How Tish James’s Win on Thursday Healed My Heart from 11/8/16
On Thursday, September 13, I stood in a crowd of cheering New Yorkers and watched as Letitia James accepted the Democratic nomination for Attorney General for the great state of New York. People cheered and sobbed. I wore my pink pussy hat to represent for all of us Women’s Marchers who care not just about electing women, but electing qualified women and women of color. I was included in the celebration as a volunteer for the campaign and as I was wearing the aforementioned pink hat, a NASTY t-shirt like the one Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz wore, in honor of the nearly 3,000 dead in Puerto Rico that our *President had said earlier that day didn’t die due to his mismanagement and accompanying racism and blue lipstick, a few reporters asked me to share my story of how I came to volunteer for Tish.
Of course reporters talk to lots of people and in the end I did not see it reported anywhere but I thought I’d share it here anyway.
I first became aware of Tish James when she was my City Councilmember where I used to live, in the part of Crown Heights that’s almost unrecognizable now (change is coming to the part where I currently live too, let’s get on that affordable housing BDB). I loved that she was independent and concerned with criminal justice issues at a time when, between Rudy and Bloomy, our leadership was hostile to anything except a ‘Lock ’em up’ ethos.
I moved out of her district but was pleased to have the opportunity to vote for her again for Public Advocate. Back then, outside of voting, talking about politics on social media and a handful of calls for Obama in 2008 and 2012 that was the only political involvement I had or thought of having.
Then came the 2016 election cycle. Look, I worked as hard and donated as much money to Hillary Clinton as I thought I needed to and could reasonably spare. I made calls on the hubdialer. I went to a birthday texting party. I wrote this thing on here https://medium.com/@elizabethblumberg/hillary-clintons-nomination-changed-how-i-feel-about-having-a-baby-f88a22553661 about why I supported her. I got on a bus and knocked on doors in Philly. I wore white to vote for Hillary and cried and put on a little blue pantsuit and stood outside Javits for a while but then it was clear it wasn’t going to be an early night and I was cold so I went home in time to see the polls close in New York and then the world collapsed.
If you’ve read this far probably you remember this part for yourself. I woke up on 11/9 sobbing and it was as bad if not worse as any other loss I’ve ever experienced. I was here in New York on 9/11. I’ve seen the end of a 12 year relationship and my best friend was murdered — I’ve lost stuff, I know how it goes and there’s a point where there isn’t really more bad. It’s just the bottom of bad and 11/9 was it.
I needed a reason to get out of bed. I legit did not have one. At 44, my country had just screamed that being a strong, qualified women was never going to be good enough, that grabbing me by my pussy was fine and that me and everyone I love was going to be in the crosshairs of a lunatic GOP administration with zero morality or decency.
I did technically have A reason to get out of bed; I had a work call scheduled for exactly the time Hillary was donning a purple and black pantsuit and dedicating her campaign and popular vote victory, “to all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” I’ve read the transcript and seen clips, but I’ve never been able to watch it in full.
Shortly after the work call, as I was scrolling through my social media feeds of numbness and grief, my friend messaged me and invited me to a play the next week. I put it in my calendar and as I did I thought to myself — and it was one of those thoughts that come up to the front of your head and you’re like, WTF, Brain? — “Well, I can’t kill myself until after that, because now I have plans.”
I’m basically stable and wasn’t going to really do it but T=the work call and the making plans were more than enough Doing for right then and I went back to bed at noon. As someone who doesn’t generally struggle with depression I have a tendency now to minimize that period and how bad it was, but it scared me and at some point during the laying in bed in the middle of the day and sobbing uncontrollably — probably not on 11/9 but maybe by 11/10 or I thought to myself, “OK, I have to find a reason to keep going.”
I tried to think of what victory in politics could possibly in any small way make up for the loss of what Hillary’s election to the Presidency was going to mean to me. Something that could give me hope that being an independent woman in a body that was aging and gaining more experience wasn’t a sharp slide into obsolescence. Around this time the stats were out: 94% of black women supported Hillary Clinton. An embarrassing majority of white women did not. And already the white identity politics advocates on the Left, from defeated Primary opponent Bernie Sanders to a gang too numerous to count in the media were advocating for the Democrats to become a party that chased the very white men who had brought us here.
It became clear to me the way to honor the coalition that believes in strong women is to support the black women who supported Hillary Clinton. I thought about the black women who represented me and who had been vocal Clinton supporters. My fantastic Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke, was out of the gate leading the House resistance to Trump, and her first post-election Town Hall, to an overflow crowd, helped give me hope, I vowed to work for her and when she faced a challenger in the April primary I showed up for her. I also thought about our amazing Public Advocate, Letitia James, and how inspiring she had been at an early GOTV meeting for the Clinton campaign. She was not running for anything immediately but I made the same vow to her in my heart that I had made to Hillary Clinton way back in 1992 when the Cookie Baking Incident put me on Team Hillary forever, but with a new, 2016 urgency and call to action — that whatever she ran for, I would show up and work for her. And not just as much as I thought I had time for. I would leave it all on the table for Tish.
The AG position was of course a surprise, like most New Yorkers who weren’t women who had met him, I thought Eric Schneiderman was great. When it became clear Tish was putting her hat in the ring I knew I was completely on board. My work on Clarke’s campaign had come right after I tore a tendon in my knee going to Woodbury Commons, and I was on crutches so I only phonebanked for her. When I showed up at Tish’s campaign for the inaugural Day of Action I was handed a stack of flyers and, newly on a cane, was only able to hand them out for a little while before I got tired but as I didn’t feel like bringing them back to the HQ I brought them home and had to promise myself I’d hand them out later. I did, and the response I got from my neighbors made me feel like I was accomplishing something by doing that, even more than making phonebank calls.
All told I handed out about 600–700 flyers to my neighbors in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. I handed out flyers at my block party, at other peoples’ block parties, in front of the Ideal supermarket on St. John’s, and both Utica Avenue subway stops. Flyering for Tish in this neighborhood is a pleasure. Not only does everyone support, her, everyone knows her personally and is halfway affronted that their loyalty is even being questioned. At my block party, I had just received this ridiculously large bag of Fun Size candy bars from the internet (it was literally the size of my cat. I did not know what I was buying) so I was offering my neighbors some candy along with Tish James flyers. My favorite quote was from a Caribbean man of about 60-something. I offered him a piece of candy and he said, “I don’t need candy to vote for Tish James. Tish James is MY candy!” (Dear Election Fraud people — I was not bribing anyone with candy to vote for Tish. I was not coordinating with the campaign to offer candy. It was my neighbors and my candy.)
I mention Tish’s sex appeal even though in a way we’re not supposed to talk about that with powerful women because that’s a part of who we are as women and being gorgeous and attractive at 59 is something that a lot of women who are not yet 59 have concerns about. But I’ll tell you, on Labor Day I put on that white dress I wore to vote for Hillary and marched down Eastern Parkway after Tish in the West Indian Day Parade. It was about a million degrees and it was the longest I’d tried to walk since hurting my knee and I wasn’t sure I could make it but watching her cha-cha her way down the avenue, greeting fans on both sides of the wide hot pavement was so inspiring I never thought about quitting. Well OK looking at that big hill from Nostrand to Rogers I thought about it but dang if Tish could do it with all that energy I could slog myself after her and cheer some. At the end of the march we posed and cheered. You can see my face in the campaign photo. As she was leaving she saw me. “Thank you,” she said, “I love you!” I replied. “I love you more,” she said, and convinced me that she meant it.
I also made calls for Tish at her Atlantic Avenue HQ. That gave me another window into the broad coalition that was turning out for Tish. One Friday night a group of Muslim women came in to phone bank. When it was time to pray, they covered the floor with campaign signs and knelt on them. The woman who organized them had brought in food and gave all the volunteers a container of a spicy curry rice with a choice of chicken or lamb in it.
I met an 81 year old Afrcian-American volunteer too. I heard her on the phone to one voter, “I know you can get out and vote. I’m older than you, I promise!” On Thursday night as we wrapped up our calls and headed over to what we hoped was a victory party, we swapped 11/8 stories. She too had been at Javits that night, but inside. “I was there until the end,” she said. “I was able to comfort some of the younger people, because I’m old and have been through some sad times.”
I guess I sweated the 11/8 jinx out of that white voting dress, because the buoyant mood in the room matched the vote and Tish won. When her victory was announced the room broke out in cheers and sobs. I was a few feet away when she accepted the nomination from the Democratic Party to be the first black women elected statewide, and I held it together until she dedicated her victory “to Hillary Clinton and all the little girls,” and that was where I lost it and had to end my Facebook Live feed of the speech because my sobbing made the phone jiggle too much.
I’m not claiming that the deep scar on my heart from 11/8 is healed but Tish won and that’s something. The election isn’t over but I have a hard time believing that her challenger’s platform of “Leave Trump alone no one cares,” is going to resonate with voters in the great state of New York. Come January, all the little girls in Brooklyn, across the great state of New York and beyond can see that the Attorney General coming after Donald Trump and his crime syndicate is a powerful black women with the right resume for the job, who is also super attractive despite having no ingenue qualities to speak of. How we got to a point that we have trouble labeling that “Progressive” is a whole ‘nother rant for a whole ‘nother time, but that’s the progress I’m looking for.