Friday, November 11, 2016

My Journey with Hillary Clinton

In the June 2016 Democratic primaries, my three-year-old niece accompanied her mother to the polls to vote for Hillary Clinton. Her mom explained to her the importance of choosing a president who is dedicated to helping others, and she excitedly proclaimed that her dad—my brother—should run for President: “Daddy is a good helper; he would do a good job helping!”

Natalia is adorable, and the polling place erupted in appreciative laughter, but when her mother relayed the story to me, I felt only a soft and quiet sadness. I love my brother dearly, but it pains me to think that the idea that her mother might be an equally capable choice for President is not even a part of my niece’s world view. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s even a part of mine.

I remember voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries and feeling excited about politics for the first time in my life. Previously, I had I thought I just wasn’t interested—but really, I had just never before felt inspired. It’s hard to wake up every morning full of enthusiasm to be governed by one man after another. Those walls full of white male portraits in businesses, social clubs, universities, and governments across the country—they do get old after a while.

And, then she lost to Barack Obama, and I remember the sinking, almost inevitable, feeling in my heart. She gave such moving, gracious concession speech. We women are very good at coming in second. And I thought at the time, If not now, then when? If not her, then who? The next female presidential contender seemed a lifetime away.

Eventually, I grew to love, honor, and admire Barack Obama, and I felt proud to travel abroad through my twenties, knowing that his was the face my nation showed to the world. And it made me happy to know that he included Hillary in his cabinet, that he was noble enough to find value and eventually friendship in his opponent— and to trust a woman to be his equal.

But I was beyond excited when I heard that she planned to run again. In 2012, she had told the NY Times that her political days were over—that she wanted to “sleep and exercise and travel for fun…I would like to see whether I can get untired.”But she decided to pass all that up to be tired once more.

Hillary Clinton is five years older than my mother. She was born into a world that did not offer women a chance to be anything at all, and she fought, studied, and persevered her way into the very top echelons of our nation’s government. She endured heartbreak and slander and failure so many times that it makes me weary just to think about it. I am breathless, awed, and astonished that she had the audacity to chase such immense dreams when, so often, the world had told her that she could not succeed. My own dreams are not so big; I do not dare to think that I could ever be President of the United States. But her belief in herself—with all of history against her—means the world to me.

It is hard to articulate the sense of incalculable loss that I feel in this post-Election Day daze. I remember voting for Hillary Clinton with trembling fingers on Tuesday morning like it was a lifetime ago. I now find myself alone in a small town in rural Pennsylvania where 75% of the population voted for the now-President Elect, Donald Trump. I think about this when a truck driver wolf-whistles at me from across the street on my morning run. That makes my skin crawl. But I think about it, too, when the lady janitor comes in to lab to take out the trash and pauses to offer me a tissue—I just can’t stop crying these days.

I know that there are many complicated factors that came together to dictate history last Tuesday. Neither the truck driver nor the lady janitor understand the terrible error they made in trying to select the candidate who knows what it feels like to have no power in this world, the candidate whose life is dedicated to tireless efforts to change such a feeling.

But the outcome still hurts, and it feels very personal. I put so much of my heart into this campaign—I knocked on doors, donated money, carved pumpkins, baked cookies, and donned pantsuits with love and excitement and anticipation. I dared to care so fiercely as to make myself vulnerable, and I was fervently, categorically rejected. It feels raw and empty and painful, like my heart was ripped out, and ground into eighteen million shards of shattered glass. In short, it feels like I’ve been dumped—by half of America.

We put forth our very best—the most dedicated, qualified, capable person ever to seek the office of President of the United States. And it was not enough. She came in second. And, ever gracious, it is she—the loser—who now must mollify me. In her concession speech on Wednesday morning, Hillary Clinton said, "to all the little girls watching right now, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world." That line really gets meas my labmate echoed yesterdaybecause my mother has been telling me so my entire life, but in the end, we elect a rich old white guy anyway.

I do not feel valuable and powerful and deserving today, Hillary Clinton. But your faith in me is energizing, and I am determined to help create the world in which I do.