During any other day in my life, meeting Gloria Steinem would be exhilarating, exciting, and most definitely unusual. In New Hampshire, on the other hand, meeting world renowned individuals seems to be a typical part of campaign season. Regardless of party, candidates fly in surrogates to vouch for their character and attest to their hard work.This afternoon, Gloria Steinem took to the stump for Hillary Clinton at the Manchester headquarters of the campaign. Although I expected that the audience would be composed of second wave feminists, I was surprised that plenty of third, and even fourth wave, feminists turned out.
As part of the group of second wave feminists including Betty Friedan who fought for a revolution to provide equal rights for women, Steinem has struggled for years to preserve reproductive rights for women and girls and to ensure that all women have an equal chance to achieve success as men. As a young woman who grew up reading old copies of Ms. Magazine and researching the feminist movement, I was truly moved to see Steinem speak on behalf of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
Steinem began her speech with a few words about the powers of organizing, calling the campaign a “microcosm of democracy.” She appealed to the audience to chat with one another, joking that campaigns are full of friendships, love stories, and funny experiences. Speaking without notes and seemingly off-the-cuff, Steinem discussed her history in the feminist movement and her connection to Hillary’s candidacy. Steinem said that she was proud to be part of the women’s rights movement that had struggled for so long to preserve a women’s right to choose. She also highlighted the “principle of bodily integrity,” a term which gave way to cheers from the audience. For Steinem, the feminist movement is a continuous fight, which is far from ending. Many politicians, she said, understand this on paper but have not taken this truth to heart. Steinem began to say, “Hillary, she, understands these issues…” But a man interrupted her, shouting “in her heart!” Steinem nodded in agreement and restated the man’s exclamation.
Steinem wrapped up her speech by reading from her most recent book, My Life on the Road. She joked with the audience that everyone believes that “politics is dirty” and “my vote doesn’t matter.” But she quickly challenged that notion with a reading of a passage about the Missouri Senate race between Harriet Woods and Sen. John Danforth. Woods lost the tight race by only a few votes. After his election, Danforth brought future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with him to work on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Steinem argued these few votes in the Senate race were connected to Thomas’ eventual appointment to the Supreme Court and his conservative votes in cases including Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. With her brief chapter reading, Steinem revealed the deep consequences of elections and poor voter turnout. “Your vote matters,” she said, “Just like the votes in Missouri.” In her final words, Steinem gave a rousing appeal for people to get involved with the campaign: “your vote matters, and now you can use it to vote for Hillary.” In a state like New Hampshire, a person's vote arguably means more than others in later states. The nation will see in eleven short days whether Granite Staters understand the power of their vote and whether they are willing to use it.
Gabrielle Simeck is a St. Olaf sophomore from Chicago, IL majoring in political science. She is studying campaign politics and election cycles in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf program examining the 2016 presidential election.