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Monday, December 11, 2017

Earlier this week, a friend of many years signed on to Facebook and surprised me — and surely many others who know her — by writing a short but powerful post about politics.

Specifically, she addressed that small and vocal percentage of Bernie Sanders supporters who insist they will never vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election.

My friend’s message to them: If Hillary loses by a narrow margin, you will share the blame.

This is so unlike her. She has plenty of political opinions she shares privately, but on social media, she is relentlessly kind and uncontroversial. She is also, however, so worried about the future of our country.

The ensuing discussion on her Facebook wall was spirited but never ugly. She was lucky. I’m not naming her, nor am I quoting her exact words, because I don’t want angry strangers to read this and hunt for her on Facebook.

Almost daily, I hear from women who want to either explain why they keep secret their support for Clinton or share their regret that they didn’t. We veterans of the misogyny wars — women who are columnists, activists or in a leadership role of any kind — know how ugly it can get when a woman dares to share her opinion. But this campaign season has been a harrowing initiation for a whole lot of women who had no idea just how quickly strangers — and people who are supposed to love them — can turn on a woman for speaking her mind.

Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, which makes this a presidential campaign like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Here in the U.S., I mean. I’ve written many times already about his misogyny, xenophobia and racism. To leaders of countries around the world, he is an abomination. His rhetoric of hate turns rallies into mobs and deceives so many into thinking he actually cares about them.

This is why all of you good women and men who normally steer clear of politics must find ways to influence the debate over who should be our next president. You are the ones who can have the greatest influence in winnowing those margins. Most of the people in your lives don’t care what people like me have to say about elections. They do, however, care what you think.

It can be scary wading into those choppy waters. When I saw my friend’s Facebook post, I thought of a 46-year-old woman who called me at my desk in the Plain Dealer newsroom in September 2008.

I had written several columns during that campaign season about how white working-class voters were reportedly struggling with the issue of race in the presidential election. I come from the white working class, and I knew from raw experience the content of too many of those conversations.

In those columns, I encouraged people like me, who were eager to elect the first black president of the United States, to talk to their loved ones — those who might only watch Fox so-called News Channel but were willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint from someone they love.

That woman who called me was one of the brave souls who took me up on it.

In a trembling voice, she told me she had finally told her beloved father, “Stop.”

I described our conversation in an essay for The Nation the day after the election:

“He said he wouldn’t vote for a black man,” she told me. “And I held up my hand and said, Daddy, stop.”

She said it was the first time in her forty-six years that she had stood up to her father, and that her knees were trembling after she did it. When I asked her what happened next, she laughed.

“Well, after he got over the shock, we talked. And we’re still talking. I don’t know if he’s going to vote for Obama, but at least he understands now why I will.”

Eight years later, I still think about that woman because of the peace she described washing over her after she had stood up for what was right. There’s nothing like it, and there’s only one way to find it.

You may think you don’t have it in you to speak up when someone you know talks about why he or she is voting for Donald Trump.

You’re just one person, you might say.

Multiply you by millions, I say.

I’m asking that you consider how you’re going to feel if Trump is elected and you know you could have done something to stop him.

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 (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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Photo: Donald Trump addresses members of the National Rifle Association’s during their NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II