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18 Million Cracks, Now What?

What the Clinton campaign must do to have lasting significance.

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Without a doubt, Hillary Clinton has been a trailblazer. She steeled herself for a tough primary battle, became a terrific campaigner by the end of the season and ended up, in her own words, making 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, with the help of her fiercely loyal and energized base of supporters. Those who voted for her and those who simply admired her from afar can swell with pride at her accomplishment.

But if Hillary Clinton's campaign is to have a lasting effect, her supporters and admirers must rechannel their energy to make those 18 million cracks amount to real change in women's lives. If the campaign remains focused on her as an individual rather than the broader goals that her achievement can help bolster, then it will have fallen far short of its much-touted significance.

It is inspiring to rally around a "symbol" of women's aspirations, but it is self-defeating to harp on lists of women's hurts at the hands of the media, the political establishment or the sexist views of ignorant eavesdroppers. Reciting the refrain of press bias exclusively along gender lines, for instance, obscures the fact that the press is not Obama's friend either, as Frank Rich observes in The New York Times.

The advancement of an exceptional symbol of women's accomplishment is a powerful motivator. However, it does little concrete good for ordinary women, unless more attention is paid to organizing fervent supporters into a mobilized constituency that can hold the next president, the next Congress and the media accountable to a pro-women and pro-America agenda. Being agents of change will require rolling up our sleeves and holding all politicians more accountable, including those who wear pantsuits and pearls.

Why not come together around concrete proposals to better the lives of poor and working-class women, rather than merely championing the stepping stones to which many college-educated professional women now feel entitled? From the proliferation of HIV among black women to the double bind of work and family faced by all women, it is time for a women's agenda that enlists support from all classes, all races and from men as well as women.

For example, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has written about the importance of entrepreneurship in a woman's agenda. Many women, she says, are small business owners: running beauty parlors, nail salons and day-care services. Why not focus on ways to change the tax code to make it easier for these small business owners to maintain a home office? Why not allow more women (and men) with small children to work at home, logging into computers when the kids are taking a nap or in school? If more women (and men) could work from their homes in the United States, it would solve several problems at once, from shipping jobs overseas to getting snagged in pollution-clogged traffic jams or sending a sick child to school because there is no adult to care for them.

Could Barack do more? Certainly. He should acknowledge gratitude to the contributions that feminism has made to this country, from pay equity to basic respect for women. In addition, he and others must continue to take seriously the legitimate frustrations of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. These early pioneers fought every step of the way to gain access to good jobs, decent wages and a chance to participate as equals in private and public life. They withstood hateful slurs, dead-end mommy tracks and arbitrary rules against marriage or pregnancy, as they broke through one barrier after another to work as firefighters, police officers, partners in law firms and elected officials. They deserve the right to fight back against any perceived loss of ground.

But Sen. Clinton's supporters might take a page out of Obama's 1995 organizing manifesto, if they seriously intend to put their legions to meaningful work.

In 1995, as he launched his first campaign for public office in Chicago, Barack Obama wondered aloud, "What if a politician were to see his (or her) job as that of an organizer: as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?" Then, answering his own question, Obama concluded, "We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions."

One of the biggest accomplishments of the Obama campaign has been to build a new generation of leaders. It has spent its time not merely wooing young enthusiastic supporters; it has been grooming them to assume the mantle of leadership within their local communities. Obama's model of organizing goes beyond raising money or turning in great debate performances. It involves building a new capacity for Democratic governance, not just acting as litmus paper for a set of progressive proposals. Progressive reform without the people, after all, is not progressive at all.