The 2018 Midterms: The Saints Came Marchin’ In

I Got My Country Back.

Weeks after the January 2017 presidential inauguration and Women’s March, I met with a group of women who look like me—old, white, middle-class—to discuss what we could do to help right our country. We devised a plan based on the Indivisible Handbook: meeting monthly to report on our calls and letters to elected officials stating our opinions about Cabinet secretaries, legislation and impeaching the President. We all decided the most impact we could make was to help turn the Sixth Congressional District blue, ousting six-term incumbent Republican Peter Roskam at the midterm election in 2018.

Cries at 2016 post-election presidential rallies to “lock her up,” a demand to jail Hillary Clinton awakened us to a cruel reality. This America, our country, had turned overnight into a place we’d only seen in movies like Elmer Gantry and footage from 1920’s Ku Klux Klan rallies. Little by little we discovered some of our friends, neighbors and family members had voted for a man who gloried in grabbing women by the genitals and calling immigrants murderers and rapists. At first I wondered how people could be so duped by the Reality Show President. I slowly came to realize not all are fooled. People who look like me actually like his white nationalist agenda. Yep. They like him, a tells-it-like-it-is guy, no matter how crude or criminal. I dismayed.

My enthusiasm, and that of my activist friends, turned pessimistic as we drew closer to the midterm election.

Sean Casten, an environmental scientist and political newcomer, won the Democratic primary for Congress in Illinois’ Sixth Congressional District over five women. The district includes some of Chicago’s wealthiest suburbs. I had never heard of him, knew nothing about him. But he became the object of my strongest desire.

I really wanted him to win.

The day after his November victory an interviewer asked Representative-elect Casten what he attributed his win to. Without hesitation he said, “The women. My sister, my wife, the women who showed up every day in the campaign office, the ones who phoned voters from home and knocked on doors. The women.”

Democrats took 35 seats and counting away from the Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. And I got my country back. I live in a country where white suburban voters fullsizeoutput_45efelected a 32-year old black woman nurse, a country that elected a Sudanese Muslim immigrant woman who wears a head covering, a country that elected two Native American women for the first time in history, a country that elected a married-with-children gay governor, a country where a lesbian became a conservative state’s attorney general. My country will have 102 Democratic and Republican women in the House in January, 12 women in the Senate and 9 women governors. In my country, a record forty-four percent of employers offered employees paid time off to vote.

In my country, the saints are marching in.

Father Hungry

Father Hungry
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Arkansas Governor’s Mansion

The week before Thanksgiving, 1991, I called my father from Little Rock to tell him Governor Clinton had told all campaign staff to go visit their families. 

“He said we’ll be busy and out of touch from December until the end of the primary season,” I said, letting my father know I’d be back in Chicago on Thursday. 

“What are your plans for Thanksgiving?”

I was so caught up in the excitement of my co-workers’ plans to visit their families that I’d forgotten my father never made plans to celebrate holidays. Nor birthdays. Nor graduations. Nor milestones of any kind.

“Dorothy doesn’t want you joining us for Thanksgiving,” my father told me over the phone.

I can’t remember whether they were married yet or whether Dorothy was still just another one of the girlfriends. I had no particular ax to grind with her outside of her unnerving naiveté. She actually believed my father was going to provide a secure home for her and her son. When she showed me her engagement ring the previous summer and asked why I didn’t jump for joy that they were to be married, I thoughtlessly answered, “You’re kidding, right?” 

Like she knew what I knew.

Furious, alone and full of self-pity, I abandoned the trip to my home town and settled into catching up on the never-ending details of planning events, logistics, contingencies and recruiting new advance people for my candidate. When asked, I’d feign, “I’m spending Thanksgiving in Chicago with my father.”

The hunger to be normal is one of my fatal flaws.

But Governor Clinton was on to me. Late that Wednesday evening he called out of the blue and invited me to “come on over to the house” for Thanksgiving.

I drove into the guest parking lot at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion about 3:00 pm and recognized cars that belonged to staffers from the Governor’s office as well as the campaign. Bill answered the door, introduced me all around and took me into the kitchen to meet the chef.

He bragged that Clarence was the best cook in Arkansas, that he was once on death row for murder but that shouldn’t scare me because he’d pardoned him.

“Thas right. Thas right,” said Clarence.

People who study psychology say if a girl grows up craving attention from her father she will gorge herself on various substitutes to satisfy the longing. I certainly proved that theory while stuffing myself at the Clintons’ dinner table that Thanksgiving. The Governor kept telling Clarence to bring out more food. He insisted we all eat up, and my self-consciousness around overeating in public disappeared into 2nd and 3rd helpings.

After dinner Governor Clinton had us all go “out back” to play touch football. I sat on the sidelines with Hillary and others. The First Lady laughed and joked with us about the goofy footballers and told funny stories about Clinton’s well-reported inept sports activities.

On the way back to my apartment, I stopped by the campaign office to type some final touches into Clinton’s schedule for the next week in New Hampshire. Alone, but no longer angry, lonely or hungry, I paused, called my father and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving.

Screaming at Hillary Clinton in Soldier Field

Screaming at Hillary Clinton in Soldier Field

Llani O’Connor and I were rabid Hillary Clinton fans during the 2008 Presidential Primary election. We exchanged did-you-hear-what-she-said exclamations all through the summer and fall of 2007 after she announced her candidacy.

IMG_1029.JPGThis photo from August 7, 2007 shows us with sunny smiles, blouses opened to our bra-lines, red-faced, droopy-haired and sweaty at an outdoor Presidential Forum in Chicago’s Soldier Field. All seven Democratic candidates are on stage in the background: Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. It was a full 15 months before the election, and Hillary was way ahead in the polls.

I had worked as Hillary’s advance person on a few trips when I was working in the Bill Clinton Administration in the 1990s and was completely starstruck by her brilliance, kindness and sense of humor. Llani and I were ecstatic to be voting in the Primary Election that would result in the first woman presidential candidate. We knew she was going to win.

I obtained three tickets to the Soldier Field event after shamelessly begging an old friend who was an aide to Senator Joe Biden. Our third companion, Ann, drove us there, dodging and weaving down South State Street to 31st, ignoring stop signs and red lights, crossing under South Lake Shore Drive then barreling back north 17 blocks to the south parking lot of Soldier Field. We recovered quickly from the tilt-a-whirl ride and rushed into the stadium onto the field to get to the closest seats possible.

The stage was set at the fifty-yard line. Long red,white and blue panels draped behind it, and dark blue curtains hung behind the panels, blocking the back and sides of the stage. Folding chairs filled up the rest of the field.

It was 95 degrees that day – so hot that the moderator, Keith Olbermann cracked that if the candidates didn’t behave he’d cut off their air conditioning. The stadium walls offered no shade and we thumbed our noses at the heat along with the other 15,000 people, all of us 1043829789_89f65ee11b_bdancing around and singing songs for three hours waiting for the 90-minute event to start.

We were disappointed that little-known populist Dennis Kucinich received the most applause, but Hillary’s star power exploded next to the six men. We waited for the candidates to leave the stage before heading to the car for the treacherous ride home with Ann.

“Llani! Look! Hillary’s out in the audience shaking hands. Let’s go!” We plowed through hot bodies and upturned chairs to get as close to our hero as possible. Suddenly, Llani, in her baggy pink shorts, flimsy sandals and turquoise tank top climbed onto a folding chair and took off, hopping from one chair seat to another, camera in hand, shoulder bag swinging wildly and screaming at Hillary to look her way.

Traveling home the wrong way down one-way streets with Ann behind the wheel evoked little excitement after that.

On Winning: The Cubs and Cleveland

On Winning: The Cubs and Cleveland

Susan Keegan and I hopped in her shiny new red Cadillac Crossover in Chicago and booked out of town to Ohio.

Our mission:  canvass voters for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Ohio was a battleground state where we had friends to accommodate us for the five days leading up img_1041
to election day. Our canvassing territory was Ohio City, a quaint restored section of Cleveland. Thirty-eight hours before we left town the Chicago Cubs won the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. The final game had taken place in Cleveland, and conscious of the seriousness of our mission to win over Cleveland voters, we vowed to keep our Cubs hats at home. I even told someone I was from Toledo to curb anticipated antagonism.

We met old and new friends  – Keith from Sonoma, Carol from Washington DC, Jamie from Oakland, Dennis from Virginia and even Vivienne who flew in from Ireland for the effort to nail the Trump coffin shut in a small patch of the American body politic.

News from my iPhone said Chicago’s parade for the Cubs win would be held the next day beginning at Wrigley Field, rolling down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue to Grant Park, right past my condo building. “Oh Noooo,” I groaned in the car, “I’m going to miss it.” “Do you want to go back?” Sox fan Susan asked half-jokingly. No, we were off to do God’s work. No turning back.

I texted my 19-year old grandson, C.J, and told him to go to my place to watch the parade. He’d already been planning to bring his brother, 10-year-old John into town from their suburban home to spend the night and get a good position on the parade route. “Thanks for letting us stay,” C.J. texted, “John borrowed your Cubs hat – I hope you don’t mind.”

By the time Susan and I arrived at Cathy and Marc Dann’s vintage Tudor outside Cleveland we were exhausted from talking the entire seven-hour drive about Hillary’s winning campaign. All the polls said she was going to win. The betting community said she was going to win. Astrologers said she was going to win. The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the incumbent party won. Since Hillary was the incumbent party’s candidate, we took that as one more sign  we were about to have our first woman president. Women were prohibited from voting for twelve more years after the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908. Women had won the pennant in 2016. This election was our World Series.

From my third floor balcony, C.J. and John each took iPhotos and videos of the Chicago Cubs open air buses with the players, their img_4826families, friends, team managers, coaches and owners as they crept down Lake Shore Drive onto Michigan Avenue. Cubs first baseman and cancer-survivor Anthony Rizzo lifted the trophy above his head as fans shouted, “We Never Quit.”

Fourteen hours after the polls closed in Ohio, Susan and I drove home. We had no trophy, no win. But we vowed, like the Cubs, to never quit.

2016: Rachel Jackson and Hillary Clinton – Slander Will Wound but Will Not Dishonor

2016: Rachel Jackson and Hillary Clinton – Slander Will Wound but Will Not Dishonor

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Oh, my dear Rachel Jackson — 188 years after the brutal campaign between your husband Andrew and John Quincy Adams, the citizens fear the republic will not survive the brutal campaign of 2016 for the 45th President of the United States.

The two candidates are Republican Donald Trump, a known philanderer, tax cheat and a liar; and Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated by the Democratic Party, the same party formed by your husband in 1824.

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2016 voters mistrust Hillary Clinton. Statisticians show she distorts the truth 28% of the time, compared to Trump’s lying 70% of the time. However, the public fixates on Republican propaganda that pounces on her daily for mishandling classified material when she was Secretary of State. Yes, Rachel, we have had three women Secretaries of State since women won the right to vote in 1919.

This lack of voter confidence is not the hallmark of the 2016 campaign, however.

Throughout his campaign, Trump has proclaimed Hillary and other women incompetent, liars, corrupt, pigs, fat and flawed. Trump runs beauty pageants and builds hotels. He’s been plagued by women publicly accusing him of unlawful touching. He calls them liars and shifts the conversation to stories of our 42nd President’s sex scandals. Our 42nd President, Bill Clinton, is Hillary’s husband. Trump excoriates Hillary for enabling her husband’s extramarital affairs, then he turns around and calls for Hillary’s aide de camp to be dismissed because the aide’s husband exposed himself to a series of women. Trump says the aide’s marriage to a “major sleaze” makes her a security risk.

America in 2016 is collectively depressed by the deluge of vulgarity. Voters clamor for more issues yet soak up the scurrilous, all the while exclaiming the United States will never regain her honor.

You know how this feels, my dear Rachel. The Hermitage, your beloved Nashville plantation, restored for visitors, serves up details of your death. When you married Andrew Jackson, your violently jealous first husband published a news article that you were never divorced, knowing that he lied to you about filing your divorce papers. He accused you of adultery and bigamy. Your new husband Andrew, a lawyer, rectified the situation and you remarried him legally. All this humiliation was heaped upon you before you were twenty-three years old.

Andrew Jackson fought wars and politicked around the country for the next forty years leaving you at home to manage the 1000-acre family farm. Your work kept you from the day-long carriage ride to town until the day you had to shop for your Inaugural Ball gown. It was only then, in your Nashville hotel lobby, after Andrew Jackson won the election, that you came across a campaign pamphlet accusing Andrew of adultery and running off with you, another man’s wife.  And you accused of bigamy.

Weakened by stress, depression and shame, you returned to the Hermitage and died, buried in your Inaugural ball gown. Our 7th President began his term in profound grief without you at his side.

thWell, Rachel, I want you to know the government peacefully transferred power from John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson and Old Hickory scripted your tombstone, “A being so gentle and so virtuous – slander might wound but could not dishonor.”

On the eve of the election, our country’s history is small comfort to the downtrodden, but they will soon hope again because slander might wound the United States but it will not dishonor her.