One Year Later: DNC Reflections
I can still remember leaping into my blue dress, stumbling across my room in a groggy haze as I made my way to the bathroom. Curling my hair despite knowing it would fall out in the humid SEPTA corridors. Fumbling with my makeup, packing my camera equipment. If I close my eyes tight enough, it feels like it was just yesterday.
I have been fascinated by history since I was a little girl. In particular, I love studying pictures and film from the past. They are the only things that have the ability to transport us back to a time and place we can only imagine. I could spend hours looking through archives.
Oftentimes I’ve wondered what it must have been like to be a part of certain historical events: to have listened to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech or participated in a Vietnam War protest. I never could have imagined that I would someday be a part of one.
Then came July 28th, 2016: a turning point for our country and a turning point in my life.
Hillary Rodham Clinton was always an enigma to me, someone who I knew was important but couldn’t quite figure out as to why. I knew she was an outspoken First Lady (my first one!) who later became a Senator and eventually our Secretary of State. Interestingly, she was never highlighted during my educational career. Maybe this speaks to a greater problem of who is discussed in our history books or maybe my lack of interaction with her is unique. Regardless, Hillary was someone who I knew was well respected and made great contributions to the feminist movement. I admired her despite not knowing much about her.
When Hillary announced her candidacy in 2015, I was ecstatic. I signed up for her campaign alerts and became a donor. My college classmates did not share my enthusiasm, however. I only knew of one, maybe two Hillary supporters on campus. After months of quietly supporting her, I went to the polls for the first time in my life to vote for the first female candidate for the Presidency.
I still can remember standing in that booth with tears running down my face. But that moment pales in comparison to what I would experience on the night I curled my hair and donned my favorite blue dress. I knew I was going to be a part of history, hence why I dressed for the part. What I didn’t know was how profoundly affected I was going to be.
It was the final night of the Democratic National Convention. I had been working tirelessly all week long, but this was it. This was the day. The one that historians would write about. The one I’d tell my kids and grandkids about someday. I threw my camera and credentials around my neck, readjusted my wavy hair (the curls fell victim to the humidity), and got to work. I zoomed around, taking pictures of speakers and celebrities and attendees alike. The energy was almost enough to blow the top off of my home city’s arena. I can still feel it. We were ready to watch the first female candidate become the first female nominee. We were ready for Hillary.
After squeezing my way into the tiny media pit, I texted my communications team to confirm that I had secured a spot to photograph Hillary from. They granted me permission to stay, which is something that I am eternally grateful for. Unfortunately, not everyone on DNC staff could be on the ground floor for the proceedings. I was truly one of the lucky ones, although luck wasn’t totally what got me there. It took standing for five hours without food or water, arguing with “professional” reporters, and buddying up with the Secret Service to see Hillary accept the nomination.
After every speech, a reporter would tell us how many more speakers were left until the big moment. It seemed like we would never get there. Needless to say it was worth the wait.
I can still see her standing right in front of me in that white pantsuit. I can hear the cheers, so loud they made my ears ring. I can see her placing her hand on her heart as she looked out over the enthusiastic crowd. In that moment, my own dropped to the pit of my stomach. It all happened in slow-motion. I stared in complete awe at this woman, someone who I had heard about but never witnessed. I couldn’t move. All I could do is stare.
I finally understood, as I watched her look out over the crowd, who Hillary Rodham Clinton was. I realized that for my entire life, I had taken her for granted. She wasn’t just a First Lady, she was a decorated public servant. She wasn’t just a Senator, she was the first female Senator from New York. She wasn’t just a Secretary of State, she was the most-traveled in our history. This woman spent her entire life serving this country despite the pushback. And she did it all in the hopes that one day I might have it easier.
I took her for granted because that’s the world she wanted me to live in: one where my gender would not hold me back. That realization shook me to my core. While there were moments growing up where I saw and felt sexism, they had never affected my ambitions because I saw Hillary in positions of power and assumed it was only natural for a woman to occupy them. I never knew how much it took for her to get there. Perhaps what baffles me most about Hillary is her resilliance.
In the months following the nomination, I would bury myself in books and documentaries and articles chronicaling her life. But I didn’t need to know that specifics on the 28th. I could see it in her face. After so many years of struggle, it was finally her moment. Though Hillary is not as emotional as her husband (who was sobbing with the rest of us), I could see the tears brimming in her eyes as she soaked in this magical moment that we all never wanted to end.
Looking back, we can see the points where our lives turned: for better and for worse. This was one of those nights where I knew, as I lived out this part of history, that my life would be forever changed. I left that arena an entirely different person, for reasons I can and can’t describe. I was proud: proud to be a Democrat and proud to be a woman. For the first time, I was glaringly aware of my womanhood and place in this world. The future seemed bright: for myself, Hillary, and my country. If I had to describe how I felt in one word, it would be infinite.
Sometimes when I lay in bed after a long day, my mind wanders to 7.28.16. While it makes my heart ache, it still fills it with immense joy and inspiration. I have to remind myself that what happened in that arena is still very much alive in each and every one of us. Hillary sadly could not carry the torch to the finish line, but we can. The fight far from over. The community we built during the campaign has a firm foundation that cannot be shaken. We must, as a wise woman says, move onward together.
Since the conclusion of the 2016 election, many people have told me to just “get over it” as if my football team had lost the SuperBowl. Every time I’m told that, it hurts. To me and to many others, Hillary’s run for the Presidency was much more than a campaign. For me personally, it was a coming of age. It was figuring out who I was and what I am destined to do in this world. To have something so meaningful to you end as it did…that’s not something you get over quickly. That’s something you might never get over. And you know what? I think that’s okay.
Today I woke up with a heavy heart. By midday, I randomly recieved offers to run a campaign and attend a woman’s summit in Dubai. I could chalk this up as being coincidental, but I think it was fate. I believe in happy endings, maybe to a fault. I can’t help but to think this story isn’t over — it’s just beginning. And someday, we’ll all get the ending we dreamed of. Even Hillary. We just have to keep working towards it.