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Nasty Woman #1: Shirley Chisholm

December 21, 2016

 

 

You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.

 

 

Shirley Chisholm became the first African-American congresswoman in 1968 and served seven terms. New York in the House (of Representatives)!

 

In 1972 she became the first major-party African-American candidate to run for President, using the amazingly Nasty campaign slogan “Unbought and Unbossed.”

 

Shirley was born in Brooklyn but received her early education in Barbados. She credited the “strict, traditional, British-style schools of Barbados” with her ability to “speak and write easily” as an adult, which is sad, because America.

 

As Congresswoman, Shirley fought for educational opportunities and social justice and founded, with others, the Congressional Black Caucus. She left Congress in 1983 to teach at Mount Holyoke College and died in Florida in 2005.

 

One of Shirley’s many cool moves was hiring only women for her Congressional office, half of whom were African-American. She said: 

 

At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.

 

Shirley announced her bid for President in January 1972, and like the Nasty Woman she was, she called for a “bloodless revolution” at the DNC. Not only was she the first black major-party candidate to run for President, she was the first woman ever to run as a Democrat, since somehow the Republicans had already done that in 1964.

 

Today we remember Shirley’s presidential campaign as a choice bit of bad-assery, but at the time she was largely ignored by the Democratic establishment, including her black male colleagues. Shirley was adamant that sexism was a bigger hurdle for her than racism, saying:

 

When I ran for the Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men are men. 

 

Damn.

 

It’s indicative of how little serious attention her campaign received that she was only able to raise $300,000 total. (Yes, that is the correct number of zeros.) Afterwards she lamented, “We just couldn’t get the money.”

 

(For perspective: George McGovern, who still lost, raised $30 million, while Richard Nixon, who won, raise $61.4 million.)

 

Overall, Chisholm won 28 delegates during the primaries. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were big supporters and the National Organization for Women endorsed her. She finished 7th place among Democratic contenders. George McGovern won the nomination, and while I’m sure he was a perfectly lovely bowl of oatmeal, Shirley Chisholm he was not.

 

            

 

 

Shirley died in 2005 at the age of 80 after suffering several strokes. On her tomb stone? “Unbought and Unbossed.” Even after death, she stayed Nasty.

 

Shirley was a tireless and fearless crusader. When I think of how terrified I get when I want to ask the man-spreader next to me on the subway if he can scooch over just an inch, giggle giggle, I’m filled with awe at this brave, beautiful soul. The courage it must have taken to run for President when almost everyone in Washington thought the whole idea was a joke is astounding. I only hope that Shirley’s looking down on us as we approach the political and ethical wasteland of the Trump years, adjusting her oversized glasses to peer into the future of 2021, where an equally brilliant (but much taller) African-American woman is standing, right hand raised, ready to fulfill Shirley’s promise: a Nasty, Nasty Woman in the White House.

 

 

Sources: biography.com, theawl.com, wikipedia.com, The New Yorker

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