The Democratic National Convention: A Women’s Perspective
by Doris Turner, Chairwoman of the Sangamon County Democratic Party and Springfield Ward 3 Alderwoman
“You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I rise”. As Senator Cory Booker brought those words of Maya Angelou to life for the delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, my eyes welled up with tears and my soul began to rise because I was reminded of the significance of Philadelphia, what this week would have meant to my mother, what it means to me, and what it will mean for my granddaughters.
Every election is important, and has far reaching ramifications whether it is to elect the local school board, the city council, congressman, senator, or the President of the United States, and we should treat it as such. However, there are those elections of historical proportions that are forever etched in our minds. The election of President Barack Obama eight years ago was one of those moments. My mother had always been a strong Bill Clinton supporter, but fell head over heals in love with Barack Obama and was excited and filled with pride as she cast her vote for him and watched as he was sworn in as our 44th President. My mother never thought she would live to see an African American President, and I am excited that she lived to witness this historical event.
As I sat on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, I saw the footprints of that historic election. The delegates who joined me from across the country were truly representative of the United States. It was the most diverse gathering of delegates ever assembled; however, the diversity did not end there. The convention speakers, convention conveners, platform committee, and entertainment all embraced and showcased that diversity. It was not a “show” choreographed for television. It was a Democratic Family Reunion; our opportunity to come together, enjoy and celebrate each other and our accomplishments over the past eight years, and formally nominate our candidate for President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton!
Yes, Barack Obama’s election was historical, but somehow the nomination of Hillary Clinton was different. The two were worthy adversaries in 2008, and fought hard for the nomination. But no matter how smart, organized, or financed she was – the man won the prize. Close, but not close enough. 18 million cracks in that last glass ceiling, but that glass ceiling was still intact. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm excited me and other African American women when she became the first major-party African American candidate for President of the United Sates, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but that excitement was shortlived. This year, 2016, would be a different story and I had a front row seat! I was witnessing history! When I spoke with Hillary Clinton on her first visit to Springfield I shared with her that I was on the ballot as a Clinton delegate, and she wished me well. When she returned I proudly informed her that I won and would be in Philadelphia, and she was almost as excited as I. The connectivity between us was very real for me, and I carried that with me to the convention floor.
“Just like moons and like suns, with the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise”. As I witnessed the rollcall, and saw the culmination of years of work, dreams, disappointments, and finally victory, I became even more hopeful for the future – the future of my country, my future, and the future of my grandchildren. As women we were no longer a footnote of history, we were front and center; we were no longer the adjectives of the sentence, we were the subject; we had arrived. I, and all of the other women in the United States, had a champion at the highest level of government who understood our concerns and fears, who had literally walked in our shoes, who needed no explanation because she understood what it meant to be a woman; what it meant to raise a family and hold down a job. I was more hopeful than ever regarding the direction of the country on issues such as gun violence, alternative education, women’s rights, and the economy and its effect on the middle class. I had a true advocate for women and families, childcare and pre-school, equal pay, women’s health and reproductive rights, and paid family leave. Hopeful that while there are tough policy decisions that must be made, they will be made in a compassionate and fair manner, and hopeful knowing with certainty that she shares a commitment to ensuring equity for communities of color. On that night the glass ceiling was literally shattered on stage, and I was hopeful knowing that we have that champion and we will rise together!
“You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.”
The entire four days of the convention were an inspirational awakening for me; much akin to a spiritual revival. My heart was uplifted; I was filled with pride; and my soul was soaring. As Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination my mind took me back to the forty years of “harassment” that she has endured. Endured without becoming bitter; endured without giving in or giving up; and endured always moving forward and becoming ever more victorious along the way. It requires a special constitution to arrive at this moment still hopeful and willing to stay in the arena. I remember the saying – “You can’t keep a good man down”, well she has proven that you certainly cannot keep a good woman down. As African Americans we have made great strides. As women we have made great strides. Together as Americans we are walking into the manifestation of our hopes and dreams. I walked out of the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night excited about the future and the America that my grandchildren will come to know; excited about my nominee and the President she will become; and most excited about the small role that I played in all of it. Stronger together – WE rise!
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise; Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise; Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”