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Why These Two Feminists Aren’t Voting For Hillary

Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are the authors’ alone and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Feministing writers as a whole. We’re not a monolith, people!

Last night Bernie Sanders won the Wisconsin primary, building on recent victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, and closing in on his delegate deficit with Hillary Clinton. What seemed like a predictable election is now a little less certain for Clinton, who has had widespread support from mainstream feminist movements since the beginning of her campaign.

What will it mean for women if Clinton wins the nomination over Sanders? Gloria Steinem, Lena Dunham, and other feminists tell us that Clinton’s nomination and potential presidency would be a step forward for women’s rights. But which women’s rights? In the process of working and writing together for the site, Mahroh and I have discussed at length our feelings of misgiving around Clinton’s campaign, particularly given this apparently unquestioning support for her by various mainstream feminist voices. It’s been confusing for us to hear feminists insist that Clinton cares deeply about women’s rights when her policies have had such a devastating effect on Black and Brown women abroad and in the U.S.

As our email threads increased and the political stakes grew, we realized that these thoughts deserved a more thorough conversation – and a blog post.

JULIANA: Mahroh, you’ve written a few times about your concerns with Clinton’s track record on foreign policy and your discomfort with the seemingly unquestioning support some mainstream feminists hold for her campaign.

MAHROH: I have—those are the two things that frustrate me most about support for Clinton in this election. First, that it is often grounded in little to no knowledge of her policy stances on issues that impact women (and men and gendernonconforming folks and other human beings) outside of abortion rights. And two (and this is far more insidious) that I’m not sure most mainstream feminists would care even if they did know. But because I still receive well-intentioned messages claiming that Clinton has been a defender of human rights abroad for decades, it’s important to lay out some of her policy stances that show otherwise.

Clinton speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Photo via Saul Loeb/Getty Images.

Clinton speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Photo via Saul Loeb/Getty Images.

Her recent AIPAC speech is a good place to start as it captures the violence Clinton has promoted and promised against women and their communities in the Middle East. She pledged to “provide Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology” and invite Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] to visit the White House—tying herself in ways even Obama didn’t to an Israeli government committed to race-mongering, apartheid policies, and continuing the Occupation. She pledged to fight the bedrock of progressive community organizing: boycotts. She expressed pride in “imposing crippling sanctions” against civilians in Iran, sanctions which have denied access to women’s health services and life-saving treatment for hundreds of thousands of Iranians. And her criticism of Trump for initially claiming he would treat Israel neutrally was perhaps the greatest absurdity of the entire spectacle—and the clearest example of the debasement of mainstream feminist politics—that Clinton tried positioning herself as the feminist candidate while at the same time running to the right of Donald Trump when it comes to U.S. foreign policy.

Her repeating typically pro-war talking points about “Iranian aggression” being the biggest threat to Middle Eastern stability were also especially rich given that she herself as U.S. senator and as Secretary of State advocated for aggression and the invasion of other countries illegally. She fought for the Iraq War when many others, including Bernie Sanders and even current President Obama opposed it; Clinton’s State Department devised the legal reasoning that justified the expansion of American drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians, and she pushed to maintain U.S. ties with dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain. As others have written, Hillary Clinton’s famous call for women’s rights as human rights or some donation for the Malala Fund holds little credibility when it is a US-manufactured—and Clinton-supported—ordinance that is blowing up women in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

JULIANA: I have to agree—just because a candidate can be aggressive and hold her own with men on the debate stage doesn’t mean she has the best interests of all or even most women at heart. Clinton’s horrific policies around U.S. military involvement abroad have also caused violence in parts of Latin America. The recent murder of Berta Cáceres is an excellent example—in fact right before her murder, the indigenous environmental activist singled out Clinton for her role in supporting the 2009 coup in Honduras, which helped shape a country where environmental activists are now routinely targeted. When the Honduran army ousted democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya and held elections immediately after, Clinton pushed other countries to accept the results of the elections, effectively legitimizing the coup regime.

Before her assassination, Berta Cáceres called out Clinton's role in the 2009 Honduran coup. Image via Goldman Environmental Prize

Before her assassination, Berta Cáceres called out Clinton’s role in the 2009 Honduran coup. Image via Goldman Environmental Prize

Under the new government, indigenous leaders have been murdered, tortured, and the country as a whole has becoming increasingly militarized. Communities who have fished off the coasts are now being pushed out to make way for tourism, indigenous people are losing access to their farming lands, and resource extraction projects are protected more heavily than people. Honduras’ natural resources have been auctioned off to transnational corporations, displacing indigenous and Garifuna communities.

In Haiti, Clinton’s aggressive support of a brutal regime has lead to similar effects. The Clintons have long been involved in the small Caribbean nation, and after it experienced a devastating earthquake in 2011, then Secretary Clinton pushed for the election of Michel Martelly, a former pop star known for his connections to the violent dictatorship which had previously ruled the country. In spite of multiple allegations of voter fraud and only 25% voter turnout, Clinton pressured the Haitian president at the time, René Préval, to accept the results.

During his four years in office, Martelly never held elections and left no successor when he stepped down. The New York Times reported charges of rape, murder, and drug-trafficking brought against Martelly’s aides and friends. Five years after the earthquake, Haiti continues to struggle with poverty rates so devastating that many people are fleeing the country to the Dominican Republic, where they are often detained and deported. And of course, women are some of the first and hardest hit by the country’s inability to get back on its feet.

MAHROH: And then of course there’s her work to increase mass incarceration.

JULIANA: Ya. Under her husband’s presidency the United States grew to have the highest rate of mass incarceration in the world. Today we are responsible for 22% of the world’s prison population while United States residents make up only 5% of the world population. And the vast majority of those held in prisons in this country are people of color, low-income and people with other marginalized identities. That matters.

Hillary and Bill Clinton played a crucial role in setting up the system that is incarcerating women (of color) at an ever-increasing rate.

MAHROH: Right. And while some reading this might claim it’s unfair to hold Clinton responsible for policies that were ultimately implemented by her husband, the First Lady was hardly a passive bystander. She campaigned for Bill, held power and influence once he was elected, and lobbied for specific legislation. As Michelle Alexander wrote in The Nation earlier this year: that record, and her statements from that era should be scrutinized. Included in that, for example, is her support for the 1994 crime bill where she used racially-charged rhetoric to cast Black children as animals.

MAHROH: Given these past policies I’ve also been pretty disturbed to see how Clinton treats hecklers and young protesters, particularly from the Black Lives Matter movement and the very communities her policies impacted.

JULIANA: As a feminist I have all sorts of complicated feelings about disliking the first viable woman candidate for president, and I’m very self-critical when it comes to analyzing Clinton’s speech and behavior. But I can’t shake the impression that Clinton is incredibly condescending or rude to activists who heckle her at events. From dismissing Ashley Williams when she asked the former Secretary to apologize for calling black people “superpredators” to asking another activist why she didn’t “go run for something,” I just don’t feel good about how Clinton treats people who push her.

JULIANA: Does that make me a terrible feminist? Mahroh, can you talk about what you wrote about in your post on #WhichHillary?

MAHROH: I think it makes you a better one. Look, I think it’s important to acknowledge here that there are legitimate critiques to be made of every politician’s response to BLM. But context matters. And while no politician has ever shown perfect vision, recognizing that Sanders, like Clinton, is imperfect is not the same thing as saying their records are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the Patriot Act. He opposed the Clintonite welfare reform that threw countless low-income families into extreme poverty. And he fought tooth and nail against Clinton’s crime bill—voting multiple times to weaken or eliminate the death penalty provisions and voting separately against creating new mandatory minimums—before reluctantly signing on to it in order to pass an included ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and the Violence Against Women Act provisions. During that time, Clinton spoke strongly in favor of increased incarceration, labeling at risk youth as “super-predators” who had to be “brought to heel.”

Ashley Williams confronting Clinton for calling black people "super predators." Image via Youtube: #NotaSuperpredator

Ashley Williams confronting Clinton for calling black people “super predators.” Image via Youtube: #NotaSuperpredator

If Clinton is going to claim that she recognizes the violence of her past policies, it is only fair that we scrutinize her speech and behavior to see if there are actually any changes. I already know what I’m getting with Bernie: an old white man that has fairly consistently fought for the progressive issues this campaign season is highlighting. None of us can say the same for Hillary. For her to then speak to the people that she herself described as super-predators in such a condescending tone is so especially concerning because it fails to show the progressive political growth she has based her campaign on—and it only begets the question: #WhichHillary?

In addition to this context for why Hillary’s remarks should be under greater scrutiny, I’ve gotta say that there are vast degrees of difference in how they’ve engaged with activists. Bernie just had Linda Sarsour, a radical Palestinian hijab-wearing BLM activist, open for him in Wisconsin this past week. I’d bet pigs will fly before Hillary does something similar.

JULIANA: So as First Lady, Clinton supported expanding mass incarceration and gutting welfare, two attacks on low-income communities of color. As Secretary of State, she reaffirmed over and over the U.S.’s now normal – but still devastating – attitude that the protection of U.S. economic interests justifies military intervention in other countries.
From U.S. prisons, to Honduras, to Iraq, to Palestine, Clinton has women’s blood on her hands. Yet I hear very few feminists talking about this. Why do you think that is?

MAHROH: I really think it’s two reasons: one, many feminists don’t actually know her policy stances on issues that are not abortion-related; and two, even if they did, I think MANY white feminists wouldn’t really care. I hope some of what we’ve talked about above addresses the first point and has been illuminating for folks. The second is a much harder issue to deal with—one which many feminists have been fighting for a really long time.

Women in Palestine protest the occupation and violence against their communities. Image via Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Women in Palestine protest the Occupation and violence against their communities. Image via Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Many women, especially those of us color, have long understood feminism as a much broader commitment to anti-violence. We care about measures like war and Walmart and prisons in addition to access to abortion; we care about dismantling class- and race-based systems of oppression in addition to fighting the patriarchy. For feminists who have never experienced any of those forms of oppression, it is much easier to ignore their impact, to not prioritize them as a voting issue, to defend Clinton from sexism in ways that ignore the other forms of violence she propagates, or to use lazy justifications to excuse a violent candidate’s actions. As someone else wrote, Clinton is the candidate for you if your feminism stops at the border. Clinton’s success in so-called feminist spaces simply goes to show how much work there is left to do to hold progressive communities—especially white lady ones—accountable to other broader commitments to anti-violence.

JULIANA: I have to agree – we’re clearly not all working on the same understanding of feminism. In an article for Jacobin Magazine, Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra point out that “in the U.S. feminism is often understood as the right of women—and wealthy white women most of all—to share in the spoils of capitalism and US imperial power.” If feminism is about equal participation in an inherently violent system, then Clinton sounds like a great candidate.

MAHROH: Yes exactly! I often joke that her tagline is don’t you worry, girls are as good as the guys at getting racist, imperialist shit done.

JULIANA: Right, but when my goal is to burn that system down and build back a just one, I can’t get behind her.

MAHROH: So tell me: if you don’t support Hillary, can I take this as a public endorsement for Bernie?

JULIANA: I think so. To be totally honest, that’s kind of hard to say—I never thought I’d be endorsing an old white dude over a woman—but right now I feel much better about Sanders than Clinton.

Sanders aligns with a lot of my beliefs around immigration, and foreign policy in Latin America. He has promised to provide deportation relief to upwards of 9 million undocumented people if elected, and is leading the effort to eliminate privately-run immigrant detention centers. He’s also fighting to end the immigrant detention bed quota, which provides economic incentives for the U.S. to detain thousands of immigrants in what are essentially prisons. Just this week, he issued his second statement demanding a moratorium on the deportation of migrants from conflict-ridden countries in Central America.

In the Philippines, women marched to protest the TPP. Image via Bilaterals.

In the Philippines, women marched to protest the TPP. Image via Bilaterals.

I’m also impressed with his track record on foreign trade: Sanders opposed NAFTA and opposes the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement (TPP), neoliberal trade agreements which allow for women of color to be exploited for the profit of multinational corporations. He’s against U.S. involvement in other countries just because we don’t like their left-leaning governments–a mentality that has lead the U.S. to support brutal dictatorships in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and many other countries throughout Latin America.

MAHROH: He aligns with a lot of my beliefs too. Folks keep asking if I would vote for Clinton against Trump in a general election and not only do I think that is irrelevant at this point, I also believe that the Trump card has been used as a threat by white feminists to tell the rest of us to fall into rank (especially ironic given that I and my community is who Trump would target first, not the rich white women in my mentions).

I get that voting for the lesser evil is hardly a romantic way to think about democracy. But Bernie has been on the right side of progressive issues—from Iraq, to welfare, to the recently-released Panama Papers—more often than any other politician I can think of. In doing so, he has shown a much deeper commitment to anti-violence, and that feels refreshingly more feminist. All the while Hillary has promoted and promised violence against countless communities from numerous positions of power.

To not do what is in our means to get Bernie nominated when there are such high stakes to me seems like an obvious failure to uphold feminism’s commitment to anti-violence.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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