Knitting Together the ‘Inescapable Network of Mutuality’

I have often told the story about how, in the summer of 1984, there were rumors that Walter Mondale would pick a woman to be his running mate. My reaction was “Meh, not a big deal. Women have been playing a supporting role for a long time. Dial me up when we have one at the top of the ticket.”

That was my attitude the day I watched on television as Mondale nominated Geraldine Ferraro to be his vice-president. As she walked out to join him, I found myself in tears. They came from a place I didn’t know existed, until that moment, because I had been swallowing the reality of being marginalized as a woman my whole life.

A few months later, I saw the same reaction during Jesse Jackson’s speech at the Democratic Convention, as the cameras panned the room to the African Americans in the audience. The tears that were being shed that night were similar those we witnessed from the crowd that gathered at Grant Park to hear Barack Obama give his acceptance speech after being elected in 2008.

Those were all larger-than-life moments that allowed groups of marginalized people to shed another layer of the feeling that, when it comes to leadership in this country, people like them don’t belong. While not the stuff of major political accomplishments, like passing health care reform after 100 years of failure, they are powerful in knitting together what Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to as our “inescapable network of mutuality.”

The first Democratic debate of the 2020 primary brought us a few of those moments on a smaller scale. While some (mostly white) pundits ridiculed the candidates who spoke Spanish on the night of the first debate, it is worth noting that Telemundo, the network that co-sponsored the debate, listed that as their number one highlight of the night. That’s because this tweet represents how a lot of Hispanics felt about that moment.

Kamala Harris’s performance on the second night brought similar reactions from African-American women.

No one is going to support Beto O’Rourke simply because he spoke Spanish at a debate, nor will they vote for Kamala Harris simply because she’s a black woman. Those are the lies told by people who are threatened when women and people of color have a voice in this country as equals.

But every time someone who thinks they don’t belong feels what I felt the day Mondale nominated Ferraro, we get a little closer to the ideals our founders articulated, but couldn’t live up to. That makes us all stronger.

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly….Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. —Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.