Hillary’s Secret Army of Supporters

I have a secret Hillary group on Facebook.

Now that you know, I suppose it’s not so secret. But even if I told you the name of the group, you wouldn’t be able to find it. We keep it locked up tight, searchable only by members, and you don’t get in without an invitation.

If you’re one of the many people, typically folks who supported Bernie during the nomination, who wondered why Hillary won the nomination in spite of the purported “enthusiasm gap,” I think my secret group (and the many others like it) might be a key to understanding.

I’ll let you in on at least one secret: there is no enthusiasm gap.

Not even a tiny one.

Well, maybe there is, but I think the camp with more enthusiasm might actually be the one with more votes, which flies in the face of this year’s conventional “wisdom” (I use the term lightly, because I don’t think there was ever anything especially wise about it).

The reality is that it’s been pretty brutal out there for a lot of Hillary supporters, which didn’t diminish our commitment, but it did genuinely cause a lot of people to seek out safe places to be excited, worried, and honest about their thoughts on the campaign.

I started out supporting Bernie. I’ve been involved in progressive politics and activism for more than a decade, and Bernie’s fiery, unapologetic progressivism has always spoken to me. And frankly, I had bought into a lot of the conventional “wisdom” (there it is again) about Hillary — she’s “too corporate,” she isn’t progressive enough, she’s dishonest.

But the more I watched the campaign unfold, the muddier things got, and the more I felt myself curious and being drawn toward Hillary.

The dominoes all started to fall as I watched the debates and saw how spectacular Hillary was. At one point, my husband, also a Bernie supporter at that time, turned to me and said, “I think I may be switching teams.” Honestly, I was relieved to hear it, because I was starting to feel the same way.

That exchange captures the heart of the secret Hillary supporter, and the way we’ve found one another and created a network of enthusiasm that you don’t always see.

We support her with the same clarity that Bernie’s supporters back him, but we’ve had to find one other and encourage one another to say, “Yeah, I’m with her, too.”

A Hillary supporter at an East LA College campaign event joyfully walks the gauntlet of the anti-Hillary crowd.

Bullying and vitriol have been ever-present during this primary season. Let’s just get that out there, and acknowledge the truth of it.

When I first “came out” on Facebook as a Hillary supporter — and I had to screw up the courage to do it, because I knew it would be met with disappointment, at best, from my Bernie-supporting friends — I struck an upbeat tone and didn’t say anything negative about Bernie.

The response I got was not totally surprising, but it still knocked me back on my heels.

I got everything from genuine curiosity about how I’d gotten to that point (which I welcomed) to patronizing comments about how I needed to use my head rather than my heart (the implication being that I was only voting for her because she is a woman, which was certainly not a good enough reason), to a truly nasty comment that my “delicate feelings” would not be spared by the commenter. (I unfriended that last person immediately, and it felt terrific.)

It didn’t take long before I began to receive private messages from other Hillary supporters, echoing their agreement with me, and an “I’ve been there” sentiment about the response I’d been getting from some Bernie supporters. Friends told me about having to keep their support for Hillary completely secret because close friends or family members were so vocally pro-Bernie/anti-Hillary that they feared their relationships wouldn’t survive the difference of opinion. A few had been open about their support, and they gave me the courage to open up, too.

Within a week or two of my first #ImWithHer post, I decided I needed to do something. I needed a place to be excited about Hillary, to fangirl over her, and to be able to be genuinely critical of her with people who could keep it in perspective rather than use it as a weapon against my support for her. I wanted to be able to geek out the way I always have over policy and campaign minutiae, which I could no longer could on my own Facebook wall without worrying about reprisals. I wanted to be able to criticize Bernie without suffering the heat of a thousand suns.

I started my group by inviting a handful of friends who had posted publicly or messaged me privately about their support for her. The group was set to secret, which meant that it couldn’t be found by searching on Facebook. You could only get in if someone added you. It started to grow, and then it grew quickly, until we had to have a conversation about how big we wanted to be.

We decided that 150 members would be our max, allowing us to have an active membership and also a close-knit community feeling.

It worked. Our secret Hillary group has turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever been a part of.

I’ve become closer with the people I knew previously, and I’ve become friends with people I’ve never met, whom I now consider true friends, in every sense of the word. We live all over the nation, and we most likely would never have connected without Hillary as our glue.

On primary days, we hung out together in our group, posting screen captures and photos of our glasses of wine. We’ve picked apart returns and discussed which sites have the best polling aggregates.

We’ve collectively rolled our eyes at the use of US Uncut as a source by Bernie supporters, and have even had some frank discussions about biased sources that support Hillary, and how and when it is appropriate to use them.

We’ve talked about feminism, trans and gay issues, foreign policy — including some honest and emotional discussions around Israel/Palestine — and we’ve gently corrected one another sometimes.

We’ve even started talking about getting together on a field trip to the inauguration, or maybe on a get-out-the-vote trip to a swing state for a weekend in October.

Our group started out as a place for supporting Hillary, but it’s turned into a lot more than that. It’s a caring, vibrant community of people who look out for one other online now, who give encouragement, and keep things in perspective. We have our go-to people for bringing calm to the room when panic sets in, and we’ve rushed into action to help give an undecided voter at the polls a nudge toward Hillary.

Members of our group even sent me money during the last days of the primary when I mentioned that I was worried about how I was going to feed all of my volunteers.

I’m not sure how the group will evolve as we shift gears into the general election. I hope the vitriol of some of our progressive friends on the Bernie side will cool off, and maybe that means our safe space won’t continue to be quite as vital. But I don’t doubt for a second that this group will continue to thrive, that we’ll keep connecting, laughing, teaching, learning, and nerding out together over our candidate, during the election, and beyond.

******

UPDATE: Matthew, a member of my secret group, gave me permission to share this fantastic comment he posted on the thread about this piece:

I’ve been thinking a lot about this election in regard to the gender dynamic. I’ve had posts that I’ve written and then deleted because I couldn’t quite get the wording right. Essentially, this election has made me really aware of safe spaces, how dissent is expressed, and when/where to express said dissent. Some of the more vocal male Bernie supporters got labeled “Bernie Bros,” and it’s a label that 100% fits those it was put on. But I do think, on a certain level, this is a dynamic that goes beyond any one candidate and would probably fit on a number of males who support candidates (Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Obama, etc.)

(I should pause for a moment and say I don’t divorce myself from this reality and dynamic)

Okay, back at it. So essentially, it’s the notion that I see a lot of males (particularly white males) having, where we gotta like stick our noses into every. little. conversation and make ourselves the loudest voice in the room. And when that dynamic happens in a political context, it becomes bullying or ganging up on people… and this even happens sometimes even if we’re agreeing with someone. This isn’t just a “I’m coming here to tell you how wrong you are” dynamic.

I’ve had female friends post things and then I feel that immediate compulsion to go comment on their thread. We live in a social media world and there’s no real stop sign or yellow traffic light for what gets comments and what doesn’t, but I think for a lot of people, things just became “too much” of everything. Too much dissent, certainly, but even too much “agreement,” if that makes sense. I’ve had women who posted things and then watched said thread become dominated by men, whether they were in agreement or not.

I don’t have answers or solutions, but as a man, it is something I’m trying to take stock of; when and where to insert my voice. Is *now* at this second the time and place to inject my voice? Is my voice needed in this discussion? Who has already commented? Are they all male? Who did the original post? Are they a person of color?