Why I'm A Democrat
My first political memory is from November 1988. I was a preschooler, and on our small television in suburban Detroit, MI, my parents and I watched George HW Bush be declared the President Elect of the United States. My parents were devastated. I was curious. Why was this a bad thing? Who is he? Who was Dukakis? Why did we prefer Dukakis over Bush? This was the beginning of my interest in politics, in the process, and how it impacts our lives. They tried to explain it to me the best way you can explain the complex world of American politics to a small child whose biggest life crisis tends to be an aversion to the seams inside of socks.
A few years later, we'd relocated to the Pennsylvania countryside. Mostly I was overcoming the culture shock of attending school with Amish children, the nearest Toys'R'Us being an hour away, and the fact that no longer living near the Canadian border meant no one had ever seen the CTV children's shows I loved. It was 1992, and in this tiny conservative town, most people attended born again Christian church on Sundays and voted Republican. As the only child of liberal artists with no strong religious affiliation, there was a lot of strategy involved on my part to fit in. That strategy could be best described as pretending to be someone that I was not.
One of my classmates was the son of family friends, people they'd met through a small but thriving artistic community in the area. A young and ardent supporter of Bill Clinton, I kept it to myself, not wanting to rock the boat as a relatively new kid in town. One day that autumn, at lunch, people were asking the son of the family friends to go ahead of him on the line. "Who are you supporting in the election?" he asked. They all replied Bush, and he denied their request. I decided to give it a try. When he asked me who I was supporting, I admitted it was Clinton. "Go ahead!" I realized in that moment two things. One, that it seemed more acceptable for boys to have a voice in society. Two, that I should be proud of being a Democrat, and of my belief system in general, and use my own voice. I wanted to stop compromising who I was just to fit in.
I stayed up election night in 1992 to watch Bill Clinton become the President Elect of the United States. It was a far cry from the 1988 experience. My parents were excited, and so was I (and I understood why a bit more), but not just about our soon-to-be President. I related to Chelsea, another only child with unruly curls just a few years my senior. There was also something so captivating about the woman who would become our First Lady. She seemed different than the others, strong and secure and a woman who used her voice. She radiated intelligence at a time when many women tried to hide how smart and competent they actually were, usually to appease men and make them more comfortable. Hillary Clinton was special, and different, and challenged the status quo. As a young girl who wanted to figure out how to have a voice in society like the boys did, I admired her immediately. It suddenly wasn't about having a voice like the boys, but about using my own unique voice like Hillary Clinton.
As the 1990s went on, my mother and all of her friends embraced "It Takes A Village." Out of curiosity, I picked it up and read it, too. In 1996, I was the first to volunteer to help my middle school civics teacher stage a mock election in our cafeteria. Not surprisingly, Bob Dole won my school's vote, but thankfully Bill Clinton won the nation's vote once more. I lamented to my mother as we watched the 1996 election night returns, recounting my experience facilitating the mock election, "I wish I could vote for President Clinton for real." As the First Family took the stage, she winked at me and said, "Oh, you will." I stared at Hillary Clinton, my mind blown at the idea that a woman could be President. My parents seemed so confident that, someday, Hillary Clinton would run for that office. Truthfully, I didn't believe it.
By the end of the Clinton Administration, I was in high school and pursuing a career in acting and modeling in New York City. I got involved with the Manhattan Young Democrats as a way to be active, and assuage the frustration I felt at being old enough to comprehend what was at stake, but not old enough to vote. Remembering the devastation my parents felt in the 1988 election, and watching George W. Bush campaign with less than impressive oratory about antiquated policies, I was excited for national prosperity to continue under Al Gore's leadership. When the news organizations declared Gore the President Elect on election night, my mother breathed a sigh of relief and went to bed. I stayed up to finish a paper and watch the news a bit more. We all know what happened next. Late that evening the election returned to being "Too Close to Call," and because of hanging chads and a lot of confusion, a few weeks later the Supreme Court chose George W. Bush as our next President, despite his loss of the popular vote. I asked my high school AP Civics teacher if I could write a paper about what transpired, not for extra credit, but because I needed to organize my thoughts and anger in some meaningful way.
The next eight years were filled with national tragedy and economic collapse. I walked to school on the streets of New York, a city wallpapered with the faces, names, and stories of people missing since September 11th, 2001. I protested, I wrote letters, I went to the St. Agnes New York Public Library on 83rd and Amsterdam every day for awhile to re-read the Constitution. I read Al Franken's books, I read Bill Maher's books, I got excited about Howard Dean, I got on board with John Kerry and proudly cast my first Presidential vote for him. I was in utter shock when George W. Bush won reelection in 2004. How could that be? What was wrong with everyone? I had my phase of youthful disenfranchisement, feeling betrayed by a country whose process I had always loved, and feeling as though I might never get excited about the process again.
In that time, however, Hillary Clinton had become my state's senator. I was so proud of her, and of New York, and that kept me involved. I knew that complaining on the fringes would not accomplish anything, and I realized that the down ticket is vital, too. Her work as senator directly impacted my life and made it better. She was an incredible representative for the people of our state, and I loved seeing a qualified woman carve out her own space. She wasn't just the First Lady, her identity wasn't solely defined by whose wife she was. She was her own person, with her own career, pursuing her own dreams. Every single time she has faced adversity, she has fought it, and has risen above. I suspect she feels the things people say about her quite deeply sometimes, but she uses it to drive her forward and overcome obstacles, instead of letting it overcome her.
By the time 2008 rolled around, I was a young adult living in Los Angeles. I was excited about two things that year, the new X-Files movie and Hillary Clinton. I loved Obama, but aside from loyalty as a New Yorker, Senator Clinton was more experienced, her policies were more detailed, her vision for this country stronger. She understood the nuances of our nation and the complexities of policy. There was an error in switching my voter registration over to California and I was not able to participate in the primary process that year. I was equal parts thrilled she won the California primary and devastated to not be a part of that win, to check her name on the ballot under the category of President. I grew up admiring her ability to use her voice and I felt that I had failed her in not using my own.
In many ways, it was almost more devastating to watch the type of leader she would be as she diligently worked to unite Democrats behind her former opponent. I watched her concede with class and grace to Obama the evening of June 07th, 2008, knowing she did not have the delegates despite winning the popular vote. I watched her stop roll call during the Democratic National Convention that year, and call for the immediate nomination of Barack Obama. She campaigned for Obama, she rallied her supporters to him, and it worked. He won. It was a bittersweet moment for me in November 2008. I was ecstatic that history had been made, I was moved by Obama's hope and optimism, but I kept thinking about the glass ceiling that was still un-shattered.
I cannot imagine working for a hard fought opponent to whom I lost, but I am not Hillary Clinton. She not only worked for and with Obama for four years as Secretary of State, but they developed a genuine love and trust that shines through to this day. For me, it was a lesson in humility and strength. Instead of being President, she spent four years traveling the globe repairing international relations. She spent four years furthering her work making the world a safer place for women and girls. She spent four years using her voice to improve our lives.
In November 2013, a friend invited me to the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (MALI) Awards at the University of Southern California. Hillary Clinton was being honored, and would speak at the breakfast event. When she took the stage and began to speak, my friend and I exchanged a glance. Her work was not over. She was not done. She gave no indication that day that there was any campaigning on the horizon, but it was simply in the air, it was in her presence. We just knew. A few months later in early 2014, during the Clinton Foundation's CGI University, her coy smiles and responses to questions about 2016 convinced us we were right. It was going to happen.
The moment she officially announced her campaign for President in April 2015, I had relocated back to New York City and was committed to throwing myself into her early campaign efforts. I signed up to volunteer every single day, determined to be involved. I attended any fundraising event I could find, and camped out for her campaign launch on Roosevelt Island in June 2015. I spent last summer schlepping canvas bags of clipboards around the city, first participating in street canvasses and later captaining them. I experienced a lot of extremes in that time. People were either hugging me and thanking me for participating in the early campaign efforts, or they were hurling ugly words at me and at her. My mantra became, "What would Hillary do?" The answer was, Hillary would listen to their concerns, and respond with grace and dignity. I marched with a small group of staffers, along with Chelsea Clinton, representing Hillary for America at New York City's Pride Parade that year. By the end of the summer I was asked to join a very small group of volunteers at HFA headquarters in Brooklyn, on the recommendation of a staff member. It was an extreme honor, and I continue to volunteer at HQ to this day.
When I returned to New York in the autumn of 2014, the first thing I did was get my voter registration sorted, so that it was ready if the opportunity arose to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton. Voting for her in April 2016 was extremely emotional, as it was the first time I was voting in the category of President for someone of my gender. I thought back to 1996, when I didn't believe she'd ever run, let alone twice, and never thought I'd have the privilege and honor to vote for her. I thought about all the women in my family, and in this country, who were born before women even had the right to vote. I thought of Hillary's mother Dorothy, who was born on the day the 19th Amendment was ratified, and how fitting it was that she raised who would become our country's first female Presidential nominee of a major party. I thought of my handful of friends who were pregnant at that time with daughters, and how the work of Hillary Clinton has paved the way for their lives as women to be very different from our own.
On June 07th, 2016, exactly eight years to the day that she conceded to Obama, I stood under a literal glass ceiling in a greenhouse in Brooklyn as Hillary Clinton took the stage as the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee. Later that month, I marched with hundreds of other staffers and volunteers representing Hillary for America at New York City's Pride Parade. It's funny what a difference a year makes, and how tremendously this campaign has grown.
The Sunday before the Democratic National Convention began in Philadelphia, I traveled from New York to visit some friends and attend PoliticalFest, an event celebrating American politics in conjunction with the DNC. On Monday I attended a luncheon hosted for New York women by Eleanor's Legacy, honoring the historic nomination that would occur later that week. On Tuesday I woke up looking forward to seeing a panel a friend was hosting at PoliticalFest, and checking out a DNCC hosted Millennial Watch Party that evening. When my friend and I arrived at the party, we grabbed some popcorn and settled into seats in a theatre at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to watch the live feed of the convention. A man approached us and much to our great surprise, handed us two passes to the DNC that evening, as a thank you to my friend's mother. "A shuttle is leaving in 30 minutes. Have fun!"
We raced out of the watch party and, too eager to wait for the shuttle, hopped in an Uber to the Wells Fargo Center. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be able to attend the 2016 Democratic National Convention itself, let alone on the evening delegates were officially nominating Hillary Clinton to be the Party's nominee. I went to Philly to be around the energy and excitement and to check out some interesting exhibits. Somehow there I was, tightly grasping my DNC credentials, as our driver rushed us through the detoured streets of Philadelphia. I thought back once more to 20 years ago, my mind being blown at the thought of Hillary Clinton, or any woman, being President, and also not believing I would ever see it. The convention was packed, and we were able to find two seats way at the top. Though we were far from the stage, the energy and excitement permeated the large arena. I had been awake for nearly 24 hours, I hadn't eaten since half a scone that morning, I felt very far from fresh after walking around in the 100 degree heat all day in a business casual blazer, and yet I'd never been happier. We sat beside two Bernie supporters who clapped and cheered as Bill Clinton detailed all of Hillary's causes and accomplishments. It was a room filled with love and excitement and tears of joy as the shattered glass ceiling rained down upon us.
I was reminded why I'm a Democrat in the first place. We are the party of hope, we are the party of love, we are the party of progress, we are the party of breaking barriers, and now we are the party of shattering glass ceilings.