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Unintended Consequences

By Kim Knox

I don't measure America by its achievement but by its potential.
— Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005)

It was the day of the Maryland presidential primaries in 1972. I was a young child, but I remembered that my mother had put a big sign for McGovern in our front yard.

The rural county where we lived that year was primarily African American. My mother had the radio on and I can still remember the county’s election results coming in, with George McGovern winning much of the vote and Shirley Chisholm receiving only two votes.

Late that night, my father came home. I remembered that he looked very tired and intent on eating his dinner. Finally, my mother couldn’t contain her curiosity. “Did you vote?” she asked. “Yes,” he said tiredly. “Who do you voted for?”

I can still remember him not bothering to look up from his stew as he said, “Chisholm.”

It was a revelation that changed his young daughter’s life.

My mother worked hard for Senator McGovern — dragging us to street corners, even to the town square, to hand out literature. After all, the senator from South Dakota was the frontrunner (and indeed, he won the Democratic presidential nomination — only to lose spectacularly to Nixon in November).

So that my father was the only one of two people to vote for Shirley Chisholm in our county was a surprise to me. My father was a former Navy officer and they tend to be very traditional. And even though I was very young, I knew that Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to Congress, didn’t have a chance to be president of the United States. But I was truly excited that she was running.

My dad’s vote for Congresswoman Chisholm meant the world to me. Because his vote meant that he believed that a woman could do anything — including run for the highest office in the country. And even though his vote didn’t win Chisholm the county’s nomination, it did help to open a whole new world to his daughter.

Shirley Chisholm didn’t run to influence the daughter of a former naval officer to work in grassroots politics 30 years later. She ran to win the presidency of the United States. But she influenced me — and many other people (including her former legislative aide, Supervisor Bevan Dufty) throughout her career.

I was thinking about that when Eric Mar and Mark Sanchez were sworn to their second term to the Board of Education. Mark was the co-founder for Teachers 4 Change and Teachers 4 Social Justice — and many outstanding education activists such as Karen Zappata, Jeremiah Jeffries, Susie Siegel, and Kay Hones come from those two organizations. Other rising political stars who helped Eric and Mark are Sandy Chin Mar, Gordon Mar, Bradley Reeves, Ian Kim, KimShree Maufas, Tami Bryant, Peter Lauterborn, and Brock Estes.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s campaign helped people who worked on Matt Gonzalez’s runoff campaign for mayor to get even more experience in politics, as well as inspiring people who had never gotten excited about politics till Ross threw his hat into the ring, including Donna Linden, Nicole Walter, Simon Timony, Tranh Pham, and Hallie Montoya Tansey. Other activists who worked on Ross’s campaigns are mentors in their own right and helping to create a new grassroots movement here in San Francisco — Richard Marquez, Nicole Derse, Christine Olague, Cheryl Brody, Bruce Wolfe, Wendy Chien, Irene Dick-Endrizzi, Regina Dick-Endrizzi, Boris Delepine, and so many others.

The reason someone runs for political office is to win the political office. But sometimes, in going after their dream, they awakened the dreams in others along the way.