As the presidential race comes down to a battle between the unpopular Hillary Clinton and far more unpopular Donald Trump—what are supporters of Bernie Sanders to do, especially those of a feminist mind?
Sanders drew a lot of feminist attention in the North Bay, because his proposed policies would have assisted minority women and women in poverty much more than any of Clinton’s programs. The rhetoric around abortion and the ability to control one’s body is a debate that’s sure to intensify in coming weeks and months following the Supreme Court decision on Monday that voided some of Texas’ extremely restrictive anti-abortion policies.
Sanders has been fully pro-choice his entire career and supports Planned Parenthood, as well as the right to access contraception with public money. His fight for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and his call to raise the minimum wage to $15 also demonstrate his more feminist tendencies, given the ongoing reality of a “glass ceiling” for wage-earning women. The “centrist” Democrats supporting Clinton recently fought to exclude the Fight for $15 from the party platform at next month’s Democratic National Convention. But Sanders is not likely to be the Democratic Party’s nominee.
Clinton has some solid feminist ideals and positions, and got an endorsement from Planned Parenthood over Sanders in January. Like Sanders, Clinton has been in the forefront of reproductive rights for decades. She embraced the idea that abortions should be “rare, safe and legal” and also supports the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortions. She says she plans half of her cabinet post to go to women, she famously told the United Nations that “women’s rights are human rights” in 1995, and she pushed women’s issues during her tenure as secretary of state. Yet the center-right Clinton is also considering the pro-choice but anti-abortion Virginia senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential running mate.
Whatever else you think of her, Clinton has faced misogyny and sexism throughout her career, and while her white male counterpart is busily disrupting politics, flip-flopping on his abortion views and dodging golf balls with swastikas painted on them, Hillary still faces critics likes Fox News’ Howard Kurtz saying she is too shrill—not to mention the torrent of hate from detractors who routinely call her a bitch and a criminal. She has been pulling knives out of her back throughout her career—some planted there by her philandering husband and herself (see: State Department emails, Wall Street speaking fees)—and yet she is still here, for better or worse.
Clinton is a feminist icon merely by being a woman in high public office, and her presidential candidacy gives a voice to women that previous generations did not have. So what are Bernie-supporting feminists to do?
I talked to Liza Featherstone, author of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’s a Sanders supporter for myriad reasons. “He was the first candidate in American politics advocating for social democracy,” she says, “and he has universal programs” that would be of special benefit to minority women and women struggling financially. Featherstone’s objection to Clinton is that she “dedicated her career to an agenda of austerity and militarism.”
The Brooklyn resident plans to vote for Green candidate Jill Stein, a safe bet in a nonswing state that Clinton is almost guaranteed to win, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary.
“We should not have a right-wing racist as our president, but it’s important to be clear that Hillary is not a good antidote,” Featherstone says. “The most important point here is that she has dedicated her life to representing the elite more than anything. Sure, some women are part of the elite, but most women are not.”
Sanders has said all along that defeating Donald Trump is essential, and local Sanders supporter Alice Chan is in agreement, even while she won’t say who she’ll be voting for in November.
“A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump,” says the Sebastopol resident and Democratic Party activist. “We hope that Hillary will be influenced by the Sanders momentum and will realize that she needs our support.” Chan emphasizes that young women got behind Sanders “because they didn’t see a vision of the future in what Hillary was proposing. Getting on her case to see what our vision is is so important.”
Tiffany Renée, the former vice mayor of Petaluma, has been an unapologetic supporter of Clinton all along. She cites Clinton’s focus on families and children, and her history of being strongly pro-choice as reasons for casting her vote for the first female president.
“I feel that our democracy is in jeopardy, and I feel that Hillary has the ability to get elected and get Congress flipped,” Renée says. Renée has been politically active in Sonoma County much of the 27 years she has lived here. “As a Latina, I see [Clinton’s] background and support for urban communities as being very strong, including what she can do for unemployment and women of color. I’m very excited to see this historic moment and to see how far she’s come.”
Sonoma County’s primary vote was the outlier in the North Bay, a close contest with Clinton coming in at 50.7 percent and Bernie nabbing 48.2 percent of the vote. Marin County, which was putatively “Bernie Country,” went for Clinton by a big margin, 58 to 42 percent, despite ample signage and pro-Sanders agitation in places like Bolinas that decried Clinton as a faux-feminist Trojan Horse in the service of corporate liberalism, privately run prisons, a war with Syria and lots of fracking. Clinton also crushed Sanders like a grape in the more conservative Napa County, 60 to 39 percent.
Whether those primary numbers are an endorsement of Hillary-as-feminist is unclear. But it is clear that, given the widely held assumption that Sanders would dominate in the North Bay, there is a big bloc of women who see Clinton as the best candidate to advocate for their rights—while also avoiding a Trump presidency.
Tom Gogola contributed reporting to this article.