What Does It Really Mean To Say 'I'm With Her?'

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, U.S. July 22, 2
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Tampa, Florida, U.S. July 22, 2016. REUTERS/Scott Audette

There I sat in a non-descript ballroom in downtown Denver on a sweltering June day, listening to Hillary Clinton speak about the staggering inequalities women in the U.S. still face, while two blocks away, a man walked into the Colorado Recycling Association offices, shot his ex-wife multiple times and then fatally shot himself.

Every 6 hours a man murders a woman in the United States. That's 33 victims a week, or roughly 1,700 women a year, killed in single-victim/single-offender incidents. Ninety-three percent of these women are murdered by someone they know -- overwhelmingly a spouse or an intimate partner -- and most of them are shot with legally obtained handguns. Now, I understand that these killings are amongst the vast ocean of gun violence that plagues our nation, but when you look at the numbers of individual women being shot, it's shocking.

In today's grotesque reality, these murders barely make the evening ticker tape. Unless there are more than four deaths, constituting a "mass-shooting," there just isn't enough room in the media bubble for these seemingly isolated incidents. In such silence, we fail to see the connections between them, the overwhelming pattern of femicide that is plaguing every town, in every state of our fragile union.

Cara Russell lay fighting for her life down the street, her only apparent crime filing for divorce a few days earlier, as Congresswoman Diana DeGette and Secretary Clinton were talking about passing gun safety reforms, "designed to protect the public safety by tackling who has access to guns and what kind." They were talking specifically about protecting women like Cara. Only the day before, The Supreme Court finally ruled that "reckless domestic assaults can be considered misdemeanor crimes to restrict gun ownership," despite the fact that people have been writing about the correlation between gun violence and domestic violence for years, begging our laws to catch up with the statistics.

Looking around the ballroom, I realized I was one of a handful under the age of forty. Women For Hillary invited me to the event after reading a piece I wrote about the sexist lens through which we discuss and judge our first major female presidential candidate. Most of the chairs were filled with silver-haired ladies in their late sixties to early eighties. These were Hillary's contemporaries, those who've supported her through thick and thin for decades, waiting for this historic moment. These were women whose mothers were born without the right to vote. They applauded loudly when Hillary brought up the "Paycheck Fairness Act," which seeks to protect women from being fired for investigating the wages of their male counterparts (first introduced to Congress in 1997 and yet to pass into law). I'm embarrassed to say that I'd never heard of it. And most of the room nodded in agreement when she talked about what earning 22% less for equal work actually looks like for women come their retirement years, which I'd never fully considered.

But when Hillary said she planned to be the President to usher in paid family leave, as well as mandatory paid sick and vacation time, which still eludes about a quarter of the American workforce; and when she spoke of the desperation she sees in young families engaged in "a stressful struggle" to hold two jobs and afford early childcare, millions of whom are falling deeper into debt, while also shouldering the care of ageing parents...I alone stood and clapped.

Suddenly the gap between the issues in the room that were important to me and what was resonating with the older women, illuminated the chasm I've felt with "millennial" women, many of whom don't see the importance of electing a female president when it comes to protecting and advancing women's rights. And then Hillary promised to use all her political power to ensure that a "woman always has the right to choose what happens to her body," and I choked up. Because my mother was born without the right to choose, and I vividly remember teenage lessons about women dying from back-alley abortions.

Given the misogyny we're up against, its gonna take voters of all ages and experiences to get Secretary Clinton into the Oval Office, and the way we do that is by witnessing and acknowledging each other's struggles and backing each other up. It's time for some no-nonsense, bi-partisan, inter-generational sisterhood at the ballot box.

Cara Russell was a powerful, bright woman who held Mayoral office in Colorado and who spent her last days fighting for our planet. We would learn that her ex-husband had a history of domestic violence and struggled with mental illness. Later that day, in Washington State, Amanda Marjama was shot in the head by her husband, in front of her three young children, for discovering that he was having an affair. At the same time, in Texas, Jacinta Martin, a mother of two, was shot multiple times in her car with no witnesses ... she was the second woman to die that way, in that intersection, that week, but authorities still have no leads.

After thirty years in politics, many people have made up their minds about Hillary Clinton. Either she's too direct or too evasive; too conservative or too liberal; too "hawkish" or too "sheepish"; too emotional or too cold...and, no matter what, she can never appear to be "too woman." Just like President Obama couldn't come across as too Black during his first campaign, every time Clinton mentions equal pay or family leave, she's accused of playing the woman card, as if money and babies don't affect men. Well, sadly, a woman card exists because the world is still vastly unequal and unsafe for women, and if Hillary can't publicly play it, then I will.

The presumptive Republican candidate for president recently said, "I'm not with Her, I'm with you." By "you," I can only assume he means white, Christian men--the only part of the population he hasn't managed to alienate and offend. And if you do fall into that privileged category, I hope you are offended, because it doesn't take a genius or a politician to know that when he belittles women, he's talking about your daughters, your wives and your mothers.

When I hear a man say, "I'm with her;" when I heard the sitting President say, "I'm with her;" when the father of my children says, "I'm with her"... I hear so much more than support for candidate Hillary Clinton. I hear that he's fundamentally on my side, on my daughter's side, on Cara's, Amanda's, and Jacinta's side. I hear that he is willing to acknowledge and prioritize combatting gender inequity and violence against women and that he understands that every card affecting humanity is a woman's card.

I drove out of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, mulling over everything Secretary Clinton just said, and got caught in the massive police response to Cara's murder. I stared out my windshield--police running in formation, sirens wailing--feeling scared and nauseated by yet another public shooting, my heart still reeling from the Orlando massacre weeks before. But I also felt grateful that at least one presidential candidate is openly talking about expanding and protecting rights for women and working on saving women's lives by closing the loopholes where gun ownership, domestic violence and mental illness collude...and I felt an unexpected responsibility to write about Cara Russell's senseless death.

To all those out there still questioning Hillary Clinton's trustworthiness; still holding out for a candidate less politically entrenched, yet somehow equally as qualified; still quietly calling women's issues "fringe," while loudly admonishing the evils of unsecure email; and, perhaps, still unsure whether a woman can lead our country...I implore you to think about what it means to the women in your life, to women all over the world, to elect a President who has walked a million steps in her shoes--and is willing to walk a million more towards gender equality.

To be clear, I'm not talking about blanket support for everything Clinton champions. Like the male candidates before her, it's up to us to hold her to the platform and beyond, and to raise our voices against injustices -- just as we did with President Obama on gay marriage, the Keystone XL Pipeline and now the TPP. And I'm not saying you don't support women if you don't support Hillary, but I am asking you to place the rights and safety of women higher on your list of priorities, even to the point of letting other issues play second fiddle, and to do so by letting the world know that you too stand "with her....and her....and her."

For Cara, Amanda and Jacinta,
Kiri Westby

Changemaker/Rulerbreaker/Storyteller
www.kiriwestby.com