There has been a change these past few days, a shift in the conversation as many who have kept quiet about their views in this presidential election have, for a variety of reasons, become vocal about their support of Hillary Clinton.
You can see it in the same places you might have noticed its absence before – in public online comments, lawn signs, bumper stickers.
One of the conundrums of this campaign has been how Clinton has amassed nearly 4 million more votes than Bernie Sanders while generating strikingly less visible support. It was Sanders who held the huge rallies, generated the trending tweets, had the cooler #feelthebern hashtag. Yet Clinton kept winning. As Michelle Goldberg noted in Slate the day after April’s New York primary, which Clinton won by 16 points:
I had assumed that my neighborhood, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, was overwhelmingly supporting Bernie Sanders. Sanders bumper stickers and T-shirts outnumbered those for Hillary Clinton by what seemed like 20 to 1. When I looked up Cobble Hill on the nifty New York Times tool providing neighborhood-by-neighborhood results, however, it turned out that Clinton won the immediate area around my apartment by 59.4 percent. A block over, she won by 72.5 percent. She won all around me. A lot of Clinton supporters, evidently, have been keeping quiet about their allegiances.
Or, as Joanna Castle Miller, a television producer (and, not incidentally the daughter of an independent fringe party presidential candidate), wrote on Facebook earlier this week of the challenge of getting Clinton supporters to appear on camera: “Trump and Bernie supporters … were mostly eager to get in front of a camera … Almost all of Hillary’s volunteers … got quiet and asked questions like ‘Will my name be used?’ ‘Where will this be seen?’ and ‘Can I wear my sunglasses?’”
When pressed, their reasons were that “they were terrified of the online threats they might receive, and in some cases had already received. Even lead organizers admitted they hadn’t put up a yard sign or a bumper sticker for fear of retaliation. When women walked in to volunteer for the phone bank, they were assured they wouldn’t have to give their names if they were afraid.”
This reticence to be loud, this invisibility of support, was true in 2008, too, although it made more sense then because Clinton eventually lost that nomination. As my Yahoo colleague Garance Franke-Ruta observed in the American Prospect at the time, the dynamic between Clinton and her supporters was one familiar to women who have come to understand that their full-throated advocacy carried consequences in a male world.
“What women have instead of a public conversation is what I’ve come to think of as ‘the secondary conversation’ — an ongoing conversation with other women, in private, where they feel they can speak freely about their lives and their place in the world without fear of being penalized or stigmatized for saying what they actually think,” Franke-Ruta wrote.
This time around, that “secondary conversation” has been taking place in “secret” Facebook groups with pro-Hillary names (I have been invited to a half dozen, each with several thousand members) and in somewhat coded conversations in which supporters circle around the subject of politics until they feel it’s likely that the other gal is on the same team.
But suddenly the secrets are out. Since the Associated Press declared Clinton the presumptive nominee on Monday, she grabbed that mantle on Tuesday night, and Obama fully supported her Thursday, there has been a change in the tone inside those groups and out. So much so that I went on my own public Facebook page this morning and asked about it: “Were you a ‘private’ supporter? Why? Has that changed? Why?”
(In the Great-Minds-Think-Alike Department, writer Jessica Bennett asked a similar question on her public Facebook page, with a similar outpouring in response.)
Women, and some men, filled the thread, and also my inbox, with their answers.
Yes, they said, they had been reluctant to support Clinton openly. Why? The most common answer was because they felt that to talk openly about their politics was to invite nastiness, from both people they know in real life and very angry strangers.
“I simply don’t want to get into arguments with people I love,” Wendy Bauer Piersall wrote.
“It was just exhausting to deal with the constant same attacks on her if you posted anything,” wrote Rebecca Levey.
There were other reasons, too. Some spoke of their own ambivalence about Clinton – that she is an imperfect candidate, a reminder of a past they are uncomfortable defending. “My reservations for another Clinton never dimmed,” Georgia Giaccone wrote. “Hillary has a rough road ahead identifying herself apart from Bill and the 90s.”
Others wrestled with the idea that in face of the “cool” mantle claimed by Sanders’ supporters, being for Clinton felt less so. “I was very aware, standing in that school gym” during the Nevada caucus, Kim Foster wrote, “that me and a bunch of old people were supporting Hillary and all my friends, the cool people, etc, were across from me on the Bernie side.”
Quite a few wrote that they muted their views in deference to Sanders supporters in their own homes – most often their children.
“I made a deal with my 25-year old son,” wrote Deborah Golden Alecson “that I would vote for Sanders in the primary if and only if he would vote for Clinton should she be the nominee. I wanted to honor his commitment and the commitment of the millennials with whom he associates.”
Then there were others who cited their children as the reason they were finally stepping forward. Until recently, Diana Noya says, she was reluctant to “signal my strong support and sense of feminist pride for this nomination,” because she also respected many of Sanders’ ideals. But lately she has decided to speak out because of “the unwavering commitment of my two millennial daughters to Hillary.”
It was teenage neighbors rather than her own kids who had the same effect on Sonya Terjanian. “I have a Hillary sign tucked tastefully among my bushes” in the front yard, she says. “Every few days a group of high school girls comes and moves it to the strip of grass by the road where it’s more visible. I’ve decided to take the hint and ‘put it out there.’”
Whatever their reasons for reticence or revelation, nearly everyone in my thread agreed that more women in their circles are similarly speaking out. There is a new willingness to be vocal, they say — and that change is very, very recent.
“Over the last 24 hours or so I have seen a move from quiet, tempered … to people who unabashedly saying they fully support her… ” says Eric Winn.
“I’m ‘coming out’ on this site now!” announced Cheryl Waixel Kaften, who lives near the Clintons in Chappaqua. Still, “even among Democrats, I have not mentioned” that “I’m a Hillary supporter.”
Agreed Nikki Stern: “Yes, I’ve hesitated to subject myself to the vitriol … but I’m feeling the need to step up,” says Nikki Stern.
And Diana Kirk, outspoken herself over the months, but noticing that “few spoke up whenever I’d post anything about Hillary” in the past says that “suddenly this week, I’m seeing those same people post re-shares about Hillary. Shocking.”
How to explain the change? Partly, math. The race is now down to two candidates. “I have a Hillary bumper sticker … that is coming out of its “hiding spot” on my dining room table,” says Melissa Freeman Gold. “I was a Bernie supporter for several months, but with the caveat that I would ultimately be behind whichever Democrat would win the nomination … She is now the candidate that I support. Wholeheartedly.”
As Amy Oztan put it: “I think defending her to republicans is just fundamentally different, especially now when their choice is Trump.”
And Ronnie Diamondstein says: “Now that she will be the nominee … they are supporting her. I also think the presumptive nominee’s ‘activities’ this week reinforced to many that they need to support her so he does not win.”
More than just arithmetic or even logic, though, there is an emotional factor. A feeling of pride, sometimes wholly unexpected, as the import of the moment dawned.
“It was something to show her speech this week to my three daughters … more significant than I thought it would be,” wrote Rebecca Hughes Parker.
And Pamela Campbell found herself thinking during that speech “I wish more than anything my mother and aunts were alive to see it and share it with me.”
Will this change last? Will it make a difference in the November election? Is it quantifiably significant?
All unclear. But to those who are feeling personally freed to be more vocal, it appears an important moment indeed.
As Pamela Campbell concluded: “Thanks for allowing me space to put my feelings! I am growing braver by the day about my own FB page. It is time to acknowledge being HAPPY with this outcome and not just ‘resigned.’ I feel JOY.”