This feminist is sticking with Bernie Sanders: Why Hillary backers need to take another long, honest look

Before it's too late, my fellow feminists need to reconsider Clinton, ignore the peer pressure, and vote on issues

Published May 4, 2016 9:58AM (EDT)

Hillary Cllinton, Bernie Sanders   (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Jim Young/Photo montage by Salon)
Hillary Cllinton, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Brian Snyder/Jim Young/Photo montage by Salon)

A week after the New York primary, I had lunch with a colleague whom I hadn't seen for a year. We are both avowed feminists and members of a joke secret society, Women Who Get Shit Done (we have badges, that's about it); she started talking about having voted for Hillary Clinton, in that confiding way one does when presuming the other person feels the same. I had to stop her and gently let her know that I had voted for Bernie, and even with the (contested) results in, I was still Sanders. She immediately backtracked and revealed, as if disclosing a shameful secret, that "Bernie's positions" -- voted against the Iraq, against fracking, for banking regulation -- "align much closer to my own than Hillary's." Why on earth vote for Hillary then? I asked, astounded. The best she could come up with was "My daughter really wants me to vote for Hillary."

My friend, novelist Holly LeCraw, and I started a public endorsement group, Writers 4 Bernie, and we're finding that although Bernie supporters are out there, many aren't "out." It's a dirty secret, it seems, to not vote "feminist"; a famous writer who has spoken publicly in favor of Bernie declined to join our group because "my wife is for Hillary." Scores of people I know are "for" Bernie but don't want to make these views public. A few described themselves as "reluctant Hillary voters" because they, like my friend, like Bernie's positions better but feel the need to "unite" behind Hillary. There were a few mutterings that we should have called our group Writers Against Trump.

A Trump presidency is indeed not an impossibility. But if that happens, it's not on Writers4Bernie; it's on Hillary for being a weak candidate. And likely on the DNC for not supporting the candidate who polls stronger against all three of the Republicans--Bernie beats Trump by double digits while Hillary is within the margin of error against Trump and loses to Kasich. Simply put, the superdelegate system and closed primaries may succeed in pushing Clinton to victory as the party's nominee, but it's at the peril of wishing away the most recent Gallup poll that showed a record 43% of American voters identify as independents, a demographic that overwhelmingly prefers Bernie, as seen in his sweeping wins in the caucuses and open primaries where independents are allowed to vote. So why stick to an outdated, confusing, likely corrupt nominating process that ignores voters' actual preferences?

A lot of smart people I know are Bernie supporters, including the Nobel Prize winner in our building, who has the distinction of having a Bernie sign up even longer than we have.

I went on my own (to quote Hillary Clinton's senatorial bid) "listening tour" of my smart friends who are/have voted for Hillary and for anonymity's sake, created a composite, which includes doctors, academics, writers, stay at home moms. Besides "having a woman president would be historic" and "Hillary has the most experience," they would look at me blankly when I'd say, "And I disagree with almost everything she's done in the State Department and much of what she did while she was a senator."

"Honduras," I said. "Glass-Steagall. Iraq War vote. TPP. Israel-Palestine. GMOs. Her promotion of fracking not just here but globally. NAFTA." How about that Saudi Arabia got their arms deals approved in a Hillary State department coincidentally after giving lots of money to the Clinton Foundation?

I explain, further, that after publicly cheering on the Columbia activists who successfully got the university to divest from private prisons, I thus feel I could hardly undo this accomplishment by voting for a candidate who profits from the industry.

I'm flummoxed by friends who exclusively feed their children organic food but suddenly are agnostic on GMOs and which pesticide companies give to which candidates). Previously, I might have elided over these unholy corporate ties, too, as being unavoidable. That maybe as a woman, Hillary has to play rough and get the money where she can in order to stay in the game. But I don't feel that way any more, because Senator Sanders has shown he can actually run a campaign without taking corporate money or having mainstream media attention. What about equal pay? Looking at the numbers, Hillary plays her female staff less than the men, according to this report while Bernie Sanders pays his female staff more than men--a distinctive data point the media seemed to have missed completely.

My composite friend conceded these points. She's busy and doesn't have time to keep up on the issues. She told me the moment she knew Clinton was the candidate for her was her statement about not staying home and baking cookies.

Others cited that meme of Hillary texting on her Blackberry, an irony not lost on me given the possibly felonious private email server debacle. But it seems that "Texts from Hillary" is the new "George Bush is the one candidate I want to sit down and have a beer with." Go-girl empowerment marketing trumping how her actual politics have and will affect women and children, not just here but around the world.

How is a feminist supposed to decide whether to vote for the female candidate or not? We've all seemed to have tacitly agreed that a Carly Fiorina presidency or vice presidency while also historic, is not party to the feminist narrative. But should feminism include republican women, who are numerous?

And what does it mean, the bipartisan (if not unintentionally comedic) move of Hillary and Donald Trump both establishing shell companies at the same address in Delaware --legal but, as the New York Times reported, “Shells are the No. 1 vehicle for laundering illicit money and criminal proceeds,” i.e., hardly presidential for either candidate. Is equal opportunity tax evasion gender advancement? The Democrats just lost a legitimate way to pop the balloon of Trump's alluring faux-populism huckerism by going with Hillary when they have an actual populist standing right there.

And for my friend who loves the idea of Hillary's foreign policy experience but can't name a single position, Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University couldn't be blunter: Hillary's "so-called foreign policy 'experience' has been to support every war demanded by the US deep security state run by the military and the CIA."

If you're forcing yourself to vote for Hillary, maybe that means you are a latent Bernie Sanders voter; maybe it's that weird feeling in your stomach when you watch Hillary make a joke about "Colored people's time" (for which POTUS responded with his own cutting joke about " jokes white people should not make” or the flip-flops on social issues like gay marriage, or the Panama Papers means you might want to take a closer look at Bernie. Like the guy in the bar who "neg"s the beautiful woman to make her feel insecure, perhaps the prevailing media narrative of the clueless dreamer Bernie voter is actually its opposite: voters want Bernie not because they haven't done the research, but because they have. Including taking the time to realize that social democracy is a system that combines the social and capitalism--a type of government many people of all parties are "for," they just don't know it has a name (Bernie Sanders).

There are primaries yet to go (not to mention affidavit ballots to be counted, Constitutional rights hopefully to be restored), and these voters deserve their to have their voices heard. And, to be fair, Hillary "insisted on fighting the 2008 Democratic race all the way through the last day of primary voting, even after Barack Obama had gained a permanent upper hand in the competition for delegates."

I'm still a feminist and I'm #StillSanders. Bernie's a fighter, too. He wasn't dubbed an "honorary woman" by Gloria Steinem for nothing.


By Marie Myung-Ok Lee

Marie Myung-Ok Lee teaches creative writing at Columbia University. Her next novel, "The Evening Hero," is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster. Find her on Twitter  @MarieMyungOkLee and on Facebook.

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