John Nichols: Shirley Chisholm’s revolutionary vision for a new politics is winning
It was never easy for Chisholm or her backers. The congresswoman from New York asked her party and her country to throw off the racist and sexist politics of the past and imagine a new America.
“I’m a revolutionary at heart now and I’ve got to run,” she said, “even though it might be the downfall of my career.”
Chisholm proposed an intersectional politics that would forge multi-racial urban and rural coalitions.
“I am not the candidate of Black America, although I am Black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women’s movement of this country, although I am equally proud of that,” she said. “I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people.”
Against a crowd of white male contenders — some of whom shared her progressive politics, most of whom did not — Chisholm ran as the “Unbought and Unbossed” candidate. A militant foe of the war in Vietnam and a champion of the economic and social justice movements that had organized so effectively during the 1960s, she never minced words. As a co-convener of the National Women’s Political Caucus, she declared, “Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes.”
That kind of talk — along with her refusal to reject the endorsement of the Black Panthers — scared party leaders, media commentators and liberal allies who fretted that Chisholm would siphon votes off from better-known anti-war candidates, such South Dakota Sen. George McGovern and New York Mayor John Lindsay. They were not ready for a candidate who promised to “reshape our society,” and they afforded her few opportunities to prove herself.