By Michealene Cristini Risley
I first had contact with Hillary Clinton in the early 1990’s. A group of women affiliated with the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee and The Hollywood Policy Center placed a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times supporting Hillary. It was when she was getting beat up about pushing for Health Care Reform. She was getting clobbered in the press and in Washington. So here was a leader that recognized health care issues — -an issue that had not even made it to national consciousness yet. How the press and Congress treated her and how she was repeatedly misconstrued and demonized, it was the beginning of my awakening to a conscious and unconscious misogyny.
Truthfully, Hillary has always been at the forefront of issues that I am passionate about. Whether it be for health care or declaring women’s rights as human rights http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/hillaryclintonbeijingspeech.htm, she has always lent her voice to the voiceless, the underdog, the ignored.
As I observed Ms. Clinton over the years, she continually risked her career by speaking out on issues that were deemed “unimportant” to our leaders, despite the fact that those issues are tied to more than half of the world! Her career has been dedicated to consistently fighting issues for women, children and families.
In late 2007, I returned from filming a documentary in Zimbabwe, called “Tapestries of Hope”, the subject was horrific. In Africa and many parts of the world, men are counseled to rape a virgin to rid themselves of AIDS. Unfortunately these acts spread the virus and impregnate young girls. Often these young women pass the disease to a third generation, infants who do not survive.
In the documentary, I profiled Betty Makoni, a born and raised Zimbabwean who worked to rescue these kids and get them back in school. She eventually became a top ten CNN hero from her work. Unfortunately, I was thrown in prison in Zimbabwe for exposing the issues. My husband Eric, human rights lawyers and a man I met on Facebook who called a friend in the CIA, got me out of the country. I am lucky to be alive.
The following week after my arrival back in the United States, I went with WIPP (Women Impacting Public Policy) to Washington D.C. There I walked the corridors of Capital Hill and told my story. I would walk into an office and tell the story of one-day olds being gang raped. As I told this story on Capital Hill, the reaction stunned me. There was an acknowledgement of the stories behind the victims I was sharing, but the response was terse, almost obligatory. Many of the offices eventually got around to the very same question. “Did you see China’s influence there? If so, what were they doing?”
At first I was puzzled by the question, then I braced myself as one leader after another asked the same question. What was this focus on China, I thought. Senator Brownback responded with fury and wanted to help. He was one of two people that showed a passion and commitment to fighting this horrible violence against women and children.
The other person that responded with passion and commitment on the atrocities in Zimbabwe was Secretary Clinton. I met her while standing in a receiving line at a fundraising event in California. Perhaps it was a test -but I wanted to know if this woman walked the walk, and practiced what she preached. So, I stopped her as she was walked past me.
I explained what was happening in Zimbabwe. She listened intently never making me feel as if she was pressed for time or needed to go. She responded, horrified. When I finished Clinton called out to her long time aide, Huma Abedin. As Huma came over, Hillary said, “Huma take her information. I want to follow up.” True to Hillary Clinton’s word, she followed up. At other times, when her team was working on issues related to Zimbabwe they would reach out to me as well. She cared, followed through and truly wanted to solve the issue. Yes, she was my kind of leader.
When my last documentary was complete, we organized more than 50 groups to work together to push Congress to sign the International Violence Against Women act. As it related to these issues in Zimbabwe, it would allow funding and education to help women who had been victimized and educate the populace to end these practices. Our teams worked feverishly to get Congress to affirm and fund IVAWA. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the legislation near the end of 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UET-7KcP0Ys Ultimately, we still had to pass IVAWA in the House of Representatives and bring the bill to the floor of both the House and Senate for a full floor vote. The current leaders term ran out, and the legislation did not pass.
At that same time, Hillary Clinton was then Secretary of State https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Rodham_Clinton%27s_tenure_as_Secretary_of_State. She fought for, and successfully included for the first time EVER, a breakdown of programs that specifically concerned themselves with the well-being of women and girls around the world.
She did not do this for political reasons; she is an experienced, wise leader. She did this because this is at the core of who Hillary Clinton is.
I support Hillary for the highest office in America because I am acutely aware of how critical this election is for our country. She has the passion, the commitment and the endurance to challenge the status quo. For me, Hillary has been the single biggest change agent that has made it to the national stage.
I am terribly worried about our country. In the United States in 2016, we have had a continued systemic erosion of women’s rights, forced marriage and genital mutilation. America’s political system in broken, flooded with dirty money and our leaders are unable to solve any of our critical problems.
We need a leader that can change this world and bring people together. Someone who will roll up their sleeves and get it done. I want a world where I can find work until I choose to retire, a place where my kids can grow up with multiple opportunities, and a future with a country that solves it’s problems. Yes, in my personal experiences with Hillary she has proven to me that she walks the walk, and I am committed to walking with her.