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How Clinton and Obama boosted feminism, civil rights

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Some critics say it was less voters than the news media, obsessed with firsts, that reduced Obama to his race and Clinton to her gender. "It's an element that got inflamed in the course of the campaign because of the premium on differentiation," says Todd Gitlin, a sociologist at Columbia University and an expert on social movements. "It didn't start out that way. When this campaign started, Hillary was the favorite of black voters."

Activists say the nomination fight is a milestone, rather than the end of the road, for the women's and civil rights movements.

Regardless of who wins the White House in November, blacks will remain underrepresented in higher education and management and overrepresented in prison and poverty. A list of legislative priorities for the NAACP runs 23 pages and ranges from a minimum-wage hike and hurricane Katrina relief to voting rights for ex-offenders and more funding for historically black colleges.

Obama remains the only black senator, and blacks, who are more than 13 percent of the US population, make up less than 10 percent of House members.

Women make up 16 percent of Congress, and Gandy, the NOW president, ticked off a list of issues – beyond more female elected officials – that will remain on the women's rights agenda: equal pay, domestic violence, abortion rights, hate crime legislation, and sex education that includes discussion of birth control.

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