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The ‘ism’ that’s still acceptable

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein makes a statement on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on May 10 alongside Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Ron Sachs/CNP/Sipa USA/TNS)
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Most women cannot run with a firehose; therefore, women should not be allowed to be firefighters.
That’s one of the arguments for keeping women out of the firefighting profession. As Democrats, we reject that. Right?

We know that some women can carry a firehose, and the ones who can who can meet the demands of the job deserve an equal opportunity. It’s so simple.

“We take pride in and celebrate our diversity and work to foster the common values and commitments that unite all people, regardless of age, sexual orientation, cultural heritage, national origin, disability, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or personal views on religion.”

That’s from the California Democratic Party’s 2016 platform on “Equality of Opportunity.”

We don’t always practice what we preach, but putting it in the platform is supposed to remind us to keep striving for it. And it might provide some basis to hold people accountable.

We understand the need for protected classes. As long as there are folks who just don’t know how to act, we will need laws and standards. It’s not OK to discriminate. Right?

Yet, as a Democrat, seeing the “insider” chatter about Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s announcement to run for re-election, I believe this plank needs some shoring up. When I see party activists say, “She’s too old,” I do more than cringe — I wonder why this is acceptable.

Some point to the fact that many people over 80 are physically frail and face cognitive decline. It’s true but not absolute.

Why is it so difficult for some people to imagine that someone over 80 can still work? Interestingly, most of the ageist comments I’ve heard come from baby-boomers and millennials, not so much from my peers in Generation X. (Let me be clear: I am not impugning all millennials or baby boomers. If I were, I would be guilty of the very thing I’m trying to point out here.)

As a young person, it seems natural to look to those who came before you as responsible for our current messes. Whether it’s wars, national debt crises or just being narrow-minded about how others should live their lives, people over 30 can’t be trusted. (Jack Weinberg — you know, the civil rights activist — is widely credited for coining the phrase “don’t trust anyone over 30” in the 1960s.)

As a member of Generation X (1965-79), I never felt the idea that people over 30 couldn’t be trusted really resonated — probably because, to many of us, nobody was to be trusted. Why single out people because of their age?

It seems some millennials have simply absorbed the views and attitudes of many of their parents. We know they are less afraid of differences; could it be that creating space for people who were previously excluded means, consciously or not, kicking the “old guard” out to make room? At some point, we need to have a discussion. All of the generations, together.

Most Democrats agree the Trump administration is a giant dumpster fire. We must fight it with everything we have. Whether its threats of nuclear war, unaided disasters or newly empowered, violent hatemongers, we are constantly playing defense.

I’m looking forward to going back to arguments over how we be our best selves. In the meantime, as far as I can tell, Feinstein can still run with a firehose.

Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.

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