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Take Back the Joy!

We’re almost THERE, after an interminable campaign that feels as if it began in 1920. This has been such a bizarre election, with insanity spewed at us so heavily and steadily that people are literally sick of it.

Of course, many people have already voted—so if any systems are hacked by Russia or others, the early voters are at least safe. But the at-first sour taste in the mouth has now settled into daily nausea. Politically aware people also know, with a sense of dread, that a heavy workload awaits us starting November 9, no matter who wins the presidency. At this moment—with the FBI deciding to finally come clean and admit that Hillary (surprise surprise) is also clean—it looks like her lead is holding. But since Trump has already proclaimed he won’t acknowledge a win by her, and since some GOP congressmen have already announced they plan to go four years more without approving any Supreme Court Justice she would appoint, and declared they will begin impeachment proceedings the moment she’s sworn in—well, that’s what I call a heavy workload ahead of us.

I bitterly resent that. I resent Trump and what’s now his GOP flatly refusing to abide by our democratic system, the Constitution, and the law; I resent that brazen announcement by some members of congress who insist on their right not to do their jobs. These guys should have to face impeachment actions or recall campaigns.

Mostly, I resent the painful fact that an election for our first woman president—an occasion for congratulating each other on all the work we’ve done to get us here—has been stolen from us by the Trumpian climate of bigotry, assaults on democracy, threats, and violence.

Speaking of which, a practical insert here, for the last time: Voters who experience problems at the polling place can call the following numbers for a nonpartisan hotline staffed by trained volunteers who can answer questions and notify election officials of violations.

Look, friends. In these last days, we have got to reclaim who we are, and remember not just what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for.

It’s been exactly 100 years since the first woman was elected to Congress, and it’s impossible to estimate the effect of a female presidency—on this country, and on the world. (And obviously it depends on the woman! Michelle Bachman or Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin—oh please.)

We do know that sexism won’t vanish if we have a female president, anymore then racism disappeared with a black president. But it makes a difference. And if Barack Obama disappointed some pockets of the African-American community because he knew he had to be president of all the people, and if a woman president disappoints some feminists suffering from terminal purity because she would have to be president of all the people, well, I say after 240 years it’s damned well our turn to be so successfully disappointed!

Such a woman president need not be—can’t be—perfect, because perfection doesn’t exist (and also is boring). Such a woman does need to have a sense of justice and a sense of humor, to be a marathon runner, intelligent, compassionate, tough, well- prepared, tenacious, visionary, pragmatic, and audacious. If possible, also deeply and widely experienced in the ways of power, although patriarchy makes it rare for women to achieve such experience.

These days, I find myself always on the verge of tears. Because it’s been a long fight—and I don’t just mean the century-long battle for women’s suffrage.

When I became a feminist, I was already a published writer and activist in the civil rights and anti-war movements, and I regarded myself as a “revolutionary, non-oppressed woman.” Ha!! So I went to an early consciousness-raising group to bestow on “those women” some “real politics” (a Marxist analysis, I wince now to remember). Fortunately, they got to me before I got to them.

There were no laws against marital rape or acquaintance rape, back then, in the early 1960s; rape survivors’ sexual histories were admissible in court, and it was assumed that victims had “asked for it.” Domestic violence was considered a shame–on the woman; the operative attitude was “Scream quietly so the neighbors don’t hear.” Abortion was illegal and no pharmacist would sell over-the-counter contraceptives. Want ads in the newspaper were divided by gender, and women’s studies only a glint in the eyes of a few feminist academics. There was no such thing as lesbian custody rights, much less marriage equality. Title IX was as yet unthinkable, as was the concept of affirmative action. When I married, I was forced by law to change all my legal documents—driver’s license, bank accounts, voter registration—to my husband’s name, even though I continued using my name as a writer. The Right in this country were horrified by us early feminists and wanted to jail us (and did), while the Left decided to screw us, literally and figuratively (and did).

I was never one of those who thought the ultimate goal would be to have a woman president, because top-down change can only do so much. And now, after all these decades, I still know that a woman commander-in-chief is not the end-all-be-all for feminist revolution and transformation of the planet. But it makes a difference.

I remember flying back from some speaking date in the early 1970s; because of bomb threats they’d had to call in police and dogs to sweep the auditorium before I spoke (that happened fairly often). I remember having to change planes in Chicago and being stuck there with flight delays in a snowstorm. I’d bought a gift for my kid, who was then maybe about four—it was my ritual to bring him a small present when I traveled, which back then was a lot. This time, it was a little battery operated dolphin tub toy; you pressed the blowhole in its head and it swam around the tub. I’d bought it at the airport I left from, whatever college town in god’s name that had been.

But now at 3 AM I sat in the deserted O’Hare airport—back then there were no 24-hour food courts. There was only a popcorn machine. I was famished. So I sat, carry-on bag at my feet, clutching my dolphin, munching greasy, stale popcorn, and staring into space.

The things you remember . . . I recall how dry my eyes and skin felt from flying, how brittle my fingernails were and how a hangnail was driving me nuts. I’d slept about four hours the night before and the night before that, because women wanted to stay up talking after the speeches, which was thrilling—but then they went to sleep while I had to catch a 6 AM flight to the next place in the morning. I sat there, reminding myself that this was the life of an organizer and no whining was allowed. But I felt grainy and exhausted and dirty and desperate to get home and hug my child and have a bath and write the draft of a poem. And I chuckled to myself, thinking of the young student who’d asked a question at the last speech: “How long,” she wanted to know, “will it be before we have a woman president in this country?”

That was so far from my mind that I hadn’t known how to answer her—wanting to say instead, “Listen, women are denied entrance to certain clubs, restaurants, schools, jobs, entire professions. Women are dying from back-alley illegal abortions, women aren’t paid anywhere near equally and we lack affordable childcare and we’re beaten and harassed and raped and prostituted and trafficked and more. And that’s just in this country.”

Instead, I smiled and answered, “A woman president? Not in my lifetime, I think. But maybe in yours.”

Flash forward to today.

Here’s the thing: Even to have come this far is a triumph. And we know we will never go back.

So I refuse to let us—you and me—be robbed of this moment.

This is history—and we’re the ones making it. Let flags fly from the rooftops and trumpets sound!

And when you vote, do so with celebration in your heart and radiance on your face.

In defiance of bigotry, take back the Republic.
In rejection of fear, take back the Constitution.
In the teeth of hatred, take back the joy!