Hillary Clinton is really trying to convince me to vote for her.
It's not just me, of course. Since she jumped into the 2016 presidential race, Clinton has tried really hard to sell herself to all millennial women. It's been a struggle. Plenty of my fellow millennial women have been unimpressed with the Democratic frontrunner, wielding protests against her white feminism, her cynically crowd-pleasing politics, and her robotic demeanor.
You can hardly blame Clinton for trying to win us over. Seeing as my generation accounts for more than a quarter of the country's population, and over 20 percent of us consider ourselves to be politically active, young people — especially young women — who are increasingly interested in the socialist underdog Bernie Sanders threaten Clinton. With demands for equal wages, social justice, and women's rights going insofar unmet, plenty of millennial women want — demand — a revolution. Clinton has as good as promised to be anything but.
And so, many influential young feminists have turned their backs on Clinton:
Clinton's equivocating has long aroused suspicion. The firebrand feminist writer and academic Camille Paglia wrote in an email to The Daily Beast that "Hillary Clinton's feminism is a fraud. She rode her husband's coattails to wealth and power, and she has amorally colluded in the vilification and destruction of female victims of her husband's serial abuse." [...] bluestockings, a feminist multimedia publication, declined to be interviewed by The Daily Beast, explaining via email that they would "rather not expend energy discussing Clinton or her superficial, actively anti-intersectional, and carceral definition of and approach to feminism." [The Daily Beast]
Clinton is nonetheless all but assured of being the Democratic nominee for president. This is especially frustrating for many women around my age who weren't yet 18 in 2008. Next year will be the first time millions of my fellow millennials will get to vote in a "blank slate" election with no presidential incumbent. And while I can't speak for all of us, I know I'm not the only one champing at the bit to have my say; for the 18-plus months of the American presidential election season, the entire country remembers that we matter. However disillusioned we might be by politicians, suddenly they're making promises, sending desperate campaign emails, begging for our support. We're the ones who get to choose — or at least we want to feel like we're choosing.
I recently attended a Hillary Clinton campaign event for millennial women, with Huma Abedin as the speaker, near where I live in New York City. With a Clinton-supporting friend's encouragement, I donated the minimum $25 required to attend.
When the night of the event arrived, I navigated to Hudson Terrace, a 17-minute walk from the nearest major subway station at Times Square, on a dark slice of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. Women coming in off the street were bottlenecked into a room where we were given tags and told to write down our "industries" along with our names. From there, we were shuttled into an elevator padded with a black snakeskin-like material (one woman in my group petted it the entire way up and said to her friend, "This is weird"), which shot us to the rooftop bar.
The reception room itself was decorated with crystals, purple-pink light, a Lynchian red curtain, and felt packed when all 360 or so of us were jammed inside. Photographers circled while women Instagrammed themselves with I'm With Her signs. Naturally, I beelined to the bar, which became everyone's favorite way to break the ice: "How much did you pay for your drink?" Two women told me their champagne cost $16 a glass. We grumbled that our entry donation should have included bar tickets. We millennials have our priorities.
— Alexa Arata (@AlexaArata) November 19, 2015
Armed with our drinks, attendees drifted back into the center of the room, many of us craning our necks to identify other women's "industries." I found myself in a sea of "finance," "law," "accounting," "education," "medicine," and "publishing," with a smattering of "students" and "campaign interns." A woman I stood in line with at the bar told me she wrote inspirational Christian novels that she self-published. We were all supposed to "network" for an hour before Huma Abedin gave her speech, but as it rounded on 8 p.m., I complained, "Where's Huma?" to a woman who had written "Facebook" for her industry. She and her friend shrugged and politely excused themselves to go back to the bar.
When she finally came on stage, Abedin, who has worked for Clinton since she was 19, made it immediately obvious that she is everything her mentor isn't: young, Muslim, bilingual, authentically funny, and incredibly magnetic. With the crowd barred from taking any video, her speech felt almost confessional, giving the illusion it was entirely unscripted and candid: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't support other women," Abedin chided to applause at one point. Or, when she told us that we were a better dressed group than the crowds who normally turn out (she was probably right — the room was a runway of creative, slick, Bushwick-chic outfits. Jeans and T-shirts, Clinton supporters are not). Addressing the Republican Party's increasingly hysterical rhetoric, Abedin grew emotional and said through gritted teeth, "It is really scary what is on the other side. Really scary." But then she'd pivot, presenting herself instead like an older sister, promising us that, "We're going to be okay. We're going to be okay. We're going to be okay." I felt myself believing her; I hadn't realized how badly I'd needed someone to tell me that.
There were, of course, campaign promises carefully tailored to the audience, too. Stopping campus sexual assault. Alleviating the crushing burden of college costs and student debt. Paid family leave. Equal pay. Abedin also mentioned something I'd heard less about on the campaign trail, but which struck an especially personal chord — my generation's struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. (The Status of Women in the States found that women 18 to 34 report 4.9 days a month of poor mental health). I had an especially soft spot, too, for when Abedin told us the coolest people to see show up on the campaign trail are "the dads" with daughters on their shoulders pointing at Clinton and saying, "Look, look, that can be you." I found myself nodding vigorously. I wonder how different my life would have been — or my mother's life, or her mother's life — if we'd been shown that, too, as children.
As Abedin was ushered offstage (she'd asked if she could take questions and was told no), I felt genuinely energized for the first time in this election season. Tugged by the crowd toward the door, I looked back at where a small group had gathered around Abedin for photos. I hesitated, but only for a moment.
Reader, I selfied.
I'm not a member of the Democratic Party, so I can't vote in the primaries. And, as a registered voter of the perennial blue state of Washington, my vote in November 2016 will in all likelihood be rather inconsequential. As much as I want to pretend I have a hand in this next election, I probably don't.
But for an hour or so, before I took the black snakeskin elevator back to the street and began my long trek to the train, it all felt real and absolute. Hillary Clinton's campaign — though perhaps not Clinton herself — had made a room full of young millennial women feel something. It had made them believe. And sometimes, that's all you need to win.