I have a debt to pay to society, and I’m gonna do it next Saturday in Washington D.C. Because I am among the most fortunate of women, I get to join my beloved sister-in-law and two 30-something nieces and go make some noise in our nation’s capital. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, maybe being squeezed in a giant crowd of angry women in pink hats isn’t your cup of tea, but right now it is mine.
I never had to fight for the right to vote or surrender my fortune to my husband. I have always been able to drive a car and make my own living. I wear what I want, I can buy my own house and raise a child alone. In fact, I can choose not to have a child at all. The time and place in which I live have allowed me these precious freedoms, and more.
I have had to blaze a few trails, though admittedly not through the densest jungles. I once worked in a factory where it was okay for the guys to yell catcalls as we walked across the floor. When I first went to work in the TV newsroom, I was one of only a few women, and it was always way more important for me to look good than my male counterparts. Still is, for that matter. And I remember holding a rummage sale for a girl in our dorm at the University of Kansas in 1971 so she could go to New York to get an abortion. But mostly, the heavy lifting was done before my time by women who faced hardships I can’t imagine and had far more courage than I.
My first election was in 1972, when I was 18. The Vietnam war was raging, and thousands of young people were taking to the streets in protest. They demanded an end to the fighting, and they demanded a new world order, one of racial and gender equality. A world where peace and love were valued above everything. But there was violence too. In my world, students bombed the R.O.T.C. building in Lawrence, Kansas. Everybody remembers Kent State. There were the Black Panthers, the Students for a Democratic Society and the Simbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Patty Hearst. Yes, those were heady times, and volatile and, my generation thought, precedent setting.
And what was my contribution to the revolution of the 60’s? In that election my father, a lifelong Republican, told me that if I did not vote for Richard Nixon for president, I could not come home, and that he would no longer pay for my college (all of $250 a semester.) So, in that polling booth with the red, white and blue striped curtain pulled around me, I pulled the lever for Richard M. Nixon. And that is why I am going to Washington next Saturday. I will join my fellow women to march in the streets. Yes, it will be because Donald Trump will assume the presidency of the United States the day before. But really, it will be because I helped Nixon become president in 1972. And I still carry that shame.