How Hillary Clinton's Campaign Changed My Life

by Caitlin Flynn
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On the night of November 8, I stood outside the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, trying (and failing) to take deep breaths as I waited for my Uber to arrive. Although it would be hours before the election was officially called, it had quickly become clear over the course of the evening that the polls, the pundits, and the analysts had been wrong — Hillary Clinton wasn't going to be president. I stared at my phone, as texts from friends came in — they were mostly variations of "I can't believe this is happening," "I'm panicking," and "Are you OK??" I felt too frozen to respond. Everything looked blurry, from the shop windows across the street to the Space Needle in the distance.

I retreated from the Washington State Democrats party and the celebratory blue "Madam President" cocktails that now seemed to mock us, to the safety of my apartment. Like so many others, I didn't go to sleep on Election Night. I kept the TV on until the sight of Donald Trump delivering his acceptance speech sent me into panic mode. The rest of the night is hazy, but the sun had just risen on the west coast when I sat cross-legged on my bed, shivering despite the fact that I'd wrapped myself in my warmest sweater, and watched Hillary Clinton deliver her concession speech. I was shocked, furious, heartbroken, and terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency — but I was also grieving the loss of Hillary Clinton, the politician and woman who was meant to be my president.

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Caitlin Flynn

I was one of the millennials who had wholeheartedly supported Hillary Clinton from the moment she announced her bid for the presidency on April 12, 2015 (yes, we exist and there are more of us than you may think) . Back when Trump's candidacy seemed like a crass joke that would get old really fast, I was already enthusiastic about Clinton and I immersed myself in research so I could be as informed as possible; after all, I planned on volunteering for her campaign the moment headquarters opened in Seattle.

‌The presidential election coincided with an eventful, transformative period in my life, and that has surely played a role in my attachment to the campaign and my admiration for Clinton. In the months between Clinton's announcement of her bid for presidency and Election Day, I quit my corporate job and moved from New York City to Seattle to become a full-time writer. I was undeterred by the fact that pretty much everyone was eager to warn me that I'd never make a living that way. (Spoiler alert: they were wrong, and I was wise to not listen.)

I made new friends, I traveled, and I became an aunt to the most beautiful little girl in the world. But it wasn't all smooth sailing — I realized that being a feminist writer often meant waking up to a barrage of vitriolic tweets and emails.

More than once, I thought maybe I should stick to solely writing about noncontroversial topics — could I really handle being regularly called stupid, ugly, and a "feminazi who should just go die alone"? Then I asked myself, would Hillary Clinton let herself be silenced by some misogynists on social media? This was, of course, a rhetorical question. Slowly but surely, using Clinton as an inspiration, I learned to "brush it off" and recognize that the trolls' words said everything about them and nothing about me.

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During those months, I read and followed the news daily — but life went on, too. I experienced success and failures as a writer, I grieved the sudden death of an ex-boyfriend who was still a good friend, I botched a relationship in a manner that I'm not proud of, and I was sexually assaulted a week before the Democratic National Convention. Throughout it all, I questioned my own resilience and capability more times than I care to admit. But every time, I looked to Hillary, and she inspired me to persevere. At the times when I felt most disempowered and insecure, nothing felt more inspiring than spending hours at the cramped yet beautiful headquarters where the Seattle chapter of Hillary for America had set up shop.

Caitlin Flynn

‌I didn't want any woman to be president — I wanted it to be Hillary Clinton. Politics aren't for the faint of heart, but no one has faced more relentless, cruel attacks than she has. When she lost the bid to Obama in 2008, it was considered a career-ending embarrassment and many people (including me) thought we'd seen the last of her — but instead, she became Secretary of State and the first female presidential nominee of a major party, proving that a major setback isn't the end of an amazing career. As Obama said at the DNC in July:

[E]ven in the midst of crisis, she listens to people, and she keeps her cool, and she treats everybody with respect. And no matter how daunting the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits. That is the Hillary I know. That’s the Hillary I’ve come to admire.

That's the Hillary I admire, too — the one who doesn't simply throw in the towel when she faces a devastating defeat that others would consider career-ending. The woman who doesn't consider "ambitious" to be a dirty word, who remained calm and collected during lengthy Benghazi hearings that turned up nothing, and who wasn't afraid to say that she was the best person for the job — a trait that remains far too uncommon among women. In what was arguably the ugliest campaign in history, we watched Trump spend an entire debate hovering and lurking behind Clinton in what seemed like an attempt to rattle her. (It didn't.) He gleefully threw her husband's infidelities in her face in yet another attempt to rattle her and, once again, he wasn't successful.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Campaign season coincided with a time in my life when I needed a role model who wasn't afraid of a bully and who refused to be thrown off her game when vicious personal attacks became par for the course. Needless to say, Hillary rose to the occasion.

By the end of the campaign, I was a changed woman — I'd succeeded at something few people believed I could do, I'd stopped pretending that my success was purely due to "luck," and I'd finally found my voice and learned to (mostly) ignore the trolls. To say that Clinton's loss was devastating would be an understatement and, for a few weeks, I felt adrift. For the past year, I'd devoted all my volunteer efforts to Clinton's campaign — now, it was time to double down and find causes that would help the people who will be negatively impacted by a Trump presidency. But I was exhausted and I'd lost faith in the country, so I dragged my heels for a solid month.

I grieved, I cried, and I yelled. It was mildly cathartic at first, but then I realized that my behavior was more than just unproductive — it was disrespectful to Clinton. In her concession speech, she urged her supporters to carry on the fight despite this painful setback:

"[T]o the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this. I have...spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I have had successes and I have had setbacks. Sometimes really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

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Clinton has spent decades fighting for people like me — and now, it's our turn to honor her with action. At the beginning of her campaign in 2015, I was easily intimidated, terrified of public speaking, and known to cry at the slightest criticism. But, as part of the Clinton campaign, I had a front row seat and I watched her closely in order to learn from her. I'll certainly never attain Clinton's level of strength and grace under fire, but I've reached a place in my life where I can fight back in a way that I never would have been able to prior to Clinton's candidacy.

Two years ago, if I had to utter two sentences in a room full of 30-40 people at work, my heart would race and I'd clench my sweaty palms. Last week, I dropped everything when Planned Parenthood asked me if I could be at their headquarters in two hours to share a very personal story on camera for a news segment to coincide with Trump's Supreme Court nominee. I felt a little nervous, but mostly empowered and honored to have the opportunity to be a voice for such an important organization.

Caitlin Flynn

In her 1969 student commencement speech at Wellesley college, Clinton said: "Fear is always with us but we just don't have time for it. Not now." Nearly five decades later, her words are just as relevant and important as they were in 1969 — and I plan to live by them as best I can, not just during Trump's presidency, but for the rest of my life.

I'm more politically active now than I've ever been, but it would be a lie to say that that my grief has subsided. Every morning, I wake up to horrifying news about Trump's latest actions and I immediately look for the most effective ways to get in touch the Congresspeople who can make a difference. But, once my work for the day is done, my mind inevitably wanders to what life would be like with Clinton as president. I still grieve for should have been, and I probably will for a very long time.

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But, as I look to the future, I see a different path for myself than I did two years ago. I'll no longer "play it safe" and stay quiet for fear of coming across as too loud, too opinionated, and too passionate about politics. I'll never think twice before I publish an article, or film a news segment, that opens me up to hateful criticism. I'll never apologize for being ambitious, for celebrating my own successes, or for pursuing a goal that people have told me is unattainable.

Most importantly, I'll never let a devastating setback — whether it's personal, professional, or political, knock me down. Instead, I'll take my anger and pain and use it to do something good for the world — and, luckily, I live in a city where there are ample opportunities for political activists and volunteers. Hillary Clinton won't ever be president and we're faced with an uphill battle with Trump in the White House. Luckily, she lead by example and showed young women what strength, work ethic, and astounding resilience truly look like. She provided me and millions of other young women with the tools to carry on her fight in every way we can — and that's a beautiful legacy.

Saying "goodbye" to Hillary the politician is still too raw and painful — so, instead, I'll say "thank you, Hillary." Being part of this campaign allowed me to find the strength, fire, and fight that I didn't know I had inside me — and I promise to put these qualities to good use for the rest of my life.