As we embark on a new presidential campaign season, and as all of the calls for Hillary Clinton to run again grow louder with each passing day, I find myself reflecting back to the unbelievable life-changing experience I and so many others had in 2008. I thought it might not be a bad idea to revisit the path that brought us where we are today to better understand how to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead in the days and months to come. And enough time has passed to put some perspective on how the events of 2008 turned so many diehard Democrats into Independents, Republicans, etc. I still look back in wonder how the unbelievable happened to me, a person married "til death do us part" to the Democrats, a person who wasn't just a supporter but an activist, a candidate, a paid political consultant, an elected central and executive committee member, a prolific fundraiser, a supporter of all things Democrat, a person who wouldn't even allow my children to buy non-UAW made cars, who ended up leaving the party in disgust. I know many of you will see yourselves in my story.
If there is anyone reading this story who chooses to resort to knee jerk name-calling, you are missing an important opportunity to expand your thinking a little bit. If you want to start in with the "racist," "bitter old woman," "get over it you lost," kinds of labels, we've been called all of that and more in an effort to shut us up. It didn't work then and it won't work now. And if you are someone who assumes that if I don't sound the platitudes and mantras of the left than I am a creature of the right, you have a rigid mind that might benefit from taking a deep breath and trying to hear what is actually being said. It is a cautionary tale with important lessons that we can all learn.
I have had all kinds of experiences being a Democrat for 40 years, and none of them were being in the background as a follower (or so I thought). My first awakening was in 1960 as an 8-year old. My mother supported Kennedy for president and my father supported Nixon, and I decided even then that Kennedy was my guy and my 10 year old brother and I ganged up on our father mercilessly to convince him to change his support. As a 16 year old, I was horrified about the Viet Nam war, and I started and ran the McCarthy for President effort in my hometown and joined up with our current Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, another 16 year old wanting to fight for the same things. He and I and a few others put together an anti-Viet Nam war float for the annual 4th of July parade Democratic contingent. By the time I got to college in New York City in 1970, I got bitten by the women's equality bug and decided in my 18 year old idealism to devote the rest of my life to helping women get ahead. And I married myself to the Democratic Party for good as I believed it was the only party that had women's advancement as its cause.
And while I continued on with my life, I continued on with that activism whenever I could. I even found a profession where I could make a great living helping women to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and find a way to make an excellent living while staying at home with their children (we've yet to figure that out in our country) and helping build their self-esteem, a self esteem that had been battered by a sexist society. I'm a Sales Director with Mary Kay and 27 years later I still have the great honor and pleasure to do that every single day.
But that wasn't enough for me. I finally decided to run for office to do my part to help get more women elected. I was naive, yes, but I brought to the experience some interesting skills honed by my profession, and while I ran for Congress twice and the Ohio House once and lost all three, I developed a reputation as a formidable fundraiser. And since money talks in politics, although I ran in districts where Democrats hadn't won, I was considered a force to be reckoned with. From my campaign experiences, I became a political consultant helping candidates raise money, helping the party raise money and I eventually wrote a book about my unique approach to fundraising and went on the road hired by state Democratic Party chairs all over the country to teach their candidates and their activists how to become fundraising machines. I was elected to be on both the party executive committees and central committee and became a go-to person locally to grow the party and the party coffers.
And this is where I was when the 2008 presidential race came to town. Being an Ohioan, we play a big role in the life of anyone who wants to be elected president. We're one of the handful of swing states that are the ultimate prize on the road to the White House. As a result, all of the candidates pass through our state over and over and over again. We get to have close encounters with them, and anyone who wants to be the Democratic nominee has spoken at our state dinners, our county dinners, and attended numerous events courting our votes. So I was familiar with all of them. By the time things really started heating up around the end of 2007, I still hadn't made up my mind about who I wanted to support. It seems incredible as I look back that I was still weighing all of the candidates, because I became such a rockhard Hillary supporter. But I hadn't arrived there yet.
However, I started finding myself becoming so angry with the treatment of Hillary. I was in denial for a short time about what was happening, but it didn't take long for me to realize that we had a serious emergency on our hands and that we women needed to circle the wagons around Hillary to deflect the incoming sexist attacks. For those of you reading this who didn't see it or didn't understand that the sexist attacks were happening, I encourage you to watch this video by Judy Silver documenting these attacks and more.
It was and still is so unbelievable to me that my party that I had devoted myself so thoroughly to was condoning by their silence these attacks coming from their own flanks. I mean, I was aligned with them BECAUSE they were the party of women. WTF???? Surely my party of women wasn't going to let such heinous things pass without saying SOMETHING!!! So I waited. Like many of you I waited for the people I counted on to take a public stand against this garbage. Nothing. Dead silence. Nada---niente---not one word or condemnation. And day after day I did a slow boil as the insults piled up, the extreme sexist comments and attitudes coming from the leftist TV commentators (I didn't hear ANY INSULTS from the right-----another amazing thing. In fact, the TV commentators from the right were actually giving Hillary a fair shake without any sexism), the Obama supporters, the Obama surrogates, and even from Obama himself.
I was driving my friends and my wonderful husband of 35 years totally bonkers by talking about my rage concerning the extreme sexism that was going largely unnoticed and uncommented upon. And then the primary campaign came to Ohio. I was in----all in. Hillary HAD to win my state. I housed the Clinton campaign Ohio field director and the tech director for several months as we all worked ourselves silly making sure Hillary would win. It was an amazing few months. And it was a divisive several months. I had Obama supporters threaten me physically for being racist and a dried up old woman. I so laugh at that now. Who cares really about my age? My vote counts the same as yours!! LOL!! And people who had been my friends had slammed doors in my face for my Hillary support. It was ugly----uglier than anything I'd ever seen. But it was topped off by a double win on primary night, one in Ohio and one in Texas. I will never forget that night-----ever. A room full of people crammed to its limit to cheer on Senator Clinton. And she showed up in a fabulous red suit and gave one of her best speeches. What a night!!!!
But the sexist slurs and the sexist disrespect kept right on coming. I had met enough people upset about the same thing so at least I wasn't suffering alone. As it turned out, there were tons of us around the country, we just didn't know it yet. We were all still waiting for SOMEONE to speak up against it. The lone voice was Geraldine Ferraro and she was slammed to the ground for daring to speak the truth. Finally, things had just gone far enough and it dawned on me that no one was going to speak up. No one. I thought long and hard and finally decided that if no one was going to speak up, I guess I was going to have to do it. I was really scared about it because I knew it wasn't going to be pretty and that I would stand to lose some important things and some important people. But I figured that if I didn't say anything, how could I live with myself? If you don't stand up for what you believe in in a country where you are guaranteed free speech, what does that say about your own character? So my eight year old who rebelled against her father's Nixon support, my 16-year old who stood up against the Viet Nam war, my 18-year old who decided to devote her life to women's progress, and my adult who was the candidate, party activist, etc.,all joined hands to do the right thing.
As an Ohioan, I had some leverage. As a party insider, my statement would be noted. How was I going to make my move and have it count? Well, I had a group of people who were willing to stand with me and make a statement. So how would we make that statement?
One of the funny little stories of that moment in time was how we came to be on the Bill O'Reilly show. I had decided that we were going to make a public statement that if the Democrats didn't acknowledge and stop this disgusting display of sexism, that we were going to leave the party and vote for McCain. And we were going to make it a national statement. I still had press contacts from my candidate days, and as I compiled my press list, I had to decide who to give the first "scoop" to. After thinking about it, I decided that my first choice was going to be Fox since they had been dealing Hillary a fair hand. I also decided why not give the scoop to our local guy, John Kasich, since he had his own weekly show and filled in for O'Reilly pretty regularly. The things is, I had run against Kasich twice, and I wasn't too sure what kind of reception I'd get from him. I had had enough money to make him miserable and he was pretty thin skinned back then. But, hey, he's a political guy, and a story this juicy being handed to him would probably outweigh whatever had happened between the two of us in the past.
So, I called his office and the minute I identified myself, the young guy on the phone says to me, "Cynthia Ruccia? You will NEVER EVER get to speak to John Kasich. EVER!!!!" And then he hung up on me. Well, good thing that I'm not a shrinking violet. I called him back, and I said to him, "Listen here----don't you hang up on me because you want to hear what I have to say. Then make up your mind." He sullenly listened to me, heard me out, and then hung up on me again. Ten minutes later I was on the phone with O'Reilly!!! What a hoot!!
So the pieces fell into place. We picked our time and place for our press conference, and then immediately afterwards I was whisked away to the studio with another lady from Pittsburgh, and we were on the air with Bill O'Reilly. I had held up an email address to contact us. By the time I gave that interview and arrived home 20 minutes later, I'd heard from over 2000 people. Something was up-----the floodgates burst, and we all found each other from all over the country.
Since then we have been through alot. Those of us who put ourselves out front received many death threats. The rest of us lost friends and family members for standing up for what we believed in. Only now are we starting to look wise and prescient. But it was a painful experience, and even though I am a proud Independent FOREVER, I am still saddened over my divorce from the Democratic Party. It's just that the party I loved is no more. The party I loved would NEVER EVER have condoned the sexism that still emits from it. I've written about it. We've all spoken about it. But the experience of 2008 has sharpened our focus on the true status of women in the United States. We realized we had been lulled into thinking things were better than they were. 2008 was a wakeup call of monumental proportion to women. Those of us who saw it unfolding were the canaries in the mine. We just need to keep talking about it. I was taught by all of the political consultants that just when you are sickest of talking about it, your message might be starting to be heard. Keep speaking up!!! As I've written, it's the first big step in changing a culture of sexism in this country that the political parties have completely failed to do. I've also written about it from this angle.
So that's my story. What's your story? If you're up to it, please leave a comment with your experience. It would be interesting to hear about it these three/four years later!! And don't stop calling out sexism wherever and whenver you find it!!