Sunday, July 31, 2016
I think of her every day now, as I contemplate my own impending opportunity to vote for a female president. You are goddamned right, it *is* a big deal, and generations of my foremothers are speaking through me when I say it is an honour.
My mother, Jo, to my memory never missed voting, not once, despite the fact that we sometimes moved three or four times a year, and changing her registration must have been a headache. I can clearly remember the excitement she and my father felt as Goldwater Republicans, and how disappointed they were about Kennedy’s election.
When I became a pacifist in high school at age fourteen and dared speak out against the Vietnam war at the local Memorial Day flag-raising, my parents were as outraged as the high school principal, but my mother engaged me on the issue, and through long, emotional arguments, she slowly changed her mind. She voted for Nixon the first time around, but not the second, infuriating my father.
She vigorously denounced Ronald Reagan’s candidacy. She persuaded me to find an eight-by-ten black and white glossy of Ronny Raygun in the arms of Bonzo the chimp, his co-star in one of his movies. She framed this and kept it beside her Barcalounger, pointing it out to anyone who visited, and saying the chimp would have her vote before Ronnie.
When I was sixteen I participated in the Texas UIL Ready-Writing competition as I did every year in high school, and I won District that year for my essay advocating for the right of eighteen year-olds to vote. To give you some background on the Ready-Writing competition, one or two students from every high school in a large scholastic district met in a classroom armed with only notebook paper and two ink pens. At a given point the proctor would write two topics on the blackboard, and we had three hours in which to compose a ten-paged, single-spaced essay on one of the topics, including an outline, an opening argument and a concluding paragraph, with rigorous deductions for errors in spelling, grammar or handwriting. Writing in ink meant we had to think ahead because crossing out words deducted from the final score. It was a major accomplishment, and I went on to Regional, where sadly I came in third; but my senior year I went all the way to State and won: number one in the entire State of Texas.
Even more exciting to me was that eighteen year-olds were given the right to vote by the time I reached that age. This law has since been changed, but I have the memory of driving back from college to the Montague County Courthouse (where almost certainly my grandmother had cast her first vote, and where my mother had voted as a young, enfranchised woman) to choose a President to replace the recently ousted Richard Nixon. I went up the courthouse steps intending to vote for Eugene McCarthy and Shirley Chisholm. The small open room where voting took place held two elderly Baptist ladies, Pearl Fischaber and Gladys Corpening. My heart sank. With them in charge, the privacy of my ballot would be non-existent.
Sure enough, Miz Corpening came over to the table where I sat with my ballot to personally show me how easy it would be to put my X in the box for a straight Republican ticket, all in the guise of being helpful.
I already had a history with Gladys Corpening. During the summer before I turned fifteen I somehow got browbeaten by my grandmother, Sook, into agreeing to help teach Vacation Bible School for a month at the only church in Stoneburg, of course Baptist. I was bored out of my mind, things were tense at home, and Mama assured me it might look good on a resumé somehow. The first day of class I was assigned to work wth Gladys Corpening who was teaching a handful of three to five year-olds. One of them was a near neighbour, and angelic three year old called Tracy Posey. I was glad to see hm. Miz Corpening began telling them the story of Cain and Abel. Their little faces crumpled at Abel’s murder, but worse was to come.
She began haranguing them with the details of God’s punishment for Cain: how he was cast out and marked forever so that he and all his descendants would be instantly recognisable as God’s “unchosen”. She said this mark was black skin and her voice dropped to a confidential tone as she began saying “This is why we can never trust Negroes or give them equal rights”.
I looked at Tracy’s face. The shock I saw there was unbearable. I stood up and faced her, saying “That’s not true”. She gaped at me in disbelief. I repeated, “That’s not true. Show me in the scripture where it says the mark of Cain is black skin”. I had read my Bible, I knew what was in it. She did not bother with flipping pages; she was gathering her fury. I turned back to Tracy, and said “It’s not true. Sometimes grownups lie”. Then I walked out. I went home and told Mama, who backed me one hundred percent through the ensuing storm. I was not invited back to Vacation Bible School.
So, when that same Gladys Corpening stopped right by my shoulder waiting to see how I voted, I considered my options. I could confront her and make her go to the other side of the room. I could vote as I meant to, with no shame. Instead, I found the box that indicated voting a straight Socialist ticket, and I put an X there. The air behind me went icy. I began folding my ballot as Gladys scurried over to Pearl; I heard whispers and a gasp. I cheerfully put my ballot in the box and went home to tell Mama, who shrieked with laughter.**
I later checked the local paper and found that in the entire county there were only two people who voted socialist. I always wondered who the other one was.
I should add here, the man who raised my mother, Auther “Red” Atkins, was himself a very public Wobbly who raised my mother with socialist rhetoric and labour songs. I am not quite a Red Diaper Baby, but for Montague County, I’m the next best thing. At fifteen. I (unbelievably) discovered a copy of "The Communist Manifesto" in my high school library. I have no idea on earth who could have ordered such a volume in a sun-downer town. The spine was uncracked and no one had ever checked it out. I decided not to check it out, either, so as not to draw attention to it. I slipped it into my backpack and later read it over and over. Unfortunately, my sharp-eyed basketball coach-cum-algebra teacher spotted it in the stack of books on my desk, confiscated it, and it disappeared forever.
That 1974 election saw the return of the Senate to the Republicans for the first time in twenty years. This was due primarily to George Wallace’s third party run. I learned then and there that third party efforts have to begin at a local level and work up through years if not decades to challenging our entrenched two party system. I hate the system but magical thinking does not get working class people anywhere.
In 1978 I moved to San Francisco and plunged into revolutionary politics. Although many of the Lesbian activists whose thinking and writing most shaped my world view came from a socialist background, I was not persuaded by it, mostly because it was riddled with woman-hating. During my 20s I checked out the Greens, the Peace and Justice Party, Prairie Fire, the Anti-Klan Organizing Committee, and anything else that suggested we rip rip out the patriarchy by the root and start over, I found nothing as inherently radical as my own belief system.
When my vote might help swell the number of a marginalised group I used it there, gladly. Living in California, my single vote was powerless to stop Reagan and all that followed. I did hold two contradictory viewpoints in mind, as any good revolutionary will. There is the long term goal, and the next immediate step. When, in 1978, we defeated the Briggs initiative, but by an equal margin saw the death penalty reinstated in California, I could not celebrate. I embraced pragmatism. Lives depended on it.
I was glad to vote for Jesse Jackson, and let me say here, I do not consider the rainbow flag to be a gay symbol. It was stolen from Jackson’s campaign. Some of us remember things.
When I moved back to Texas, it was not yet overrun by Republicans refugees from California suburbs and the Rust Belt. Up to that point no major candidate for whom I had ever voted had won their elections. Then, in 1992, an epiphany happened: my first choices for president, governor, and local representative all won (Bill Clinton, Ann Richards, and Glen Maxey). For the first time in my life I was actually represented.
I have to admit it changed my viewpoint. Despite decades of paying intense attention to civics, political processes, and poring over the League of Women Voters’ handouts, I suddenly felt a direct connection to those who were deciding major issues that would affect my life. I knew I was a drop in the ocean, but at least it was the same ocean.
In 2008 I was blogging at a national level, reading and conversing with astute progressive movers and shakers. I was immune to the charisma of Obama, nor was I a fan of Hillary Clinton. I was not afflicted with Clinton Derangement Syndrome, mind you, like almost everyone at Daily Kos. I had paid attention to the Republican smear campaign, and I fucking well know woman-hating when I smell it. My first and second choices were John Edwards (O, the betrayal) and Joe Biden, but I read the writing on the wall, and I threw in my support behind Obama. I did write one post outlining what I most expected of him as president, acknowledging he was unlikely to deliver, because they were genuinely to-the-left ideas. Sure enough, he failed in every regard. He is, at best, a moderate. But I supported him again in 2012, because I value my vote, and I believed Hillary was building her cadre.
She is as qualified as any candidate in my lifetime. On all of the issues that progressives find important or reprehensible, she is in virtual lockstep with Obama. If you supported him and despise her, I do not believe there is a reason to justify this except the woman-hating we unfortunately all internalise.
She is flawed, but to no greater extent than Obama, and in both instances the flaws that cripple them are the product of how they have been oppressed by their place in the patriarchy. I do not forgive them or excuse them. I expect better. But there is a Nazi at the gate, and I believe that each of them will keep us from his scorched earth policies.
And, to be completely honest, there is an additional quality in Hillary which I find attractive: her unwillingness to take any shit at all from Republicans without extracting blood for the privilege. This is a quality Obama lacked (as he had to in order to survive his upbringing). I expect her to surprise me. I expect her to cherish women and children in a way we do not often see. I am sure she will be expedient in ways that disappoint me. Career politicians do that. And Bernie Sanders was at baseline a career politician who tried to game the Democrats, and failed. I do hope his influence endures; it's a good thing. But personality cults, however popular in America, are disastrous when it comes to leadership.
There. That’s where I stand in this election. I will proudly vote for Hillary Clinton for the first time, and I will do all I can to keep the hyenas from her flanks, including the hyenas from our own community. I’m with her. And metaphorically speaking, I have been all my life.
copyright July 2016 Maggie Jochild
** I do not mean to paint Gladys Corpening as a villain. She and I eventually made our peace. Decades later when I was in my thirties I traveled back to Texas and visited her, now in her eighties, because I needed to ask a favour of her. Se was at the time managing Oak Hill Cemetery, where all of my ancestors from Stoneburg were buried, and I needed her help regarding the disposition of my grandparents’ graves. She fed me tea and cakes, assisted me in all my requests, and seemed genuinely glad to see me. She hugged me at the end and said “I always admired you”.
Gladys lived her life trying to do the right thing, especially with regard to serving the community. She volunteered for everything, she donated money, and she tried desperately to maintain a veneer of middle class respectability. The problem was that her rancher husband, Scotty, conducted a 20+ year not quite clandestine affair with Glenna Prater, one of their friends, and someone Gladys was forced to socialise with. Absolutely everybody knew that Scotty was screwing Glenna, and and it was rumoured that Glenna’s son Gary was in fact Scotty’s — a rumour disproved if your knew both of them, as Gary was clearly descended from John Prater in both looks and venality. I understood everyone is carrying a burden of shame, deserved or not, and sometimes the only way they can feel better is by dumping on those they perceive to be lower down on the rungs.