Substantively, Shirley Chisholm’s presidential campaign undoubtedly made space for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, which speaks against the influence of corporations in politics and advocates for universal access to college education. Yet, many headlines, and Hillary herself, claim that Clinton is the heir to Chisholm’s legacy. If this is true, then Clinton must fully embrace Chisholm’s platform and her work against the undue influence of corporations in politics.
Shirley Chisholm was a political innovator in many ways. Not only did she pave the way for the presidential nominee of a major party to be a woman (hat tip to Hillary Clinton), but Chisholm’s legacy also made space for Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. Chisholm was the first black person to run for president and, more importantly, Chisholm’s campaign brought a more radical politics to the Democratic Party. She advocated for a government by the people and for the people, without the influence of special interests and corporate money, long before Bernie Sanders hit the campaign trail.
Chisholm’s 1982 presidential campaign, with the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” sought to bring together all Americans and give everyone a shot at the American dream. Perhaps Chisholm knew that she would not win the nomination for president as a black woman in a nation with a history of racist, sexist violence and discrimination. Yet, a crucial takeaway from her historic run is her campaign’s unapologetic emphasis on marginalized groups and their social and political rights. Chisholm was an advocate for a more diverse government, feeling that the federal government should reflect the diversity of the American people and not just be run by white males.
Most importantly, Chisholm also spoke out against money in politics and wealth inequality in the United States. She wanted to see that all people would have a “slice of the pie” and that the government would put the people and its wants before corporate and millionaire interests. She believed that corporations should not be able to donate money to presidential campaigns and that only the people should be able to donate money to candidates.
In her presidential bid declaration, she stated, “Each of us is as precious as the will of the most powerful general or corporate millionaire. Our will can create a new America in 1972, one where there is freedom from violence and war, at home and abroad, where there is freedom from poverty and discrimination, where there exists at least a feeling, that we are making progress and assuring for everyone medical care, employment, and decent housing.”
If Hillary Clinton truly wants to align herself with the radical legacy of Shirley Chisholm, she must commit herself to full employment for all people and knock down monetary barriers to a college education. Clinton must reject temptations to commit war abroad and attempt to peacefully settle international conflicts. Clinton must truly listen to and advocate for young black people attempting to change the culture of police brutality in the United States.
If Clinton wishes to claim that Chisholm enabled her own historic campaign, she must concede that Chisholm’s politics radically centered marginalized groups of people, and she must embrace her opportunity to do the same.
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