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Twenty-twelve: The First Mornings After

Zillah Eisenstein is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence and a Professor of Anti-Racist Feminist Theories at Ithaca College in New York. This post originally appeared at

It is just two days after the presidential election.  Depending on your view, Barack Obama won, or Mitt Romney was defeated.  Either reading could describe a lot of people’s feelings about this election.  We are told that turnout was down overall; but “Latina” turnout was up.  And, that there was a significant gender gap.

I find it hard to write/speak/think about the election because of the singular identities that usually are at the base of any description about it.  Although each of us has multiple identities—our class, race, sex, gender, religion, etc.  polls describe us most usually as one thing: women, white, black,  gay, Latina, or whatever.  Yet, people of all colors and classes voted for women’s and gay’s rights.   White middle class voted for blacks; gay blacks for whites; working class Latinas for whites; Latina men for white women, and so on.

Multiple identities bely both actual voting and singular identity politics.  Individual identity is multiple at its core.  And although I do think we often prioritize our interests/identity, I think they are never simply singular.  So, in this election I think many of us voted our “intersectional” selves and actively voted with an embrace of multiple identities. * As a result many people of all colors voted for gay women and men for the Senate and Congress, and Elizabeth Warren won in Massachusetts because of her class analysis that is enriched by her visor as a  woman and a mother, and gay marriage was supported in Maine and Maryland and Minnesota and Washington by lots of heterosexuals.  In this particular sense Twenty-Twelve may have been our most progressive election.  Barack Obama was no longer simply our first black president andissues of gender, sex and class were clearly put in view.  It is too early to know much of anything but I wonder if we might wonder together if much of the electorate has moved beyond the politics initiated by 2008.

It may be that the voting on November 7 should be celebrated as a newly expressed  progressive mobilization against the right-wing Tea Party faction of the Republican party.  This election—possibly with the assist of hurricane Sandy—instigated a cross-coalition politics that is not easily grasped by traditional voting parlance.  Feminists—men and women alike of all sorts acted together across class and race lines to say no to the GOP war on women—like white working class women in Colorado who voted for Obama and his support of Planned Parenthood.

Possibly Twenty-Twelve moves beyond usual electoral politics and expresses new coalitions forming for gay rights and women’s rights without reducing them to their singularity.  93 percent of Blacks voted for Obama; but this misrepresents the fact that they were also doing lots else in this election; and the same for Latinas who voted 73 percent for him.  The very singular casting of identity distorts the more progressive intersectional politics that are at hand –that make gender, and with it race and class all the more volatile given the growing economic inequality of the U.S.

Twenty-Twelve just may be a hugely important moment in a new coalition politics that absolutely takes into account gender, sex, race and class but in their coalitional form.  As such women’s rights had a big win two nights ago, but that happened by recognizing and mobilizing across gender, sex and class lines.  Feminists of all sorts have long recognized that women’s “issues” like contraception, abortion, equal pay, violence, rape, and so on affect everyone.  The issues are special to females but not reducible to them.   The 11 percent gender gap is probably a lot bigger than that if gender is viewed in its multiple variations and specificities.

This “progressive” win that I am trying to recognize–about gay rights, equal rights, women’s rights, people of color rights–makes Twenty-Twelve extraordinary in a new way.  The election is not just about an individual named Barack Obama but a mobilization that is bigger than what the Democrats might have intended. So when Obama said that women’s rights are not just about women in the second debate he articulated what so many of us already knew and were ready to act on.

My hopefulness today is not located with traditional party politics.  It is located with the mobilization of votes of people who see beyond inequality and selfishness to embrace a diverse notion of human rights.  Spokespeople for the Tea Party with their offensive talk of rape lost their elections; and Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first “out” lesbian senator.

I truly disliked all the “exceptionalist” rhetoric of both parties this last campaign season—that only in America could people succeed like here.  But I do think that the unusual diversity of our country is magnificently exceptional.  And instead of ignoring what this maybe might mean I want to note its presence in the progressive and democratic spirit of this election.  For now I am hopeful that this politics might take hold in unlikely places and undermine the attempt to contain it by mainstreamed news.

There is much talk just now about how split and dividedand stalemated our country is and remains.  I will instead, at least for now, focus on the newest coalitions and intersectional politics—in the hopes that it cannot be ignored or contained.  Instead, I hope that we may mobilize from the activities of Twenty-Twelve a newly grounded radically democratic politics.

*See the writings of Kimberly Crenshaw for a fully developed discussion of intersectionality.

November 12, 2012