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Thanks, Hillary Clinton

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee

Hillary Clinton is in New Zealand at the moment for An Evening with Hillary Rodham Clinton, 7th May, at Spark Arena, Auckland.


I am going tomorrow night, and already I know it’s going to be one of those events I look back on and feel a deep sense of satisfaction that yes, I saw her in person.


Hillary Clinton is a name that reverberates around the world now and will echo down the years to future generations in time to come.


It stands to the length of her career and the severity of the storms she has weathered that no two echoes are going to be the same.


My echo?


She woke me up.


I had always been aware of Hillary Clinton in the sense that she is a titan in American politics, and I have always been fascinated by the constant evolution of the political contest between the founding ideas of America and the often stark reality for Americans - and the depth of love and raw hope for their country that shines through, even to a spectator on the other side of the world.


When you read a Hillary Clinton book, you get the sense that she is waiting on the other side of her words, that she has a whole lot more to say if only she can be sure she isn't going to be villified for it. That said, I like the imprint she leaves with her words - there's steady determination and flashes of humour - you always want to know what happens next.


You know that question about who you'd have to dinner, if you could? I would one hundred percent invite her, purely because I'm sure nobody would voluntarily leave the table if she was telling a story.


During the 2016 US election I had felt strongly that she would win against Donald Trump, until the day I spoke to an American friend.


“Please,” she scoffed. “The only thing they can’t stand more than a black President is a President who is a woman.”


Yikes. That was an uncomfortable conversation for an avowed feminist to have, as to my detriment (and I'm sure to the rolled eyes of better feminists than I) at the time I subscribed to a feminism that conveniently didn’t believe in glass ceilings.


The day of the election, as I refreshed the ten different polling tabs I had open on my computer at work, and watched in horror as broadcasters got less and less relaxed as they talked about the results, I talked with several men in my office. Without exception, they had no concept of what a Trump presidency would mean for women and minority communities. Without exception, they thought it was all a great joke, and that the ripple effect of American policies would not be felt in New Zealand.


I went home that night thinking that if I was aware of the concept of glass ceilings, but didn’t believe in them, these men must truly believe in a world where the concept of their own privilege doesn’t exist.


I stayed glued to the news that evening and watched, at some ridiculous hour, as Hillary Clinton gave her concession speech.


Strangely, the look on Bill Clinton’s face was the thing that broke me. I think I transferred the sadness and horror that I was feeling to him in that moment; that a woman whose career in public service, brilliant mind, dedication to helping other human beings and, to be honest, the indisputable fact she was and remains a more qualified candidate than Donald Trump, had been refused the highest office in the land.


I cried, sitting on the other side of the world, watching her.


I cried, looking at the online posts of women I had never met who were pouring their anguish out.


I cried for the many this new Presidency would adversely affect.


I cried for me, because I had been ridiculously blind to think that entrenched sexism wouldn’t be a factor.


We’ve since learned that racism, misogyny, xenophobia and homophobia also played its part to elect Donald Trump.


The thing that really woke me up?


White women voted Donald Trump in. Fifty-two percent.


White women. Who, like I was, are blind to glass ceilings, to the pay gap, to domestic violence statistics, to the ways in which, no matter what statistic you are looking at, women of colour have it worse. The LGBTQIA+ community have it worse. The life expectancy for transwomen, in America, is between 30 and 35.


It took Hillary Clinton losing to cause me to really see the world around me - America, New Zealand, and everywhere in between. It took a white woman losing an election to see how much I still have to listen to, to learn about. I am ashamed about how much I didn't know and at how privileged I am, to have the luxury of ignorance.


I think the residual anger and grief from that loss has caused a lot of women, and men, to wake up. To fight harder. To start listening. And to start speaking up.


I have Hillary’s book, Living History sitting on the shelf in front of me as I write this, and I wonder now what advice 2018 Hillary would give to her younger self if she knew what was to come.


I know what I’d say to her if she was standing in front of me. 


You’re going to lose. But throughout history there have been flashpoints for change in the world, for veils to drop, for glass ceilings to turn opaque, for eyes to open so people can see those celings hovering over the world as a clear target to shatter.


Flashpoints are the history makers, the history changers. They are the events people look back on and go, that person? I saw her speak, once.


So, thanks, Hillary, for your complexity and for your flaws and for your guardedness and for your raw honesty, and for the tangible good you have done and will continue to do.


Thanks also for making it less weird for a woman to be in charge - New Zealand has had that a couple of times in the past, but, every day since our own election, I’m so proud we have Jacinda Ardern, who in turn is making women who lead No Big Deal. 


I’ll love watching you speak during your evening out in Auckland in 2018 - and feel free to drop by for dinner.

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