"Fear is always with us, but we just don't have time for it. Not now." — Hillary Clinton
I am one of the millions of Hillary Clinton supporters who joined the “secret” pro-Clinton Facebook groups during the 2016 presidential election — and I regret it. I understand the purpose they served and why they flourished, but in retrospect, the unintended role they played in Clinton’s loss is clear — and there’s a lesson to be learned from acknowledging it.
Pantsuit Nation was the first secret group a well-meaning friend added me to months before Election Day. My instant gut reaction was a shock of guilt followed by the urge to ask, “Why secret?” But before the thought made it to my fingertips and then the keyboard, I knew the answer.
From the moment Hillary announced her run for the presidency, it was clear this election was different from those of the past. Heated arguments among friends and family members from opposing parties played out online as expected, but this time the battle line wasn’t only drawn between members of opposing parties. Infighting among those who defined themselves as liberal was prevalent and malicious — even after Bernie lost the Democratic primary.
As a Clinton supporter, I couldn’t wait to share my excitement about her run. I knew there would be some pushback. I was all too familiar with the ire the mere mention of her name drew from some, but I expected a generally ecstatic response — especially from women of all ages. To my surprise, every celebratory post I shared to my social media feed was immediately met with at least one angry commenter — most who identified as liberal.
Initially, I was easily drawn into arguments and lost hours to the endless exchange of “supporting evidence,” but the online tension took a toll on real-life connections I valued. I began to worry about my job security and the consequences that might follow if employers with differing views should they stumble across one of my posts. Every in-person interaction became a carefully choreographed dance designed to identify who was voting for whom before sharing any kind of political opinion. My pro-Hillary posts slowed to a trickle.
I was not alone; silence from other supporters I knew grew.
I was “with her” from the moment Hillary Clinton decided to run for President in 2008. She first came on my radar in1993 when she took the role of First Lady. Her commitment to children and women’s issues and her poise through difficult times earned my respect. Like the majority of women, though I was young at the time, I was no stranger to the humiliations and hard choices women face when confronted with infidelities, and I knew those choices became even more difficult with children in the picture.
Hillary’s ability to hold her head high and her family together, and continue to pursue her career inspired me. She was an intelligent, outspoken, and ambitious woman making her way up the ranks of a system designed by men, for men (as most are). She made me believe I too might be able to.
Throughout my life I’ve been criticized for being too outspoken and saying what I believe instead of saying what people want to hear. I’ve been called bossy and bitchy for speaking my mind and referred to as a steamroller, abrasive, and even “nutso” for refusing to back down from confrontation.
Suddenly, for the first time in a very, very long time, I was staying virtually silent.
Secret pro-Hillary groups gave millions of supporters, including myself, a place to share excitement, air grievances, and rant without argument. I was thrilled by the growing number of members I could share all of the amazing things I was learning about my candidate of choice with while receiving nothing but likes and loves and wow faces. Against my true intuition, I chose to believe this was a sign Hillary’s campaign was going well.
I want to say I was shocked on election night, but that would be a lie. My limited in-person interactions throughout Hillary’s campaign revealed the widespread ignorance surrounding her upbringing and career. Having grown up in small, conservative towns in the Pacific Northwest, I was no stranger to racists and misogynists and my news and social media feeds verified that the Trump campaign emboldened these folks. They weren’t in hiding. Their voices were loud and clear and everywhere, and I had foolishly soothed my fears about their prevalence by running to my secret groups for reassurance.
I did not listen to Hillary’s concession speech right away—not until members of Pantsuit Nation and other secret groups lit up with excitement over the nod she gave them. Then I watched and cringed in shame.
"To the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists, and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, posted on Facebook — even in secret, private Facebook sites — I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward," said Clinton. I’ve watched the clip a hundred times. That’s not approval in her tone, with both hands raised looking off to the side…maybe a stifled eye roll?
Since the release of Clinton’s memoir What Happened, there has been a slew of articles written in response to a comment she makes about a thought she had while watching the Women’s March. She says, “Yet I couldn’t help but ask where those feelings of solidarity, outrage, and passion had been during the election.” While many of these pieces attempt to burn her at the stake for casting blame, I think it’s a fair question and one that I can answer: hiding out in secret groups.
If there’s one thing I know to be true, it’s that you don’t change minds or lives by staying silent or saving your views and beliefs to share with those who already agree with you. You do it by living your truth openly and setting an example.
I am a passionate yoga practitioner. I share photos, thoughts, and videos of my practice liberally on my social media feeds — some receive likes, others nothing. To my surprise, over the years, a number of friends have reached out to me to say that watching my personal yoga journey gave them the push they needed to begin their own practice. If I hadn’t received their messages, I wouldn’t have known a number of these friends were watching my feed. They never commented or reacted to my posts but they were viewing them, and the impact was significant.
Imagine Election Day 2016 had every secret pro-Clinton group member chosen to stay out of the closet and fill their feeds with the information and excitement they so liberally shared in hiding. How many people could we have reached? How many minds and votes could we have changed?
Sure there would have been venomous reactions and comments, but fortunately, Facebook and other social media feeds arm their users with a simple solution: the ability to delete them.
That’s right, your feed isn’t a news site. It doesn’t have to be fair and balanced and represent everyone’s opinions — just yours. You don’t have to engage in arguments and lose hours of your work or family time to trying to convince someone whose mind will never change, and you don’t even have to delete them! You can just delete their comment. You can silence their voice on your platform.
Since November 8, 2016, the consequences of the outcome of the election have been swift, devastating, and show no signs of slowing. Though I left all of the secret pro-Hillary support groups months ago and returned to being the outspoken self that I am best at being, I have to live with the role my choices played in the current state of our country.
There’s a lot of work to be done — possibly more than I have seen in my lifetime. Hillary Clinton is back in the public eye, sleeves rolled up, and fighting for what she believes in once again. This time, we need to follow her example. While I can’t change the past, I can learn from it and do better moving forward always remembering to make my voice heard as I do my part to “build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek.”
Top photo: Screenshot from Hillary Clinton's concession speech, YouTube
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Annette is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer, editor, and photographer who covers a range of topics including parenting, arts and culture, and health and fitness. She writes for a variety of publications including Domino, Parent.co, and Almost Fearless and is the city editor for Portland Red Tricycle. Annette photographs her travels and experiences as a mother and yoga practitioner. Her photography often appears with her published articles and she provides clients with personal, business, and travel photos. Follow her on http://annettebenedetti.com, on Instagram @beingbenedetti, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BenedettiCreative.