Have I mentioned lately how much I’m enjoying the lectures from self-avowed liberals who insist my respect for Hillary Clinton is proof that I am not a “real progressive”?
I haven’t had this much fun since I had my sinuses packed with 40 miles of gauze after polyp surgery.
It’s not just men — my sisters, you disappoint me — but it’s particularly entertaining when the reprimands come from young white men who were still braying for their blankies when I started getting paid to give my opinion. They popped out special, I guess.
I became a columnist in the fall of 2002. Immediately, I found myself on the receiving end of right-wing vitriol so vile it made “The Sopranos” cuddly by comparison. My first death threats came within weeks, after I wrote that the Confederate flag should be retired. After I supported stronger gun control measures, an NRA zealot posted on a gun blog what he thought was my home address and identified me as “unarmed.” I was a single mother at the time. I bought new locks and kept writing.
But by all means, do tell me what I don’t understand about being a progressive.
First, though, let me tell you what you clearly don’t understand about me — I almost added, “and women like me,” but that would be presuming to speak for other women, which would make me sound just like you.
I am a 58-year-old wife, mother and grandmother, who first knew I was a feminist at 17. I was a waitress at a family restaurant and a local banker thought he could stick his hand up my skirt because my hands were full of dinner. In the time it took me to deposit that steaming pile of pasta onto his lap, I realized I was never going to be that girl.
Like so many other women, I soon learned that knowing who you are is no small victory, but making it clear to the rest of the world is one of the hardest and longest nonpaying jobs a woman will ever have. I’ll spare you my personal list of jobs with unequal pay and unwelcome advances. No good comes from leading with our injuries.
It helped — it still helps — that my working-class parents raised me to be ready for the fight. My father was a union utility worker, my mother a nurse’s aide. Both of them died in their 60s, living just long enough to see all of their children graduate from college and start their lives. I’ve said many times that my parents did the kind of work that wore their bodies out so that we would never have to. That, too, is my legacy.
But, please, tell me again how I don’t know what it means to be a progressive.
Last month, I started teaching journalism at Kent State University. One of the first things I did was to lug to my office the large metal sign that used to hang over the tool shed at my father’s plant. “THE BEST SAFETY DEVICE IS A CAREFUL MAN,” it reads. Nice try, management.
I’m stickin’ with the union, Woody Guthrie sang.
Every time I walk into my office, that sign is the first thing I see. Remember, it whispers.
What does any of this have to do with why I admire Hillary Clinton? Nothing. But it has everything to do with why I don’t need any lecture from somebody who thinks he or she is going to tell me who I am because I do.
One of the hallmarks of a progressive is a willingness to challenge a power structure that leaves too many people looking up and seeing the bottom of a boot. I want power for the people who don’t have it. And for the rest of my conscious days, I will do my small part to help get it. I love it when detractors describe Clinton as too angry and not “warm and fuzzy” enough. I want a leader, not a Pooh Bear.
I don’t want to diminish anyone who supports Bernie Sanders. I’m married to Sanders’ colleague, Sen. Sherrod Brown, which is how I’ve gotten to know him over the last 10 years. He’s a good man.
If you support Sanders in this Democratic presidential primary, I don’t assume that you hate women.
See how that works?
But if you tell me that, should Sanders lose, you won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, then stop calling yourself a liberal or a progressive or anything other than someone invested in just getting your way.
There is so much at stake here. The fight for women’s reproductive rights is not a sporting event. Our cities are rife with racial tensions, and too many of us white Americans fail to see this as our problem, too. The Affordable Care Act is not enough, but it is the first fragile step toward universal health care. It is already saving lives of people who had nothing — no health care, no safety net, nothing — before it passed.
Finally, the growing gulf between the obscenely privileged and everyone else is a reason to get out of bed every morning — if we care about the future of the people we are supposed to be fighting for.
If you would sacrifice those who need us most because you didn’t get your way, then please, save me your lectures and get out of my way.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo: Hillary Clinton speaks at a Grassroots Organizing Event at Mountain View College in Dallas, Texas November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Stone