I thought my daughter was going to live the first nine years of her life with a president that would inspire her. I felt so lucky that the first president she knew—the president that taught her what the word “president” means—was Barack Obama. Imagine the power of growing up with him as your first conception of presidency—and then Hillary Clinton as the second lesson in what a president looks like. A biracial man. A white woman. By the time she would be ten, the idea of what is president is--of WHOM can be president, of what the world might be instead of what it has been for centuries before 2008—would be solidified in her consciousness.
Instead, I came into my political subjectivity watching Geraldine Ferraro being mocked. I didn’t get to vote for Bill Clinton the first time because my November birthday was too late in the month. Then I watched Hillary Clinton get yelled at for having something else to do other than make cookies. Then I watched her try and fail to get health care for people who didn’t have it. Then I watched her stand by her husband as he shamed her. I watched her raise an awkward teenage daughter that was mocked for her looks. I watched her launch her own political career. I voted for her in 2008. I watched her move about the world. I watched her talk about girls’ rights as human rights.
Hillary has stood in the background of my entire voting-eligible life.
I wanted her to be in the foreground for Ev’s.
The night before the election, we pulled her out of school early, hopped a train to Philadelphia, and stood in line for three hours. We ran into the standing area as Barack finished his speech and Hillary came on. Barack is a tough act to follow. She was running on adrenaline, rightfully tired. What more could she do. That night was the peak of the work she had done since I couldn’t vote for her in 1992. My daughter was going to witness the changing of the guard from one representative of a marginalized population to another—albeit not the perfect example, as she is a white woman with wealth at this point, but someone whose life to get to that moment looked a lot like mine starting in a working-class family and rising through the world.
We kept Ev out of school the next day so she could vote with us, so I could take her picture pressing the button for Hillary Clinton (I imagine this will be the first of Ev’s civil disobedience crimes). She wore her Hillary shirt. We got her to school in time to vote in the school election—where a girl won.
She went to sleep thinking the person she admired would be president.
At ten o’clock that night, I said to Matt, “What am I going to tell her in the morning?”
In the night she called out for me. I wrapped my body around her. I picked up my phone hoping that maybe the math at 11 PM was different at 3 AM. The “President Trump” headline didn’t stun me. I have been saying all along that the hold of whiteness and the inordinate desire for wealth have a stranglehold on this country.
I wrapped myself around Ev and cried for a minute. Not a maudlin, “woe-is-me” cry. I cried because I didn’t have the heart to explain to Ev the kind of work we still have to do, and I cried because for a few months I thought I would be spared having to initiate Ev into the kind of world where women’s bodies can be grabbed and where people can be seen as illegal and where money matters more than people.
I got selfish. I thought I could relax a little. And now she will come of age learning the way all of us learned: by watching policies come into place that make no sense and have no sense of humanity and wondering what we will do about them.
I didn’t tell her all of this. When she woke up, I told her Donald Trump won. She said, “Maybe Hillary will win next week when she tries again.” I didn’t tell her Hillary won’t be trying again, that Hillary has been trying her entire life and she deserves to no longer have to try.
Ev is marching in Washington with me in January. She will be staying in a hotel room with four women, all women that will help me initiate her into a world of justice-seeking and truth-telling.
She doesn’t know it yet, but she will need a lot of energy for that march in D.C.—and for the rest of her life.
Colleen Lutz Clemens is Associate Professor of Non-Western Literatures at Kutztown University of PA.