By Rain Brennan Tiller
This spring as I completed my sophomore year at college, I got the call of my young adult life: I was going to organize for Hillary Clinton. As I learned on that call, the Feminist Majority and NOW were partnering together on a campaign called She Wins, We Win, which was a statewide bus tour rallying support for Hillary’s Democratic nomination. In the weeks preceding the North Carolina primary, three other young women and I were tasked with gathering together Hillary supporters on UNC campus to attend the final rally in downtown Raleigh.
The objection was clear: get college students excited to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Within days, our team was supplied with hundreds of stickers, thousands of flyers, and our very own She Wins, We Win t-shirts. In my mind, I honestly thought our mission was going to be easy— I was convinced we were going to fill a void on campus, provide another space for feminists at UNC. In previous weeks, the Bernie supporters had been hyper visible, with a boisterous and passionate Instagram-based campaign. From a spectator’s view, their attempts seemed to be fairly well-received. I thought, What’s going to be different for us?
Answer: a lot.
Clad in our bright campaign shirts, armed with stacks of flyers, my small army of proud Clinton wannabes delved into the complicated world of on-campus organizing. But rather than connecting with fellow young women interested in Hillary’s Presidential bid, we came face to face with harsh critiques, condescension, questioning doubt, or simple neglect. What had been just media headlines clashing with Clinton’s campaign became reified by every interaction, every passing comment.
“She’s too institutional.” “She can’t lead.” “She tries too hard to be relatable.” “She’s not as authentic as Bernie.” “She’s not radical enough.”
Weeks later, news broke that Hillary had taken North Carolina in the primary. Our temporary jobs with the Feminist Majority were over, but I was still reflecting on what I had learned during my experience as a highly visible Hillary Clinton supporter. The reactions of my peers revealed a lot about the underlying sexism in my immediate community, as well as my own relationship with Hillary Clinton.
I realized that a lot of the critiques we witnessed were from other left-leaning young folks. Moreover, they all seemed to fixate on the conception of “radical.” Being radical. Having radical politics. Wanting radical change.
But what does it mean to say that someone is not radical enough, especially Hillary Clinton? What is the cost of verbalizing radical politics as a highly visible woman in politics? As a woman, Hillary Clinton is already waging a war of rationality politics. With every step she takes on her road to the White House, Clinton is surveilled by those who explicitly believe women do not have the capacity or rationality to the lead the United States.
Hillary Clinton’s two opponents throughout this race are both older white men who have been tagged in the media as unafraid vanguards, radicals at their respective ends of the spectrum: Senator Sanders and Donald Trump. For them, their approach to radical politics has won them both political spoils. Bernie’s take on contemporary socialism has resulted in an intense youth following, as seen on UNC campus. Trump’s extreme conservativism has won him the presumptive Republican nomination.
But for Hillary, the radical act of being a successful woman gunning for the Oval Office has been a point of contention. As she’s making history, she’s making the argument that change can happen and women can lead.
As Hillary Clinton becomes the presumptive Democratic nominee, I continue to look back on my experience organizing on campus. Like many of my peers, I want strong policies that will enact social and economic change. I want radical. I’m willing to admit it—Hillary Clinton may not be radical enough for me, but I’m okay with that. I’ve come to understand that in politics, radicalism can be a matter of taking up space. To be radical and still be perceived as rational and presidential is another privilege Clinton doesn’t have in this race. As the election fast approaches, it becomes more and more necessary to think about the ways in which gender is shaping the new age of politics.
If there’s one thing you can count on in this Presidential race, it’s me out on campus again—in the same shirt with the same flyers—getting students into the voting booth.