The Democratic View: No one Is oppressed, and other canards


Kathy Zahler


From time to time, I fall into the trap of responding to people’s social media comments. It’s a bad habit.

Recently, TCDC shared a Washington Post link that listed our Congressional candidate, Tracy Mitrano, among the great pantheon of women who recently won primaries for Congress. Very soon, we got a comment from a guy wondering why it mattered what sex (gender) was running. So I said it mattered because women were so underrepresented in the House (19.3 percent of U.S. Representatives, when women are 50.8 percent of the U.S. population).

There is a discomfiting trope out there to the effect that, to quote one 2017 article headline, “Sorry, liberals, there are no oppressed Americans.” It has led at its worst to the Trump administration’s rapid backpedaling on affirmative action. But there are plenty of people out there claiming that Democrats/liberals/women/lefties/people of color love playing the victim and that none of today’s issues loom large enough to compare to real oppression. “You can live with the illusion that, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, you’re fighting for women’s rights, or, like Martin Luther King, you’re trying to reform a society teeming with racism— but that only makes you sound like a joke,” states the article I cited above. Apparently, we are all entirely equal, thanks to earlier efforts, but some of us just want to keep carping over trivialities because we fear being happy. Or something.

I do not want to underestimate the significance of this kind of thinking. It is the mindset that brought us Donald Trump. I liken it to how my daughter felt in third grade when some kids got extra attention from aides while she was left to fend for herself. Even knowing that you don’t need extra attention doesn’t help if you are determined to feel overlooked and left out. I get that. However, you cannot let that nagging feeling of unfairness cloud your mind to the fact that some others need more than you need, and it doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.

This weekend TCDC hosted a gathering that included three of the four candidates for Attorney General. All three are women. Until Barbara Underwood took over as Interim AG, New York State had never had a female Attorney General. Never! Thirty-one states have had a woman in that position. Pennsylvania has had three—two Democrats and a Republican. Forgive me for thinking that New York, our supposedly blue state, is overdue.

The good news is that these three women, Leecia Eve from Buffalo, Tish James from Brooklyn, and Zephyr Teachout from Dutchess County, are brilliant candidates with exceptional portfolios. The universal feeling after listening to them speak was, “We would be thrilled with any of them, but could the one who wins please hire the other two?” Not that they were interchangeable—far from it. They were simply excellent. It’s hard to imagine that there were no excellent women available to hold this office in New York State from 1777 until today.

Here is a lesson from 2018: No battle is ever won. In an 1852 speech, abolitionist Wendell Phillips repeated the old saying, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” His speech went on to state: “Power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” In other words, as Phillips understood, you may think that you have fought for and earned your rights, but unless you keep a sharp eye out, they could easily be taken from you.

No battle is ever won. We think we won Roe v. Wade, but those rights are under siege. We think we won Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, but schools are more segregated than ever. We think we won a thousand environmental battles since 1970, but we run the risk of losing them all again by 2020.

That is why we resist. That is why we march. That is why we look for ways to balance Congress or add women to administrative posts. Women won the right to vote on a federal level nearly 100 years ago. Isn’t it time we used that vote to ensure our own representation?

The word normalize is overused this year, but it fits here. If we normalize seeing women in positions of power by actually putting women in positions of power, we won’t have to rehash the argument I had with my commenting friend. Until that happens, I will continue to feel a thrill of hope when I look at the numbers of women running for office across the U.S. in 2018.



The Democratic primary for state and local races from governor to state senate to sheriff will be Thursday, Sept. 13. New voters or Democrats who have moved must register with the Board of Elections by Aug. 19 to vote in this primary.



Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. See the committee website at


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment