is smart, vibrant, high-energy, a good organizer and planner, and supremely courteous.
Some of us saw Warren as the candidate who had a plan for America's biggest problems. The candidate with a proven track record in the Senate of having an uncanny ability to see around the next bend, make a plan, fight hard for it, and often win. The candidate who created the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau, saving many of us from being subject to fraud and fooled out of our money. The candidate who began winning debates as a young woman in college, who, having leveled one billionaire on the debate stage, clearly would not have a problem taking down Donald Trump in a debate.
Now as a senior woman, an elder, I thought that my generation was the first feminist generation in this country. The first generation of women to boldly say out loud that we didn't have to fill those post-World War II high heels that our mothers and grandmothers wore. Then, just like the boomers’ fight against environmental pollution, some progress was made, and cheered, and then ... the fight got set aside? We saw the same things happening regardless of the fight?
Or maybe a big part of the fight was beaten out of us.
I rarely use this term — "the media" — but here in 2020, I was filled with dismay to witness what many members of the media did to Warren. First, they ignored her. Then, they screamed that she was not electable. Then they ignored her some more. Then they repeated the refrain that she was unelectable, utterly dismissing the candidate and ceasing to talk about her.
Before the Iowa caucuses, as I recall, Warren was polling in the double digits nationally against Pete Buttigieg’s low single digits nationally, but all the media could talk about was that Buttigieg was polling in the double digits in Iowa.
Warren was not alone in this regard. This filtered, sexist style of reporting was targeted toward other female candidates as well.
As Jen Helen wrote in The Daily Kos on March 5 about the female candidates who announced in 2019: "One by one, their qualifications, their demeanor, their 'electability' were questioned, while less-qualified men with deep pockets and scant policy were deemed more likable. More electable."
We have so much misogynistic and sexist history behind us in this country, and some have been vigilant and consistent in naming it and fighting against discrimination on the basis of gender. On the basis of whether you have this body part or that body part between your legs? Seriously?
And yet I do not blame members of the media entirely. The worst problem of all faced by Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton before her, was that many of the people who could not hear her message, who could not see her for who she really is, were women.
One of Warren’s campaign slogans was “Dream Big. Fight Hard.” We must continue the fight: not for ourselves, but for the sake of our daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters.
As Warren campaigned around the country, parents would approach her holding their little girls in arms, or Warren would kneel down to get at eye level with them. With great warmth and conviction in her voice, Warren would hold up her little finger and say: "Sweetie, I'm running for president because that's what girls do. Pinky promise to remember?"
Then, Warren's pinky finger would gently curl around the tiny finger of that young girl. Don’t for one second think those moments were purely political. Those Pinky Promises, as well as Warren’s selfies with young women, are much more than political. They are moments of transmission. They are permissions to dream big. They are encouragement to fight hard.
When my youngest daughter was 5 years old, she told me with absolute joy in her voice that when she grew up, she was going to be president of the United States. She penciled it into her journal. She drew a picture illustrating herself at the president’s desk, on Capitol Hill. Due to a vehicle accident in 2013, my beautiful, hopeful daughter didn't live to see the possibility of that great day.
I hope that my granddaughters and grandsons live that long. I hope I am not cheering from the grave.
But I take heart in the incredibly long, slow road to freedom led by Mahatma Gandhi and his axiom: First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. Elizabeth Warren condensed the advice to one word: PERSIST.
Sheridan Hill is a native Tar Heel whose company, Real Life Stories, LLC, produces Heirloom Biography for select clients.