Harriet stands up to security in Denver 2008 at MSNBC-TV’s stage. Photo © by Lady Boomer NYC 2008
On Tuesday, October 8, 2013, we lost Harriet Christian, a lifelong and outspoken champion of equal rights. I came to know her after her honest outburst at the Democratic National Convention’s Rules and Bylaws Committee was captured on video and picked up by major media outlets. Hundreds of us had traveled to DC to picket and protest the committee’s slanted meeting that would decide the fate of millions of citizens’ votes in Michigan and Florida.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton kept her name on those states’ ballots, whereas Dem party and media darlings Obama and (that guy who used to make the women swoon), John Edwards (who?), had removed their names from those ballots. As Harold Ickes said, although Hillary won those states, The Party, “hijacked” the votes–and later the election–by strong-arming delegates to switch their votes from Hillary–to whom they were pledged–to Obama.
Harriet wasn’t having any of it and courageously protested from the peanut gallery during the RBC meeting and outside in the lobby after being tossed out of the meeting. This meeting’s decision created the spontaneous citizens’ uprising, which immediately spawned the PUMA (Party Unity, My Ass) Movement. Lifelong Democrats, we had become Democratic Party refugees, saying we didn’t leave the party, the party left us.
We PUMAs had a pre-Denver convention in DC to plan our protest and media strategy, and in Denver, our headquarters and events were a hub for protests at the Democratic National Convention. There was lots of pre-convention press about the Dems plans to outfit cops on horseback in riot gear to control protestors by herding them into fenced cages and also by lobbing shit bombs (you heard me).
After all, Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic primary vote, and the party, basically, abandoned her. You may not have known or remembered this, but the language, tone, and accusations were brutal, sexist, and misogynistic. The media laughed at her when she cried, decried her for showing cleavage (eek, a Prez with breasts!), and slammed her for deftly answering debate questions. Tucker Carlson said he’d cross his legs when she walked by, and Keith Olbermann said someone should take her into a back room and only the man come back out. Hillary bloggers received death threats. Her Party made her withdraw from the race although she’d won it. It was shameful. Those were just a few tidbits of many, many more horrible references. That year, 2008, I, finally, became an ardent feminist.
Harriet entered our Denver HQ like gangbusters, the media lightening rod that she was, and she knew it too. This was her/our time, and she was in her element. She lifted everyone’s spirits.
Harriet arrives at PUMA HQ in Denver, site of 2008 Democratic Presidential Convention
We then marched to the big outdoor MSNBC TV booth, where Hillary slammers Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann held court. When pressured by security to take the Hillary for President sign down and move out of the way, Harriet wouldn’t budge. She won.
Harriet’s dear friend Deborah Schutt captures Harriet on cam
Harriet was not afraid. She spoke truth to power. I met her at a PUMA gathering/party in NYC at the home of her dear friends, Liz and Deborah, when she was there with her partner, Van. Turns out, I had captured a pic of Harriet and Van before I even knew them, when we attended a Hillary rally in February 2008 at Hunter College. It was a heady time, and we were ardent!
My friends before I knew them: Hillary’s Hunter College rally–Harriet with her big hair (upper R), Van (to her L), Deborah Schutt (on phone cam), Liz Wiseman (in glasses)
After Harriet spoke out and got so much media attention, she was continually slammed by Obama supporters, who called her a racist for standing up for a woman, instead of stepping aside, “for a black man” as she put it. She well knew the history of America when suffragettes had deferred finally getting the right for women to vote, which had been imminent, in order to let black men go first–and she wasn’t having it happen again. It’s a shame that it had to be a choice–both times–and that women were relegated to last in line. Why couldn’t both be advanced?
Harriet battled cancer, but, still, she never gave up, and she worked up until a couple of weeks before she passed. I was delighted to be invited and attend her 2011 Christmas party and saw her a year ago when she hosted an Obama/Romney presidential debate party at a pub. I’d sent her my poem after Van died and when I learned Harriet had cancer, we spoke on the phone. I offered to do a healing session on her, so she could relax into her body, and, although it wasn’t her way, she began warming to the idea. “Interesting. I’ll think about it.” I knew she wouldn’t take me up on it, but I could tell, when I saw her at the debate party, that it had touched her. I thought she was getting better, but her death came suddenly, and as a shock to all.
I know you’re still raising a ruckus, Harriet. I’m honored to have known you and to have been touched by your strength and good-natured feistiness. Keep on, sister!