I Saw Hillary Clinton in Person. I Was Surprised.
A Little History
First, you should know that I’ve seen Hillary before—not just on TV at every debate and town hall during election season, but in person. In 1992, she stood by then Governor Bill Clinton who gave a rousing speech to us young folks at an event at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying. She didn’t speak a peep then. She wore a headband, as I recall. (Is it lame that I mentioned her hair?)
In 2004, at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station, I stood alongside hundreds of others as then Senator Clinton stumped for John Kerry. She was joined onstage by that young guy from Illinois, Barack Obama. She motivated the audience to care about jobs, healthcare, energy, education, and the Supreme Court. She got us excited about the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Well, she tried. It was like your mom saying “Are you ready to rock?!”
Fast forward to 2016
I’ve been following her candidacy since it was announced. I’ve also been watching Bernie fire up the liberal base with grand ideas and principles. I watched his Seattle rally at Key Arena online and loved what he said about Native Americans and respecting the planet. His passion is the real deal, no doubt. He’s brought forth a strong rebuke of our system, and I get it. I have no love for greed and corruption, but I don’t agree with how he seems to vilify all aspects of capitalism and business, and promises a whole lot of unrealistic things, such as making Wall Street pay for free college. I just don’t think his idealism and so-called "revolution" will actually solve problems in our divided government. And righteousness is not a plan.
So I’ve been in Hillary’s camp for a while. I’ve been hosting one of her staffers for nearly 3 weeks. She's a 23-year-old who deferred medical school to work as a field organizer across the country. She’s a super easy guest who works long hours to get local volunteers like me to canvas, phone bank, and get the word out about our caucus on March 26. We have fascinating discussions with the neighbors. We often cite how qualified and pragmatic Hillary is—even as we appreciate Bernie. None of us are millionaires or billionaires. We believe progress happens in steps, not by proclaiming it should be so.
I also happen to evaluate my leaders the same way I’d evaluate any job applicant. Is this person competent? Do they share my values? What sort of relevant experience do they have? Can they work well with others? Are they good communicators? Focused on results? Able to own up to mistakes?
March 22, 2016
I arrive at Mt. Rainier High School, which is only about 7 miles from my home. The line is already really long and coils around the cars in the parking lot and out to the street. The news vans are all there. My first impression is just how cool it is to see such a variety of people in one of the most diverse areas of all of Seattle. The crowd is of all ages, all types, and all outfits. The hippy dude with the goat who showed up at Bernie's rally? Yep he's here too. I think he likes crowds.
A guy wearing a suit holds a pink sign saying “Wall Street HEARTS Hillary.” His penmanship is on par with my 7-year-old's. My neighbor in line and I have a chuckle about how this is the only guy around who looks like he actually works on Wall Street. Nobody takes his bait. The crowd is polite.
My husband Robert and I chat up a storm with others as we await the processing of people through metal detectors. We talk about Seattle, the neighborhood and naturally, politics. Many of us volunteers share about our experiences calling people and knocking on doors—to generally positive results. We have all heard the phrase "I like Bernie but…" more than once. We agree: the country needs to dump Trump and Cruz is dangerous. We talk about the Bernie supporters, all of whom are passionate and some of whom are downright nasty and sanctimonious.
The campaign volunteers are working valiantly to maintain our spirits while moving us along. One young lady tries to get cheers going by yelling “Hillary,” “I believe that she can win!” and “I’m with her.” The chants die down quickly. Now if only this had been a Seahawks game....
There's a guy dressed as Captain Hillster. I applaud his positivity and consider his outfit a step up from that dude at Trump's rally who dressed up as the xenophobic wall that should never be built.
We're in! Robert and I are there early enough to score a spot near the stage.
As others shuffle in, we continue to meet and mingle with fine people. There are some disabled folks seated near the stage, full families behind the stage, across the auditorium, and a whole lot of members of the media. Nobody looks like they are angry or aching for a fight. Many of us wish we had chairs. Everyone is excited they got in; hundreds of others are relegated to the overflow section outside.
There are Hillary signs, shirts, and buttons galore! We hear the Nurses Union has just endorsed Clinton. Not surprising. She’s pulled down so many endorsements from organizations around the country, including the Machinists Union, a big voting block for Washington, the home of Boeing. She also has an extraordinary number of supporters at the federal, state, and local level. She knows you need alliances and partners to make things happen and she's fostered relationships, as women often do. (Bernie has no Senators endorsing him and shockingly few other partner endorsements.)
A robust and friendly lady named Kim waits in the crowd next to us. She has three kids who attend this school. She tells me it was chosen because it's the most diverse school in Seattle, and in fact, the most diverse precinct in America. Who knew? Her daughter got picked to sing the national anthem for this event, the one that might feature our first woman president. So yeah, this is personal for her.
The first announcement of the night comes on. This is happening! As Kim’s daughter walks to the stage to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Kim says "Somebody else needs to tape it ‘cuz I'm gonna get all teary-eyed." I love that she said “tape.” With our iPhones a blazin', her daughter sings boldly and with conviction. Her mom isn’t the only one who's teary-eyed.
Three young people take the stage...actual millennials for Hillary! They look like they could've been part of a Benetton diversity campaign. They speak articulately about getting out to the caucus on Saturday. It isn’t until the young Chinese woman takes the microphone that I get a bit emotional. She talks about how as a little girl in China, she heard Hillary Clinton's famous 1995 speech on the radio: "Women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights." This forever changed her view of America, a country where her family later emigrated for a better life. She talks about how her family found the healthcare situation very dire because they were denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. It was Hillary who laid the groundwork for the Affordable Care Act, and has consistently advocated for women and children. Her voice is shaky, as are her nerves, but we can all tell: she is bursting with pride to be on the same stage that Mrs. Clinton will soon take.
The next announcement introduces Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray along with his husband. If you're not used to hearing about men and their husbands you might not live in Seattle. It's just that kind of city. Mayor Murray isn’t the only elected official in Washington who has endorsed Clinton. It’s both Democratic Senators Cantwell and Murray and our Governor. To say that Seattle is liberal is to say that Seattleites like coffee. Mayor Murray talks about many progressive issues including the minimum wage increase, marriage equality, and more. He offers up his husband, “The First Gentleman” of Seattle, as someone who could help Bill Clinton, should his spouse win this election.
And then, with smiles all around, the mayor introduces Hillary as the “next President of the United States,” aka the woman in question.
If there's anything that's not in question is just how prepared Hillary is. The podium has been cleaned, her notes are in place, and she greets the roaring crowd joyfully. Bonus! She is wearing that long forest green coat, one that I've admired before. (Is it lame that I mentioned her outfit?) I can hear the haters saying that wearing green is pandering to the Evergreen State; I say it's being fashionably relevant.
Clinton is a pro, someone who has spoken in front of thousands in so many countries around the world. The first thing she does is offer sincere gratitude to all the people who got her onstage here: the elected officials, the staff, and all the volunteers. She calls out Rainier High School in particular and the crowd goes nuts! She touts the teachers and the principal and graciously thanks those who introduced her. The golden rule of public speaking is to know your audience and Hillary is no slouch in this department.
I listen and watch closely in a way only a close-up view allows. I’m surprisingly struck by her elegance, in part because a young fan next to me says, “She’s beautiful.” It’s not just her stature at the podium, that coat, scarf, and her little pumps. I’m also struck by her emotion. Her face shows passion and anguish at times, as in when she talks about the horrific terrorist attack in Brussels just hours before. I've heard her make these points before, but this night it feels more urgent and relevant.
The Secret Service dudes, by the way, are unflappable. I wonder if they're listening to any of this.
She talks about being a partner to Washington, calling Seattle a "great American city" and applauding the progressivism of this state. I’m surprised somehow as she talks in detail about policy that can help our industries and small businesses. Unlike Bernie, she targets her speeches, not just advocating for the same ideas no matter where she is, but understanding that different audiences have different concerns. She cites specific plans for doing things because she says she wants us to hold her accountable.
The Test of 3
She lays out a simple message for the rest of the evening. She believes the next President ought to be able to do three things:
1) Offer something positive to the country
2) Keep us safe
3) Bring the country together
When elaborating on that first one, she surprises me with a point that is both poignant and compassionate. She says we all see images of people at rallies who are angry and it’s easy to imagine that she’s talking about Trump rallies. But rather than denouncing or dismissing them, she gives their anger context. She talks about the great recession and people losing their homes and savings. Wages being stagnant for 15 years and many feeling like they’re left behind. She hits the point that she wants to help the middle class, to raise incomes, and to offer sick and family leave, as well as reduce the burden of student debt. This plays very well to the crowd, naturally.
She talks about the need to act immediately on climate change, and I'm struck by her pledge of solar panels across our nation. She cites the Paris Agreement that was signed by 190 nations and says that it must be enacted; otherwise it's just a piece of paper. She talks about the Republicans' implacable obstructionism. (I do so love a good vocabulary.) I get a little giddy thinking we could be using clean, renewable energy under the next president.
The second point about keeping us safe showcases her strength as Secretary of State, and as someone who’s been side-by-side with Obama. Of course there's reasonable critique of some of her foreign policies, but compared to the Bush years of unilateralsim, I'm with her. She knows that the international situation regarding terrorism is delicate and urgent. The Brussels tragedy is cited, not to instill fear and racial profiling like the Republicans have, but to talk about smart power and engaging our allies. She is not only informed on these topics, she is downright, inarguably Presidential. My mind starts to wander to so many other countries that have already had tough women at the helm: Thatcher, Merkel, Bhutto. Why is America so behind?
There is nobody else in the race I would trust to be a knowledgeable and nuanced commander-in-chief. She seems genuinely upset that Trump would talk about wall building and enhanced torture in response to the bombings. Walls don’t stop the Internet from working and that is where ISIS is recruiting and propagandizing! I'm upset about it too. And Cruz's idea of patrolling Muslim communities is outrageous.
Her third point is the one that resonates most. She talks about bringing the country together and says what we really need is more love and kindness. How interesting that she suggests we can and should talk about politics. Why not? We don’t need to put someone down to lift others up. We don’t have to draw lines and walk away. We can engage, respectfully. Therein lies a major difference between her and others. Rather than just vilify those with different views, she talks about finding common ground, just as we must stand our ground on matters of principle. Her take on bi-partisan governing is steeped in experience.
I'm inspired. I'm surprised. I'm surprised by how inspired I am.
Oh sure, I know all politicians say they can unify the country, but how many of them have been on the receiving side of so much vitriol, yet have remained so resilient and poised to lead? Haters are going to hate, but she’s proven over and over that she fights for others and cares about the future, not just as a politician but as a grandmother, for god’s sake. She calls Trump out as a demagogue and bully who deserves a timeout. She is not aiming for snide laughs but seems sincerely shocked that a presidential candidate could be so inappropriate and so hateful.
Calls of “I love you Hillary,” and “Madam President” percolate in the crowd, but she doesn't respond. She has more to say.
When the microphone stops working, she handles it like a champ. She says this would be a good opportunity to be quiet. Then off the cuff, she remarks about how she gets criticized for speaking too soft, or too loud, smiling too much or not enough. All this judgment seems to be launched at her, in no small measure, because of her gender.
The only mention of Bernie is in a policy distinction regarding college tuition. Not once does she demonize him, even as he often makes claims that the "billionaire class" is buying this election for her. Looking around at all the faces at this event, I find this characterization utter nonsense. I know of hundreds of staffers and volunteers who are working their assess off for the campaign, and millions have already voted for her across many states.
As the evening closes out, and we hear Katie Perry's anthem "Fight Song," there's a buzz in the air of having just witnessed history. Hillary inspires us to volunteer some more, to get out to caucus, and to be engaged. To that I say, of course!
And more than ever, I hope to say Madam President.