A month ago, I started the Pigspittle County for Obama group. Along with 60+ Pigspittlians, we canvassed, phone-banked, stood in the square and waved Obama signs, and coalesced, mostly through email, into a merry band. Among our group are several African Americans, which is especially gratifying in this county of 97% whites. One wrote to me after the election that she did not think it was possible to find herself among such a diverse group who believed in unity.
Racism is a rural reality. I knew it existed but I had never really witnessed it, first hand.
The Clinton campaign took every rural county in the state. Obama took the urban areas of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Does racism exist in this primary? Absolutely. Among Democrats. Which I naively believed was impossible.
I know that sexism exists too. I, personally, haven’t witnessed this among Democrats. But I think I’ve become tone deaf over the years to subtle sexism. I chose a long time ago not to hear the things men say to and about women that they would never say to or about themselves. I decided to pick my battles when they really mattered, like when I was in a meeting with six men when one decided to count the number of buttons on my blouse.
Maybe blacks have the same selective retention mechanism built up in their heads over years of little insults. I do know that if something sounds racist to me, a white, it must sound racist to a black person. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…
The sad part of what I witnessed and what others have witnessed along what should be a proud and historic political trail is that all of this, including the gloomy consequence of Geraldine Ferraro’s words, rips my Democratic Party apart. I resent that I have to choose a side in this battle, that I have to affirm my instinct of who is to blame, add up all the little insults in my head and note which ones are most egregious and who has flung them most often. I am saddened by having to tell fellow Democrats that I will walk away if attempts aren’t made—right now, today—by our leadership to step forward and say, clearly and emphatically, that this behavior, these tactics to divide and conquer are unacceptable. I don’t recognize this party. Maybe I should have figured out in 2006 that not a single African American was volunteering at Pigspittle Dem headquarters, and that maybe there was a reason why.
All of this has been pinging around my head the last couple of days. So much so that I wrote [pre-Ferraro incident] to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who I feel especially disappointed in. I felt a little better about myself after writing it, though I doubt it will have much influence. But I could hold my head a little higher for speaking up. It is one of the joys of being an American.
Dear Governor Strickland:
I write to you today as a lifelong Democrat and one who has been active in the [Pigspittle] County Democratic Party for the last four years. In fact, I was one of many volunteers who worked hard on your campaign during 2006, calling voters in [Pigspittle and neighboring] counties. So it is with great sadness that I write to express my profound disappointment in your leadership with regard to the current Democratic primary election, especially in Ohio.
When I saw you nodding your head in agreement as Hillary Clinton, standing in front of you, crossed the line of what I considered to be fair play by stating that she and John McCain have experience to lead the country but all Senator Barack Obama has is “a speech,” I was shocked and embarrassed for my state and for my party. I understand that you feel strongly about Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and I can respect your endorsement of her campaign. However, such low rhetoric as Senator Clinton’s recent fare is tearing the Democratic Party apart and those in leadership positions, such as yours, have a responsibility to maintain dignity and fairness when Democrats are vying for primary seats.
I am equally disappointed in my own local party, who staffed its office with a volunteer who insisted on calling Senator Obama “Osama.” So disappointed, in fact, that I have little inclination right now to participate in this group, despite the fact that I have made many friends there. Senator Clinton’s subtle refusal to emphatically state that Senator Obama is a Christian didn’t help matters.
I know that those who support Senator Clinton believe that the party will come back together once a nominee is selected. I’m testimony that this might not be the case, especially if our party leaders, particularly at the state and local level, don’t start coming forward to denounce scurrilous accusations and divisive rhetoric.
There have been plenty of primary elections in which the person I voted for lost to another candidate and I’ve never had bad feelings about it. I voted for Bill Bradley and Paul Tsongas, but then went on to vote for Al Gore and Bill Clinton. I was undecided about this election until Iowa, in fact. Up until the last couple of weeks, I probably would have been able to imagine voting for Senator Clinton should she, despite all odds, become the nominee. But the last two weeks have left me feeling betrayed by my own party and I honestly don’t know how I will vote if Senator Obama is not on the ticket, let alone whether or not to volunteer to campaign for the Democrats. Such is the price paid for the kitchen sink strategy.
I urge you and your fellow Democratic leaders to step forward now to unite the party and to disavow the politics that divide us.