Archive for March, 2008

A Family Tradition: Strong Women and Hillary Clinton

March 3, 2008

I’ve been away from writing here for a couple weeks. I’ve been busy lately with F’s lingering flu, work, and paying attention to the election season. Now that the Texas Primary/Caucuses are almost here, there’s been a lot of politicking to pay attention to. This year, the “story line” is even more fantastic than in 2000. Who every thought that a Presidential Election could rest on “hanging chads” and end up being decided by the Supreme Court? And who imagined, a couple years back, that we might be on the edge of electing either the first woman or first African-American as President.

Sometimes people say that truth is stranger than fiction. In times like these, I say truth is better than fiction. It means more, it’s more entertaining, and you don’t get to anticipate all the thinly-disguised plot twists that many writers of fiction employ.

Enough of that. I want to write something to explain why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton. As she said in New Hampshire, “This is personal to me.” There’s a history and an obligation that goes way back, and I’m just one of the latest to uphold it.

My mother grew up in the Gulfport, then a small town on the Mississippi coast, during the Great Depression. As a child, her best friend was her first cousin Ann. They went to school together, hung out together, devised tricks and satires together with their friends. I remember Mom talking about how at one point their little group pretended to be the “First Atheist Church of Gulfport.” They were, of course, good church-going Presbyterians and Catholics, and it was all in fun, but it foreshadowed lifetimes of independent thinking.

Mom and Cousin Annie went to junior college together and graduated right around the time the War began. Annie had met a fine young man at a college dance, and although he went off to war, they later married and started a family. My mother’s beau was lost at Pearl Harbor, and she became a career woman, working for the Civil Service and also serving in the Naval Reserve. It wasn’t until the early fifties that she met a young pilot from the air base who later became my father. Thus, Annie’s children were somewhat older than my brothers and sisters and me. When I finally came along, the last of five, Cousin Annie became my godmother.

Now, Ann and her husband Denning had moved up to Fort Worth where he practiced law. She became active in Democratic Party politics, supporting some of the grand old liberal names — Ralph Yarborough, for example — and for a time served as the county Democratic chair. And in due time, her son Mike attended Georgetown University, where one of his best friends was another young man named Bill Clinton.

Fast forward to 1972. My family had just moved back to the States from Guam, and we were visiting Fort Worth before coming down to San Antonio. S.A. was a familiar place, practically the second home of most Air Force people, and we were going to live there while my Dad was on an “unaccompanied tour” in South Korea.

Mom had spent a lot of time on her own while Dad was off flying to Vietnam or Bangkok or Germany or Turkey. She raised five kids virtually on her own, spending years managing the who she-bang and deciding what had to be done. My parents were looking forward to retirement, actually, and for some time had used Ann and Denning’s address as their permanent stateside address. That summer, they bought a house in San Antonio. But before that, we were in Fort Worth, and there was I, a wide-eyed eleven-year-old, sitting in the corner listening to the grown-ups talk politics.

Interestingly enough, Barack Obama would also have been about my age in 1972. I wonder what he was doing that summer…?

Anyhow, it was all so fascinating. Delegates. Primaries. The Convention. Credentials Fights. Platform Fights. Nothing like the orderly made-for-TV conventions of more recent election cycles. Dad was a Republican, of course, favoring an “orderly” end to the Vietnam War and a strong national defense. Mom was a Democrat who always canceled out Dad’s vote. Mom had also tapped into Ann’s network of political friends, members of both parties, to my brother get an appointment to West Point. We all had many reasons to be grateful to Cousin Annie.

I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but that same year Cousin Mike worked with Bill and Hillary Clinton and all those other young future party leaders, organizing Texas voters to support George McGovern. What a thankless task that must have been, sort of like organizing for George W. Bush in Massachusetts. These folks, the ones who were there at the beginning, are at the very heart of Hillary’s support here in Texas.

Years passed. Eventually I went to college at UT-Austin, majoring in “Government.” In my own time I did a little organizing for Gary Hart when I was a senior. After that, I moved to D.C. for grad school, got sick of going to school, and eventually took a data-entry job with a labor union while I sorted out “who I am” (i.e, “coming out of the closet”) and “what I really want to do.” The union taught me computer programming, and I drifted into a life that had virtually nothing to do with politics, except as a spectator and voter. D.C. is a great place to be a political spectator, especially since D.C. residents don’t have voting representation in Congress, but I digress.

Bill Clinton, of course, eventually was elected President. In the mid-nineties a Federal judicial vacancy came up in North Texas, and he appointed Cousin Mike to the position. However, the nomination was one among several that was bottled up in the Republican Senate, and Mike never did get confirmed for the post.

Fast forward more years. Annie has been gone for quite some time, and my own parents both passed away last year. I had returned to Texas six years back. One of the reasons was that I wanted to be at least in close hollering distance so I could be there for Mom and Dad when they needed me. And of course, this last year I was needed more than I ever imagined.

I feel a debt to Annie and to Mom, and to all the strong women who inspired me and accepted me. Yes, strong idependent women like these were the ones most welcoming of my gay identity, helping me to find myself. I feel a debt to Hillary and Bill Clinton, too, who have dedicated their lives to lifting up the poor and powerless, and working for inclusiveness and unity and genuine incremental change.

I realize also that Hillary and Bill have not just worked for spoken on behalf of legislation that benefits LGBT people, they have surrounded themselves with gays and lesbians in government (Roberta Achtenberg, James Hormel) and outside government, where they have repeatedly worked with and helped to build LGBT organizations, HIV-AIDS service organizations, and more. Repeatedly, the Clintons have listened to gay and lesbian people, they have answered us, and they have stood by us.

It’s true that Bill Clinton’s Administration did not provide us as gay people with all the rights we deserve. Seeking to make it possible for gays and lesbians to serve legally in the military, he faced a political firestorm and was forced to settle for incremental change, a compromise we know as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Likewise, facing rabid conservatives who were using anti-gay rhetoric to whip up a frenzy against pro-gay leaders and the Democratic party as a whole, Hillary settled for athe best she could get, a sad compromise: The Defense of Marriage Act, which while still treating us as second-class citizens at least did not prevent Massachusetts, Vermont, and other states from enacting gay-friendly reforms. We were lucky to get out of that period without a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage, which many states actually did adopt into their own constitutions. Again, we achieved incremental change: Do the best you can, given the situation, and leave the door open to press your case further another day. This is the way that real change happens.

When push comes to shove, I’m not just a “Friend of Dorothy,” I’m an even bigger friend of Hillary. I think that my mother and my godmother would be proud of me that now, for the first time in many years, I’m active in politics and I’m doing my best to try to get Hillary elected. I’ve made phone calls and contributions, attended some meetings, and on Tuesday I will both vote and attend the caucus supporting Hillary. In some small way, in supporting Hillary, I feel that I’m partly paying them back for supporting me.

We may not succeed this week. It is possible that when all the votes are counted, Hillary’s campaign will end here in Texas and in Ohio. That’s o.k., and I know that whatever happens we Democrats will join together to do our best to win in November.

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