Hillary Clinton at the Diner
By Judith Barnett
There was a deafening moment of silence this week, a moment when no one knew whether to move or to stand still in time. Last Monday, at the Café Espresso in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, we could barely comprehend what we were hearing, much less its impact on history.
“It’s not easy,” said candidate Hillary Clinton, as her voice cracked and tears swelled. “I could not do it if I did not passionately believe it is the right thing to do. I have had so many opportunities from this country. I just do not want us to fall back.”
Perhaps out of nervousness, or sadness, or sheer human compassion, we all applauded. Then Hillary continued to explain in very emotional terms, why despite Hillary-bashing as a national pastime, she wakes up each day, travels the country, and hopes that her ideas and her passion are being heard. And why, according to all of the press and pollsters, people were not listening to her message, and are not understanding her as a person.
Three of us who had come to New Hampshire to volunteer for Senator Clinton started over to the Café Espresso about 8am, before our morning rounds of canvassing Portsmouth and Exeter and Epping. We needed to be infused with the positive, warm, self-assured Hillary that we know. We had had days of door slams, verbal insults to our candidate and ourselves, and press reports claiming that Hillary had run out of money and out of time. The Clinton era, according to the press, was dead.
We found the small café in a shopping center that had been cited in the Portsmouth papers. It was filled with undecided voters, muffins and espresso, and press who had been sent to cover the “losing” candidate. As time passed, and the candidate completed one or two earlier breakfasts, we talked to many of the thoughtful and smart undecided voters who had been invited to ask the candidate the questions that might sway their vote.
When Hillary came in, the café lit up. Illumination came not only the press lights, but from the Senator. She looked beautiful, perfectly poised, and ready to try to talk to the crowd. For over an hour, Hillary was The Candidate. She answered, in thorough detail, every question, asked the voters about themselves, and tried to explain why she wanted, and deserved, the most difficult job in the world.
I had heard a lot of this before. I loved hearing it from Hillary, but when a young mom had to leave with a toddler, and her second daughter had to go to the ladies’ room, as a new grandmother, I jumped in. After our field trip to the ladies’ room, we sat on the floor and colored with my lip gloss. I was feeling overwhelmed with policy, and not looking forward to going out into the street.
Finally, as the roundtable was about to end, the last question was asked. “How do you do it? “ Hillary smiled, hesitated, and then, voice cracking, she spoke. Suddenly, Hillary was the flesh-and-blood human being that all suspected, but few have seen. She spoke, then the silence followed. Not knowing what to do, we applauded. And Hillary went on.
As she spoke, many of us faded back into our own frustrations, particularly as women of a certain age. I thought back to the managing partner at a firm I was interviewing for as a 37 year old law student and single mother. He advised me that I did not need a summer job at his firm, I needed a husband. Or the time that I had finally achieved a senior position in a firm, and my wonderful female associate was advised by a male colleague there was no future in working for a woman, as he had more influence in the firm, and started rubbing her neck. Or the happiness that I felt when my daughter graduated from law school, having had to attend four years of night school with me when she was a young girl.
We did not know, and never will for certain, what the true effect of those moments was on the primary. In fact, when we returned to headquarters to make more election calls, one woman yelled, “Now I’ll never vote for that whiney cry baby!”
The rest has now been told in every available form of electronic and print media. Fortunately, the pollsters and talking heads have taken responsibility for their mistakes and oversights. The campaign has moved on. But most of us in the café will ponder those moments for a long time to come.
Hillary the candidate will continue to show America not only the true person that she is, but also what we are, as men and women, and as Americans.
Abigail Adams cautioned decades ago to “Remember the Ladies.” Perhaps women and men will quietly wake up on primary or election day, as they did in New Hampshire, and demonstrate to the world that America is still the most open and innovative and willing nation in the world. And that it is no longer willing to leave 51% of its population behind.