On November 9, 2016, the day after the election, the world watched Hillary Clinton deliver a concession speech that spoke of the “deeply divided” nation the presidential race had left in its wake. Observing from the sidelines, eyes filled with tears, were her heartbroken campaign staffers, who had spent the previous year imagining a very different outcome.
“On Election Day, I was in charge of all of the hotel logistics,” says Opal Vadhan, a former member of Hillary’s national advance team and currently the executive assistant to both Hillary and her chief of staff, Huma Abedin. “I was with her all Election Day and had a team of three. So at 2 or 3 in the morning, when the results came in, I had to tell these phenomenal women, ‘We can’t cry; we cannot be upset. We need to make this as easy as possible for this woman on what is possibly the toughest day of her life.’”
This is just one example of the overwhelming resilience, strength, and professionalism exhibited by Opal, 24; Iran Campana, 27; Mariam Ehrari, 25; Tylah Gantt, 23; Kate Offerdahl Guy, 25; Lauren Collins Peterson, 30;Paola Ramos, 30; Ella Serrano, 26; and Lisa Vedernikova, 23 — a handful of the many women (and men) who dedicated themselves to helping get the first female president elected. While we didn’t see the glass ceiling shattered, these women all agree that the long days, late nights, and love shared created a bond that will last a lifetime. “The way we would decompress is just by being friends with each other,” says Kate, who assisted campaign manager Robby Mook and is now the policy program manager at the Truman National Security Project. “We were never catty. We loved each other deeply — [from] the most senior staff to the once-a-week volunteer. We all got to know each other. And without that bond, I think it would have been hell.”
Hillary has always known the value and power of a female-centric team. There is even a name for it. The term “Hillaryland,” which dates back to 1992, originally referred to the members of Hillary’s inner circle who acted as her advisory team when she was First Lady. They included Capricia Marshall, Maggie Williams, and Patti Solis Doyle. Now the term has expanded to encompass a new generation of young women who will go on to define the political landscape — inspired by Hillary to get out there and make a difference, no matter what.
“I remember the moment Hillary announced she was going to run. I was in the library, as I was getting my master’s, and I gasped and disrupted the silence in the room,” says Paola, who was the campaign’s deputy national director of Hispanic media and is now consulting for various progressive causes, particularly in communications and immigration. “And I told myself I would do everything I could to help elect the first female president of the U.S. My heart ached [after the loss] — not only for HRC and our team — but mostly for all of the families, children, women, and communities our campaign had fought for.”
In the days immediately following the vote, feelings shifted from anguish to action. “It was my job — for the three days after the election that we had to work — to make sure that everyone was fed, which required a lot of amazing food to cry into,” remembers Lisa, who was the assistant to Beth Jones, the COO of Hillary’s campaign, and is now a special projects manager at The New York Times. Her interest in politics started at 16, when she was the speaker of the house at a political conference she attended. When this lifelong Clinton fan (she was a scheduling intern for President Clinton in 2015) found out Hillary would be running, she knew she had to have a role. After interning for eight months, she was hired full time.
Based at the campaign’s Brooklyn Heights headquarters, Lisa and her colleagues spent so much time together that “obviously we would get sick of each other, but we still loved each other, and we were literally a family. We would go to karaoke once a week. We went rollerblading once. We had outdoor movie festivals. There was a birthday every single day of the campaign, so we went hard in the paint for the birthdays!”
“You were just surrounded by the smartest, most badass women and men you could possibly find,” says Lauren, who joined Team Hillary after stints working on President Obama’s reelection campaign and for Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. Having come on board as the director of digital content and creative, she transitioned to the role of speechwriter after the primaries. “In my first meeting [with Hillary], I cracked a joke. I had forgotten who I was with and said it before I could stop myself. I thought, Oh, my God, what have I done? I just made some smart comment in front of Hillary Clinton. And she burst out laughing — she has a great laugh — and she slapped me on the back and said, ‘That’s my kind of girl!’ ”
“And that’s just how Secretary Clinton is,” Lauren continues. “She’s someone who will, if you tell her one week that your grandmother is sick, the next time she sees you, she’s gonna ask how your grandmother’s doing. If you are in a room with her, she will bend over backward and go out of her way to make you feel comfortable. She was not warm and fuzzy, but that never bothered me, because I want my president to be tougher and smarter than I am. ” Mariam, the campaign’s internship-program manager, had previously interned for the Obama administration. Reflecting on her time spent on Team Hillary, she says, “One of the biggest things I learned is that we are so behind where we need to be and where I thought we were as a country. The sexism on the campaign trail, the xenophobia, and all that were not enough for people [to not vote for Trump].”
“I don’t think young women in America should be afraid to be outspoken,” says Iran, a member of the campaign’s compliance team, who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union. “If you’re passionate about something or have an idea, do not be afraid. Raise your hand and say something!” Although Hillaryland 2.0 has disbanded, these young women have deployed themselves into different areas of politics and public service that join their personal passions to their work, ensuring that opportunities for females in positions of power continue to grow and the gender imbalance is challenged.
“People don’t like to politicize things,” says Ella, who went from volunteer to her current role as correspondence manager (ensuring that the more than 100,000 letters Hillary has received since the campaign ended get responses). “But the truth is everything is political, and the more women we have in politics, the more lives we can change and make better.”
“Donald Trump didn’t win the popular vote, so rest assured more of the country is in our favor than is not,” says Tylah, who served as a financial- reporting analyst on the campaign and now works in accounting at Time Inc. “So many amazing things are happening now despite the presidency. There are so many new artists and writers, so many stories being told that otherwise wouldn’t have been. So you matter. You didn’t stop mattering because of this election. We need women in Congress; we need women in the Senate; we need women in school-board elections We need women everywhere.