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What Does Hillary Clinton’s Nomination Mean?

Jul 31, 2016

In July 1984 I was 12 years old. Walter Mondale, a former senator from my home state of Minnesota, chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate for the 1984 Presidential election.

I remember sitting around our old black and white television in my living room with my parents and my sisters watching as Ferraro became the first woman in a major party to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate. I was in awe. I was proud that someone from Minnesota had chosen a woman to run with him. I was excited that I now had something else to aspire to and that women could be seen as candidates in high public office.

On July 28, 2016 Hillary Clinton became the first woman to accept the nomination to be a presidential candidate for a major party. This is historic. It is beyond politics. It means that when I turn to my soon-to-be six-year old daughter and she says, “Hillary Clinton can be the President” it really is a reality.

Today I don’t want to talk about my politics or who we should or shouldn’t vote for. Instead, I want to talk about what it means to have a woman running for president as part of a major political party.

For the past three years I have been co-teaching paired courses with my friend and colleague, political scientist Erin Taylor. She teaches American Government and Politics while I teach First Year Composition. Every year we talk with our students about the importance of being participatory and active citizens.

Rebekah Buchanan
Credit Rich Egger

When we talk about voting I use stories of the women and men of the Civil Rights Movement and their influence on my choices to vote. And I listen to Erin talk about the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States and the ways in which women fought to be able to vote and received that right less than 100 years ago. She tells the story of how women of the suffrage movement were jailed for protesting for their right to vote, and during their time in jail they were tortured and beaten by prison guards. She talks of Alice Paul, who went on a hunger strike and was force fed by prison authorities. Her mouth was forced open with a vice, a tube shoved down her throat breaking her teeth, and raw eggs were poured into her stomach. It is the stories of these women that inspire Erin to vote.

Since the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919, it took 65 years for Geraldine Ferraro to be placed on a major party ticket as a Vice Presidential nominee and since this point, there have only been two women Vice Presidential candidates on major party tickets and one woman Presidential candidate.

In addition, there has been only one woman—Nancy Pelosi—to ever serve as the House Speaker. It wasn’t until 1981 that a woman ever served as a Supreme Court Justice when Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor. All of these things occurred during my lifetime. They are not ancient history. They are recent accomplishments of strong, talented women. They should not be forgotten.

If you start to think about exactly what Hillary Clinton’s nomination means, regardless of your political beliefs, you can see the importance to women and girls everywhere. Clinton, and other women who choose to run for political office, are pioneers. They give young women something different to look at when they think about their possibilities. They show young boys that it’s okay to listen to young girls and that young girls can also be in positions of power.

This nomination gives validation to the work of so many female politicians and young women who want to be politicians. It guarantees possibilities that until Tuesday I did not have in my lifetime.

Women are powerful leaders. Women work in their communities to create change and we need to see that change in every aspect of our leadership. Clinton’s nomination, having women of color serve on the Supreme Court and in Congress, and Obama’s Presidency have started to change the ways in which we view politics and political office.

My one hope for the nomination of Hillary Clinton is that, for young women like me, when I watched Geraldine Ferraro’s nomination 22 years ago, Clinton’s nomination will allow other girls to dream.

Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.