I never would have thought I would be raising my hand in a room full of political activists and saying, yes, I would like to run for office. But here I was, the only one raising their hand.
I was attending the second meeting of a local grassroots political advocacy group that had spun off from the nearly 4 million member Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. Pantsuit Nation, a closed pro-Hillary Clinton support group, had apparently gone viral a few weeks before the 2016 presidential election. But now, with the unexpected general election results, members began to share stories of grief and fear and all over the nation. Local pantsuit groups sprung up of women and men searching for ways to take action. I had not heard of this secret group until after the election, when a friend decided it was okay to add me, a Bernie supporter, as a member.
From as far back as I can remember, I had been a passionate Democratic voter, believing that Democrats stood for progress and enlightenment. But coming of political age in the 90s, during the acrimonious and often scandalous Clinton era, I also had a distaste for politicians. Politics attracted people with large egos, polished personas, but often very flawed personal ethics. I could not imagine a socially awkward, but straightforward person such as myself getting involved in public life.
On occasion, I did actually make an effort to support a candidate. The first time I did this was in the 2000 primary. I was enamored by Bill Bradley, and both my boyfriend and I were eager to join a student run group to help him. Before we could even get started on the campaign, Bradley dropped out of the primary. After that we were behind Gore, but felt no great compulsion to campaign or get out the vote for him. In hindsight, it seemed that democrats had been rather complacent, while their candidate’s wooden personality lacked the excitement needed to attract voters. The next democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, lacked something too. During the 8 years under Bush, I felt, as a democrat, alienated from the whole political process.
In 2008, what I consider a turning point, the Democratic party figured it out and nominated an incredibly dynamic, eloquent person to run for president (I had voted for Clinton in the primary, but was perfectly content that Obama won). Obama’s campaign encouraged grassroots support and people like me started changing their perception of politics. I thought about going out to canvass door to door, but with a newborn baby, it was easier for me to make calls to voters. A new innovative technological tool, the dialer, allowed me to make the calls from home, while tracking responses on my computer. I actually hate making phone calls, but I plugged away trying to do my part. When Obama took office, I vowed to continue supporting democratic efforts, inspired by Obama’s Yes We Can spirit.
By the start of the 2016 primary season, eight years later, genuine grassroots efforts had long ago been replaced by formulaic calls to sign petitions. It felt like the Democratic party machine no longer needed our active involvement.
Primary campaigns had started, but it wasn’t till October 2015 that I noticed who the candidates were. My husband, an avid redditor, mentioned someone named Bernie Sanders, he really liked him. I wondered, who was this guy, sounds Jewish, is he Jewish (I was raised orthodox Jewish, so it seemed a relevant question).
Ironically, seeing Bernie speak for the first time to a crowded hall of devout Christians at Liberty University renewed my spark of interest in politics. I heard a candidate speak with full honesty and conviction to the heart of what I believe. I had never heard a politician sound like this, no pat cliches and slogans, but real honest to goodness truth. So I believed, before a single vote was cast that I could make a difference, I could convince my fellow democrats that we had the real progressive champion of a lifetime, the one we’d always dreamed of.
I began to follow him closely on Reddit, which replaced my Facebook addiction, and as the primary started to heat up at the start of 2016, I joined a local Bernie 2016 group to canvass and call our neighbors. That was the highlight of my year, feeling like I could make a difference. I was thrilled to meet kindred spirits who shared my passion for Bernie’s ideas. I had read everything I could about his positions on issues and when I knocked on the door or made phone calls, I felt prepared and more confident than I had ever been discussing politics. I took to heart his declaration “Not me, Us.”
After the 2016 primary, I thought I was done with politics. I knew Bernie was right, that we had to support Hillary Clinton. She was the far better choice, but I had lost my enthusiasm for political involvement. I felt talked down to by the Democratic party elite; I considered dem-exiting. In a sense, I did. With resignation, that my vote would make no difference, I voted third party for the first time in my life. Part of me yearned to vote for the first woman president of the United States, but my vote wasn’t needed. Clinton was expected to win overwhelmingly, and she did in my state anyway.
I went through a lot of mixed emotions in the days following Nov. 8, 2016. First, I felt smug, almost self-righteous. I told you so, I wanted to say to those who had argued that Clinton was more electable. I was surprised that she had lost because I had trusted polls and pundits that claimed her victory was assured. But I had also ignored the nagging feeling that this was going to be like 2000. I kept feeling that Clinton was going to be another Gore, but given the polls, I assumed I was wrong.
Soon my smugness became anger. Why hadn’t Democrats seen the writing on the wall? How could they demonize people whether they voted for Trump, sat out the election, or voted third party. Most people I know, including my more conservative neighbors, had no enthusiasm for either major candidate, and probably felt like I had for so long, helpless, hopeless, nothing I did would make a difference.
My anger turned to despair when I started seeing the bigotry of some Trump supporters coming out of the woodwork and the president-elect starting to make terrible cabinet appointments. The people he empowered were intent on destroying everything I believed in.
Fortunately, it was around that time, that someone kindly added me to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. Seeing for the first time a group of several million ordinary people expressing similar fears and concerns has inspired hope in me. I see these women and men who are organizing local grassroots advocacy groups and am filled again with a desire to take action. Bernie has regained his voice, and continues to remind us that when millions of people stand together, we can not be ignored. I wasn’t an adamant Clinton supporter, but she was right: we are stronger together.
I went to my first meeting of the local Pantsuit Nation chapter, and instead of being the shy, noncommittal person I often am, I jumped into the conversation. I became the official note-taker that evening; then, still feeling insecure about my abilities, I offered my help working on their website and signed up to organize the list of trackers of our elected officials. I wanted to join every committee, but there were plenty of others stepping up, so I just chose a few.
Finally, the organizer of the event brought up the possibility of our group supporting one of us to run for political office. Who here would consider running for office? She asked. I thought about Bernie, saying that we each can make a difference, that the only way to have progressive values is to have progressives run for local school boards and state legislators. If we don’t want our country to be run by elitists, we need to work our way into the system from the bottom up. I may not be a natural born politician, but I am one of millions who feel passionately, who know that it takes a village, each of us standing up to do our part, to right the wrongs and pave the way for justice.
I looked around the room of 30 or so women and one man, mostly older than I. No one had answered the question, would someone step up? Then I timidly raised my hand. I can do this, I thought. Yes, I think I can.
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