There’s more than a solid chance that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters can agree on this: It’s time for more people of color, women, and queer and trans folks in politics – and it’s time for a political discourse steered by them and toward their issues.
Democrats have long been the party championing progress in the arenas of civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights, as well as workers’ rights and the lifting up of poor and middle-class Americans. Even when the party’s candidates are straight, white, and male, they’re actively engaged in lifting up marginalized communities through policy and practice.
It’s worth discussing whether Hillary Clinton’s gender alone matters in this election. (And we will discuss that, a lot, and at length, very soon.) But no matter their gender or race, every candidate for office has the opportunity to build a campaign that is inclusive and diverse from the start – and there’s a strong argument that doing so ensures their policies will be more representative of the American populace’s actual needs and concerns. If you aren’t from a specific community, surrounding yourself with people who are is a damn good start to doing right by them.
There’s a major difference between talking the talk of social progress and walking the walk. And there’s only one candidate doing so already, not only in terms of policy but also within their campaign. That candidate is Hillary Clinton.
It’s been noted by reproductive rights advocates that while Bernie is an ally to the movement for abortion access, affordable birth control, and broader family planning funding, Hillary is more: She’s a champion. She did more than vote for abortion rights – she fought for them. She did more than support efforts to make birth control and emergency contraception more available – she led them.
Similarly, Bernie is clearly committed to the equality and rights of all people – and yet only Hillary’s campaign reflects one run by all sorts of people. Hillary Clinton is the only candidate in the 2016 election – on either side, mind you – who is running a truly diverse and inclusive campaign.
That matters. That matters because the structure of a candidate’s campaign is the only sneak-peek we have into what a candidate’s executive branch may look like. That matters because putting hiring practices into place that actually shoot to solve some of the long-standing representational issues in politics is a sneak-peek into how effective someone might be at doing so nationwide.
When Jezebel did a comparative study earlier this year of the Republican and Democratic candidates’ campaigns, what they found was telling: Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the only one with an almost 50/50 split in gender among its top ten highest-paid (and, one could then say, most powerful) positions, and the two highest-paid among them were women:
Of Clinton’s highest-paid employees, six are male and four are female:
Jennifer Palmieri, Director of Communications, $138,412.04
Maura Keefe, Director of Congressional Affairs, $130,068.54
Jacob Sullivan, Senior Policy Adviser, $124,001.16
Michael Vlacich, NH State Director, $120,668.16
Dennis Cheng, Finance Director, $119,928.16
Robert Mook, Campaign Manager, $119,919.76
Oren Shur, Director of Paid Media, $117,753.12
Amanda Renteria, Political Director, $117,711.16
Marlon Marshall, Director of State Campaigns and Political Engagement, $116,685.68
Elizabeth Jones, Chief Operating Officer, $115,974.24
Bernie, disappointingly, did even worse than Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Marco Rubio – all of whom have (or had) at least one woman and often at least three working at the top of their campaign staffs. He had zero.
It shouldn’t come as surprise to any of us that Hillary’s campaign leads in gender parity, as well as pay equity, for its staff – these are real-world manifestations of some of her political priorities, after all, and her staff looks a lot like her base, which makes sense. But the makeup of her campaign is also deliberate, and she purposefully sought women out for high-ranking positions as well as a plethora of other positions within her campaign. Her campaign staff, across all of its ranks, is majority female.
It’s been long observed that in “boys clubs” like politics, tech, and media, the old-fashioned method of using “word of mouth” and “friends of friends” to fill positions leads only to more white, male leadership and participation in the game. Reaching gender parity across different industries is about more than sitting, wishing, and waiting for women to show up or apply for positions: It’s about actively seeking them out and recruiting them. It’s about attempting to create a “girls club” where there was none.
This kind of diversity mindset also extends to Hillary’s campaign’s racial makeup. She leads the Democratic side in racial diversity according to a study by Inclusiv, an organization devoted to increasing diversity in political campaigns. They crunched numbers on her own campaign as well as Bernie’s and Martin O’Malley’s, and found that she had a whopping 32% of her staff positions filled by people of color. Only 10% of Bernie’s staff, at the time, were people of color – although his campaign later corrected the figure to 25%, still leaving him behind Hillary in this area.
This kind of ethos and focus on diversity doesn’t end at race or gender, either. Clinton’s campaign is being headed up by a gay man, Robby Mook – marking the first time an openly gay person has managed a major party presidential campaign – and is staffed, of course, by many other queer folks.
The Feminist Majority launched She Wins, We Win because we know that Hillary Clinton’s approach to politics is inherently intersectional and feminist. She isn’t a one-issue candidate. She doesn’t embrace a monolithic idea of “us” versus “them.” Instead, she’s built a campaign that centers the experiences of communities of color, women, LGBT folks, and working-class families – and crafts policies and talking points around those who live at the intersections of those identities.
Her economic focus isn’t just about banks; it’s also about lifting up women workers by finally guaranteeing them equal pay. Her college affordability plan isn’t just about tuition; it’s also about making college more accessible and feasible for young mothers. And her campaign focus isn’t just about solving economic inequality – although that’s certainly one of her priorities. Instead, it’s about fighting to make sure that all kinds of social power structures are torn down and even more of us are given a shot at the American Dream.
She names oppression and she names specific communities. She embraces issues that impact folks who might not be in the majority, but who are nonetheless burdened with unfair challenges and obstacles in their path based on who they are.
Having a campaign that represents what America really looks like isn’t just about appearances, and neither is the problem with Bernie building one that doesn’t. It’s about how the makeup of any given campaign staff can be used as an indicator of who that campaign is built for.
It’s a given that an organization filled with a vibrantly diverse staff has a better chance of really zeroing in on what different communities want and need from this country. It’s a given that hiring more women leads to crafting better policies for women, and that bringing people of color and LGBT folks into the fold of a national campaign will elevate their issues at the national level.
Bernie Sanders has said, time and again, that he is waging a campaign for “the people.” And yet, his own staff is overwhelmingly straight, white, and male. As a feminist, it’s hard for me to imagine what kind of “revolution” can be born out of such a homogeneous group of traditionally socially powerful people. In my eyes, a candidate led to victory by a team representing the lived experiences of women, people of color, and LGBT people is much more likely to bring about a revolutionary new order in politics.