For a long while, my attitude towards the Democratic presidential primary was pretty simple, namely, let’s get it over with so we can all focus on beating the Republican.

As time went along, however, I began to feel a strange combination of thrill and dismay: thrill that the front runners were a woman, an African American, a Mexican American and the son of a Southern factory worker, and at the same time dismay about having to choose between them.

Then when it became clear that the choice would be between Clinton and Obama, it really got hard.

I became a feminist in the 1970s, and would still use that word to describe myself. I am frustrated by the pervasive sexism that is the “800-pound gorilla in the room” — even when the room is full of progressive people. It’s what makes me suspicious when “progressive” men get too intense about their dislike of Clinton.

On a deep, personal level, it hurts to hear my 10-year-old daughter wonder why there are no women’s faces on American money. I agree that after 43 male presidents, it’s way past time for a woman head of state. And I have been enraged and sickened at the often gross sexism that is behind much of the criticism of Clinton’s campaign.

I don’t say this to establish my feminist credentials – just to express how deeply I understand the conflict for many women. I believe that there are still lots of women who once in the voting booth say to themselves “How can I not pull the lever for a woman?”

But a few weeks ago, I heard Obama make his case to a packed theater in Manchester, N.H. And I left there convinced that he was the best choice, for me, for my children, for women, for the country.

And it wasn’t how he spoke — I was also inspired to by John Edwards’s straight, anti-corporate talk, and I like Hillary’s sharp intelligence and heart.

This is not a matter of style or personality – it’s about what Obama is saying, not just his positions on this or that issue, but how he understands social and political change, that people make history, and that we can unite big majorities around the things that really matter.

In that speech he defined hope as an attitude towards life, as the motivation for the millions of Americans who have, over the course of our country’s history, “stormed heaven,” starting from the battle for independence, to the struggle to abolish slavery, the upsurge for workers rights in the 1930s, the fight to win the vote for women, the defeat of fascism in WWII and the Civil Rights movement.

I was amazed, impressed, and completely won over. His message adds up to a whole lot more than the sum of its parts.

Because when I ask myself, what do women need, what comes to mind is a package deal:

We need to defend women’s rights from the attack by the reactionary judiciary and anti-choice movement. We need a president who stands by Roe v Wade and who will expand the definition of reproductive rights and equality for women.

We need a renewed commitment to affirmative action; a renewed commitment to fighting poverty, a commitment to immigrant rights and civil rights and liberties for all.

We need health care. We need strong, well-financed public education. For our children, and for ourselves, since many of us go back to school after raising families, or go part time while holding down jobs.

As half the workforce, and more than half of the low-wage work force, we need a president who will sign legislation that protects workers’ rights and raises our standard of living. We need the Employee Free Choice Act.

We need to end the war in Iraq, and repair our relations with the world.

For our children, we need a sharp turn – a really sharp turn — towards policies that protect the environment.

We need an end to fear mongering, hate mongering, arrogance and might-makes-right.

I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton stands for most if not all of these things, and that she has been and can be moved in a better direction. But that’s not enough. Yes, she has made history by being the first woman to go this far, but the history that Obama’s campaign is making is more inclusive and far-reaching.

The change that women need and want – to turn our country away from the policies and world view of the extreme right wing — will take much more than politics as usual. We learned that in 2000 and 2004.

It will take a movement. It will take masses of people getting involved in politics. It will take something we haven’t had – broad unity.

Barack Obama’s candidacy has activated the American people’s democratic feelings and action to a degree that has millions overjoyed and, yes, full of hope. Though many of the pundits are confused, his appeal to our better angels is working. A victory in November that is propelled by that force can transform our country’s political landscape.

Antonia Burrows is a member of NOW and a community activist in the Bronx, N.Y.

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