I have been asked to talk about my path to progressiveness and activism. I know many of you have been activists for far longer than I have, with stories to match, but I think we can recognize ourselves in other’s stories and learn how our differences can make us stronger.
In retrospect, I’d say I grew up in a mixed household ideologically. My father was a car executive with no real understanding of unions. I remember the strikes, but always from the executive side. However, he didn’t come from money and had worked his way up. My mother’s father was also an executive, and they had some money, but he died early. My parents were both staunch Republicans, so like all kids, I thought I was, too.
But there were differences, deviations from that norm. My mother had gone to college for accounting, 1 of only 2 women in her class in 1948. She excelled. All my life, the oldest daughter, I was encouraged in math and science…a somewhat rare experience at that time. At all times I was expected to excel with no thought that I couldn’t because I was a girl. It was expected that I would go to college and that any career was open to me.
Real life came as a great shock, as you can imagine. My father joined a club where women couldn’t enter by the front door. I was harassed by a physics teacher which ultimately turned me off a field that I would have loved. I went to a strong college, and did well, but, as a blond, tiny woman, constantly had to prove and double prove myself. Professors expressed shock when they found out I was the one with the scores they thought belonged to a guy. Imagine my surprise when I found out I wouldn’t be paid for equal work, that I would struggle to have a child and a career. I couldn’t get my own credit card, get birth control, have an abortion, and so many more things.
But I was surrounded by strong women coming into their own in the mid-seventies. I also had a chance to meet people outside my tiny neighborhood and start to see the struggles others had. By the time I was voting for the first time, I was a progressive.
My 10 years in and out of schools kept me so overworked there was little activism other than personal challenges and voting as well as an early career and child rearing. I found that society had said I could have it all but had not changed in any way to truly make that possible. My fights were within my career, daily working to prove myself, and raising two daughters who would have the opportunities and fair play I did not. I fought in their schools and I raised them to be feminist and progressive. I took them when I voted and instilled in them a responsibility to their fellow citizens. My mother eventually realized she was a progressive and we helped her survive in a very conservative neighborhood.
It wasn’t until Obama’s campaigns that I started working in earnest. I grew up with the riots and worked in Flint most of my career. I could see what he could do for us, but how hard it would be to get there. I walked, talked, and registered. And we won.
With Hillary, I did the same. A woman I had followed my whole life…a woman who fought for women and children…a woman who had endured the doubts and abuse I had and more. I identified with her. Especially the part where she knew so much and worked so hard. We all needed her to be tough and capable, yet she was mocked for it.
I have felt and seen that myself. This election, for me, was the culmination of misogyny. Instead of a bright, capable, effective woman, we elected a philandering, degrading, violence inciting, incompetent bigot.
It was like society took all we women were: the brilliance and talent we had & showed how little it mattered…how much we were hated for our gains, for wanting the chance to be all we could be, to have equal rights and opportunities. That any man, no matter how awful, would be preferable to us.
I find myself fighting the same battles I always have…now for my daughters who are facing a society I had thought would be changed by now but isn’t. We are losing ground.
So I fight, still, for them, and my niece and my young great nieces. I fight for their right to be, to excel, to be healthy and autonomous, to be treated fairly and without bias, to have a healthy world to live in. I fight for women of color, religion, poverty, and different sexual orientations who face a tougher fight than I do. The stakes and danger for us are so high now, and women, the foundation of our society are more at risk than ever. I could not face my daughters and nieces if I did not keep fighting for the world they should already have.
Susan Hendricks is a Guest Blogger for the Genesee County Democratic Party, local activist and host of Michigan Resistance calling parties.