Oprah the Candidate, Oprah the Leader, Oprah as Oprah

When it comes to supporting people for public office, we think we know what we don’t want and maybe what we do want, and then we find ways to disqualify people one by one because they do or don’t conform to those expectations, hopes and desires. Rarely are we left with candidates we love, I mean, really love. There are exceptions, but they tend to be the exceptions. And often we are attracted to someone as a candidate, but they don’t end up being the same as a legislator or executive (i.e., mayor, governor, president).

Based on social media and other online expressions since Sunday’s Golden Globe awards, many of us – myself included – recognize a whole lot we like in Oprah Winfrey. For many people, that realization might be new, for many, maybe not so new. I didn’t watch the show until the last couple of awards, so I missed the speech when she gave it, but today I made time to read and watch the speech here. You can still see it in full at that link if you scroll down past the transcript.

No one needs me to opine about whether Oprah will run for elected office, or whether Oprah should run for elected office. It’s been interesting to read the ways in which people are interpreting what they heard her say, what they inferred from her remarks and presentation. She is powerful and she was powerful in that speech. We need to hear her and we need to have her words and image stay with us. She is standing up and standing out, as her trajectory has shown us she often does. She is a gift and an inspiration to many, for many reasons. Do we really need to argue about that to get that she has value in our world?

To me, those are the takeaways. Those are the things I’m grateful for. Personally, I don’t think she has to be president to have any more of an impact than she already has, and I don’t have a second’s hesitation in imagining that she will in fact continue to have an (appropriately) out-sized impact on society. But I also am not averse to thinking about Oprah as a political candidate, if that’s what she decides to set her sights on. I feel like that is her whole point: to encourage us to think about the ways, the opportunities, the crevices, the paths we must create to bend the arc toward justice and a world where no one ever has occasion to say #metoo again.

It’s hard for me to believe that people don’t know this, but at the risk of repeating myself and writing something you’ve been reading a lot, women need to be asked to run for office, and even then, they need to be asked several times before they’ll run. Women do not just wake up and think, I’m smart enough, I’m good enough and I can run for office and win. This is changing, thank goodness this is changing. But it’s been decades since the White House Project and EMILY’s List began and we’re barely cracking 20-25% of elected seats in nearly any local, state or federal political body being occupied by women, who still make up more than half of the adult population in this country. (Visit the Center for American Women in Politics and the National Conference of State Legislatures for starters to fact-check me.) Numbers for women of color are even less representative, but organizations like the Higher Heights, the Latino Victory Project and the Collective PAC are providing real avenues to success.

Oprah’s Golden Globes address should be looped into a mastermix of powerful and empowering speeches. I had an iTunes playlist of about 30 songs for when I ran for office that I played incessantly – when I was stuffing and stamping envelopes, running around delivering yard signs and thousands of other minutes I was on the trail. Every single one by a woman, and every single one that gave me strength in some way. Oprah gave strength Sunday night. Oprah has strength. What she chooses to do with it, God bless her. What we get to benefit from her choices, icing on the cake and gratitude. But it’s no excuse for anyone else to not step up and do the same on whatever scale they can so we can eliminate the behavior we’re protesting in the first place. That’s what I inferred from what Oprah said and it’s a damn good message, whether that’s what she wanted me to infer or not.


2 thoughts on “Oprah the Candidate, Oprah the Leader, Oprah as Oprah

  1. Great post Jill! I wish people would stop trying to get Oprah to run and just appreciate Oprah for Oprah. Be the change you want to see and stop looking for others to rescue us from this mess!! I’m glad to see you writing more often too! šŸ™‚

    • Thanks, Darlene! I wouldn’t say I’ve been a huge Oprah fan but I’ve always respected what she’s done and how she’s done it. How can you not? She is unique in so many enviable ways. I suppose the urge to discuss her as a presidential candidate has a lot to do with how much people want to be rescued and I don’t blame people for that – I mean, we’re in trouble, right!? So yeah, we want to be rescued. But what you wrote – stop looking for others to rescue us and be the rescuer yourself, ourselves. This is so important on so many levels. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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