I am a 23-year-old Hillary Clinton supporter, and for the past few months, I have camouflaged myself among my peers, who all seem to be Bernie Sanders enthusiasts. It was pretty easy. I look like them: a white, college-educated liberal. My friends are activists. I work at an alt-weekly newspaper in a hip art district. And once (most shamefully) I tagged along to a Sanders’ fundraising event.
Everyone who hangs out in my corner of the internet comments about the election. I don’t. Politics are personal, and I am entitled to my own educated beliefs. (I found myself reciting this so often it became an unintended mantra this election cycle.) The constant posts about Sanders felt like peer pressure to "Feel the Bern." I would tell myself to hold out a little longer in my invisible shroud of Clinton support. Everyone in my social network seems reasonable, and once Clinton secured the nomination, they’d be rooting for her too, I figured. “Anything but Trump!” I pictured us singing in unison. In the meantime, though, I felt phony.
But last night was Florida's primary election, and I jumped at the chance to cover Hillary Clinton’s rally at the Palm Beach Convention Center. I told everyone it was for work, trying to deny the fact that a few hours earlier, I had darkened the bubble beside Clinton’s name. And so had my sister, a 22-year-old high school teacher and Clinton fan who was accompanying me to the rally. I didn’t get a media pass because I didn’t need one; I wanted to see the woman who I believe will go on to become the country’s first female president. (That’s huge!)
At the event, my sister and I were waiting to skirt through the metal detectors when a young man in a gray suit approached us. He eyed us carefully and asked if we’d like to volunteer at Clinton’s campaign tonight. We hesitated for a moment, explaining that we would but that we really wanted to see Hillary tonight. “Trust me, you’ll see her,” he assured us. And just like that, we were whisked out of the line and told we’d be standing behind Hillary Clinton onstage as she delivered her speech.
We were grouped with a pair of middle-aged Jewish women, a Hispanic couple, and a young black couple. My sister and I were clearly chosen to represent a demographic too: the millennial Bernie Sanders supporter lookalikes. It didn’t matter that we were all stereotyped. Everyone in our section was thrilled. We all promised not to throw anything at the former Secretary of State or leave to use the restroom. Then we were ushered onto the stage, and I realized what this meant: In just a few moments, I’d be outed on national television as a Hillary Clinton hype girl.
My support for Hillary Clinton goes way back. When I was in elementary school, she was First Lady of the United States. I was in fourth grade when she became the first First Lady elected to the United States Senate. I was a sophomore in high school when she announced that she wanted to run for president. Back in 2008, I couldn’t vote, but I wasn’t afraid to tell my friends that I wanted her to win the nomination. (We were less judgmental back then.) She didn’t win, but she went on to become Secretary of State. I disagreed with some of her policies, but I was a young woman in college and looked up to her still.
At the time, I was just beginning to understand systemic sexism, the pay gap, and glass ceilings. It didn’t help that I was forced to digest hypersexualized vitriol on a daily basis. Hillary Clinton became one of my feminist icons. I often thought of those icons — Clinton, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Barbara Walters — each time someone assumed I was in marketing or public relations, each time a subject made an inappropriate comment in the middle of an interview, each time I was told that I could report from certain neighborhoods only if I brought a man with me.
Sexism is something that happens to women every day. And to think that my mother, who fled Iran before the revolution to go to college in the United States, had it worse than me and that my grandmother, who lived in Iran walking under a hijab and a few steps behind my grandfather, even more so. I always thought Sanders' supporters were idealistic. But I am the idealistic one. I still believe that a woman president (who's pro-choice and a feminist) will make the world better for the next generation.
I was so shocked to see the backlash against Clinton from Sanders’ supporters. They all have their reasons — her ties to Wall Street, Benghazi, emails, the Iraq War, the Keystone Pipeline. I’ve done my homework. And I wish Hillary Clinton were more liberal and that I were more excited about her policies. But I honestly believe that as a moderate, she’ll get more done in Congress. Besides, politics is a boy’s club, and I’m not going to hold it against Clinton that she's played the game with everything she has. Everyone talks about how Bernie is launching a revolution, but I can’t shake the feeling that he can do that only because he’s a white man and that’s his privilege. Radical women wouldn't make it far in a run for president. Our country has progressed in a lot of ways, but we’re not there yet.
At 7:30 p.m. yesterday, the auditorium was pulsing with Clinton support. There were easily more than a thousand people here — so many that they all didn’t fit in the room — so hundreds were funneled out the door, peeking in on tiptoes.
Beside us on the stage, one middle-aged woman stuck a flag in her ponytail so she could also wave another flag in one hand and a “Fighting for Us” sign in the other. Another petite woman stood clutching a copy of Clinton’s biography. A woman who spoke in a Southern drawl explained that she drove all the way from Alabama to be here tonight. A woman in an expensive orange dress and kitten heels explained that she was from Palm Beach but had to come alone because all her friends are Republicans. A young man clutched a Hillary Clinton bobblehead above his head.
We were all strangers, but for an hour, we jumped into one another’s photos, smiling. We cheered together as each state was called: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio. We’d chant different slogans every few minutes. “I’m with her!” and “Hill-a-ry!”
Then it got silent. Security guards with earpieces marched out. Another woman dropped off a folder on the podium. Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” came on, and then Hillary Clinton strolled out on her cue, waving and smiling to her fans like a queen. We couldn’t hear a word she said. The cheering and screaming was too loud. She’d pause at important buzzwords— "education," "immigration," "equal pay." We went wild.
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In less than five minutes, her speech was over. The spotlights from the various TV cameras had dimmed. But Clinton wasn’t done. She spent the next half hour shaking hands and thanking her supporters. One by one, she'd take a phone, turn the camera to selfie mode, and smile for a photo. Repeat. She must have done that at least a hundred times before she arrived at our section.
Up close, Clinton looks smaller than on television but more photogenic than in her press photos. She tilts her head back when she laughs. Her voice was raspy from shouting.
“I love you, Hillary!” my sister squealed, waving her gaudy iPhone 6 at her. We didn’t expect Clinton to look at us. But she did — and smiled! She turned to one of her assistants and pointed at my sister. Hillary Clinton grabbed my sister’s phone and handed it off to the assistant. Then Clinton twirled around and posed for a quick photo with us. It all happened so quickly. When it was over, my sister spent the next ten minutes texting the photo to everyone who was in the crowd with us.
“I’m going to put it as my profile picture, and I’m never going to change it!” my sister announced. “Well, maybe if I ever get married.”
A few minutes later, Clinton strutted out of the room. It instantly deflated with her absence. Flags and signs were scattered on the floor. And suddenly our feet hurt, our arms were sore, and we realized we all smelled. It was over, and we had a long drive back to Miami.
On our way out, I spotted a father carrying his 6-year-old daughter. The little girl was dressed in a pink, sparkly dress, and she was cradling a pink unicorn toy. I could see the dark circles under her father’s eyes. It was a long night, but it was worth it. She’ll grow up in a world where little girls really can become president too.