July 31, 2016
When I was in high school, I wasn't yet old enough to vote in the '92 election, but for the first time in my young life there was a promise of a Democrat in the White House. I was just a toddler at the tail end of the Carter administration – and for most of my childhood and teen years I lived under a Republican umbrella – both nationally and locally.
The small community where I grew up in Central Pennsylvania was conservative, religious and mostly white. While that has certainly changed over the years, being able to believe in a candidate like Bill Clinton opened up the playing field for a burgeoning young liberal like myself.
When Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, the same year I graduated from high school, the world opened up for me. I felt as though there were fellow liberal thinkers out there behind the corn fields blasting REM and the 10,000 Maniacs, and ushering in a whole new world. I had something to hold onto in terms of political ideology, as finicky as it can sometimes admittedly be. I was ready to join them.
Around the same time I also became an op-ed writer for the local newspaper where I was one of the few liberal voices in the region. I was also the youngest by far. One of the first editorials I wrote was about Hillary Clinton being the first first lady in history to have an office in the West Wing. She was taking on health care reform. And she was paving the way for a new breed of political woman. I could feel it.
I also got a lot of hate mail for the story – talk about an introduction to publishing. But I like to think it made me even stronger, both as a writer and human being. After all, up until Hillary most first ladies took a backseat to their husbands, instead focusing on china patterns and hospitality. She was a new sign of the new times.
With the Clintons, I also saw a political partnership not unlike what I saw in my own home growing up. My mother was the chairperson of the Democratic Party in the era of Geraldine Ferraro (another trailblazer in politics). Years later my father became the chairman of the GOP. There was scarcely a conversation over the dinner table that didn't involve politics. I had to fight for my opinions much of the time. And I learned how to debate and not take it personally if someone disagreed with my more leftist views, which they inevitably did.
Though we have never seen eye to eye on politics, my dad has always been my biggest champion. We may agree on very little politically these days – in fact, he's voting for Trump – but when I turned 18 the first thing he did was take me to register to vote. I remember walking through the Municipal Building with him where he knew just about everyone by first name. There were always a lot of handshakes and well-meaning rubbing. He happily announced that his daughter was registering to vote...and she's a Democrat!
The interesting part about this new era is that while it's shaped, in part, by the achievements of the past, it's ultimately about the future. It's about what will happen to our country and the people in it – whatever their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
He was so proud. It was like I was being inducted into this club I had only heard about from when my parents attended rallies and mailings, or sat at the polls each fall. His enthusiasm for the political process has been one of the things that has kept me focused, always showing up to my own polling place, and always making sure I'm part of the process. It wasn't who I was voting for that mattered to my dad, a lifelong conservative – just that I did. We've been canceling each other's votes out ever since.
As I matured, went off to college, and started making friendships that would last a lifetime with fellow creative and open-minded people, I never lost sight of the fact that while politics and the politicians who stand before us can be flawed people (just like we are) we have an obligation to be a part of the process. There's no room for apathy when people have died for the right that so many of us take for granted.
And women, we've only had the right to vote in the United States for 96 years. That means there are still people alive today who can remember not being considered full citizens simply because of their gender. My own grandmother was born two years before the 19th amendment was ratified. For this reason, I have never expected my candidates to be perfect for me to participate in the process, but I do expect people to cast their votes, especially women and ethnic minorities who have had an uphill battle to be able to do so in this country.
Most of us don't have the luxury to sit back and ignore the democratic process because we don't get our way or because our ideologies are not in perfect sync. Most of us are notably impacted by who ends up deciding whether health care is available to all or just a few, or whether our friends, neighbors and even family could be deported, whether we can be fired from our jobs just for being gay. Whether we have the right to choose, to have a say over our own bodies, to get paid a living wage for the hard work we do regardless of our gender.
Fast forward to Thursday as Hillary Clinton took the stage in Philly. To see her stand on that stage in the city where I now live, addressing the party in which I've been a member for 23 years, and becoming the first woman in history to ever be nominated by a major party for president of the United States – well, it was monumental. Not only did it take me back to hanging those signs on my locker as a young Gen Xer, but it reminded me that hard work can truly inspire real change.
The interesting part about this new era is that while it's shaped, in part, by the achievements of the past, it's ultimately about the future. It's about what will happen to our country and the people in it – whatever their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. And much like I championed Hillary for ushering in a new era for women by breaking the glass ceiling back then (she paved the way for Laura Bush's important contributions to literacy and Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign) I stand with her today.
There is no question she's qualified, passionate and willing to step up for what she knows is right. But even more than that, she's demonstrating the hope and determination that has driven our country since its wild beginnings – as a place and a people that stand up against tyranny and hold tight the freedoms that make it a truly great place to live, work and love.
I spend a lot of time walking around Old City Philadelphia where it all got started. I am reminded every day that behind every brick and shadow and around every corner there was someone who believed in the seemingly impossible – and they persevered despite the insults and the arguments and the battles. I want the same from my president today. I want someone who is strong enough to endure the insults, the arguments and the battles, and who will stand up for what is right and what is fair – not just for a select few, but for everyone.
That's why I am voting for Hillary Clinton. We go way back. And loyalty is a rare quality to come by in the fickle, swipe-to-the-left world we live in.
I've got her back because, well, I know she's got mine.
Natalie Hope McDonald is a contributing writer for PhillyVoice.