This is the letter I wrote to Hillary Clinton after the election. We're publishing it online in honor of the one-year anniversary of election night. This piece originally appeared in the first-ever print edition of Argot, for sale here.
I have been thinking of you — throughout these first few months in Trump’s America, throughout the general election, throughout the primary, throughout the eight years Obama was in office, throughout the primary campaign where you changed everything and showed me everything.
For most of my life, I’ve carried you with me. I carry you with me still. I feel like I know you.
When you conceded in 2008, my entire world changed colors. I stayed home, cried on the carpet in my room, held closely to my broken heart for fear I would forget how to piece it back together. I was 17. I had just gotten an internship at your New York City office. It echoed over and over again in my head: I should’ve done more.
When you conceded this year, everything fell apart.
My grandmother died on the day you should have become President of the United States. She didn’t want my family to tell me, not on election day. Not on your election day. I had spent the entire campaign speaking up and out, working with advocacy groups on the ground to swing votes in your favor, raising money and encouraging folks to be a part of everything. I didn’t get to stand in the room with my grandmother. I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I should have called more. I should have done more.
I think about both of you all the time. I feel like I’ve failed one of the women who raised me and the woman who casts a shadow I try and try to fit my body into every single day.
My grandmother died imagining two things, things I juxtapose against reality now multiple times a day: She imagined you becoming President, walking out on stage in a white suit and changing everything. She imagined me looking on in awe, eyes welling with tears, finally watching my longest-held dream come true. She hurried her two daughters out of the hospital room on the day she died with one final instruction: “Vote.” They did. You won New Jersey, the state where I grew up, where she raised me. I called my grandmother’s home number to ask her how it felt to know that soon we would have our first woman president. My aunt answered on the third ring, kept telling me my grandmother couldn’t come to the phone right now, promised me she had voted. I imagined my grandmother walking into that booth and voting for you. It was a vision that left me in awe of our nation’s ability to grow and expand and progress.
That was all a dream. This was all a dream. The greatest dream there ever was, I think.
I shook your hand once, in 2007. It was December. The primary fight you were waging against Barack Obama was already being spun as impossible by the media but you came to New Jersey anyway and my friend and I stood in line for hours with our breath visible in front of us waiting to see you. They put us in an overflow room. You came over to it at the end of your speech, making sure every single person there got to see you. I was quoted, for the first time ever, in a newspaper, something local, I still remember the picture but even moreso the words: teenage girls spilled out, screaming, “I’ll never wash that hand again!” (Don’t worry, I did.) My friend and I went to a diner afterward and dreamt about a world in which you had a seat in one of the most important offices in the world, at all of the most powerful tables, a world in which men and women and boys and girls slowly learned to swallow or perhaps delighted in the taste of a woman president. I learned how to speak that year, how to tell people that women mattered. I knew they were afraid of us, of you and me and all the other women in the world finally opening our mouths. Every single tired sexist piece of bullshit I heard them spit at you while you ran for our lives felt like a tornado tearing through my chest. The scraps of it made me scream.
You took a selfie with my phone in 2016, but I wasn’t in it. Honestly, I don’t blame you, I blame the woman next to me who wanted to be my friend but also pushed me out of the way at the end because she couldn’t possibly have understood. I stood behind a metal barrier, pushed into it with the weight of what felt like the world waiting for a chance to look you in the eyes one more time. I had just moved to Los Angeles, I had met some feminists on the Internet in a secret Facebook group, drove another hour in my small car just to once again bask in what seemed impossible and possible at the same time. There was a protest outside, it wasn’t even the other side, it was our side, people I thought were my comrades staring us down and screaming at us. We defiantly walked through the crowd, decked out in your merch with stars in our eyes. We loved you. We love you. They held up signs accusing you of being a sellout, a corporate whore, a fake. You’re more real to me than anything, the actual muscle in my chest that keeps me going. I called my mom, fuck Bernie Sanders, there were girls holding signs for you crying in the middle of the screams. I just don’t wanna cheer for white men. I don’t wanna cheer for men at all, really.
I read Living History in 2006 when I was visiting colleges in Boston. I realized I didn’t want to go to Harvard anymore. I ended up in Washington, DC, thinking I would go into politics. You conceded in the 2008 Democratic primary the summer before I started at American University, so I switched my major to Women’s Studies and wrote all of my papers about you.
I cried at the convention. I was there. I was there. I was there. I am here. You looked beautiful. I didn’t cry during your speech. I was passing a joint and live-tweeting and then when it was over I looked inside myself, why aren’t you crying, and I looked up at your face on the television screen and I saw you look out at rafters upon rafters full of cheering people and exhale, finally full enough of love and appreciation to feel proud, finally having broken one of the ceilings you always saw and even bumped your head into once or twice. I cried that night because you were finally exactly where you deserved to be.
My grandmother grew up in the Great Depression. She taught herself to drive. She got herself a job. She smoked cigarettes until they made her stop. She raised two daughters after her husband passed away, imbuing them with her strength and wisdom: My mother, emotional and silly, loved me endlessly, whispered into my ear that I could be anything, loved me with my flaws, loved me when I was weird, encouraged me to have so much empathy I would cry on the playground for the kids I knew were lonely or misfit, cried for me when I came out because she didn’t want me to get hurt by the world, held closely to me when I watched Kate McKinnon sing “Hallelujah” in a white pantsuit and salute all you have yet to become; my aunt, stubborn and fiercely intelligent, rigid and responsible, showed me how to kick ass and take names.
My aunt told me when I was younger that I could be first, the first woman president, but I didn’t wanna be first. I wanted you to be first. But please don’t apologize for not being first. That’s not even really true, you know. I recount in my head sometimes how far you took us, all of us, riding on your back toward the unknown. You carried us in your heart, safe and warm while you braved the cold.
The first woman to win a primary. The first woman to win an electoral vote. The first woman to win a state in a general election. The first woman to win countless states in a primary election. The first woman to win the popular vote of the United States. The first. The first. The first. I’m so proud of you for trying to be first. I’m so immensely humbled by your bravery. I’m in awe of your determination. You were the first. You were here.
We were, too. I know I was, swaddled in your merch, surrounded by your books. I built walls with your newspaper covers and campaign signs. My mother keeps your throw pillow on the couch in the plastic, just in case.
I watched your concession speech in my car, a tiny blue Chevy Spark. I drove it across the country. I learned how to drive and I bought it and I drove it across the country. I grew up with nothing but saved up for something and that was it, the trip that took me far from my grandmother but so close to myself. She was proud of me. I think often that you would be proud of me, too. I wept with my hand out the window smoking an American Spirit (light blues) while you spoke about all the girls who would not watch you climb back up the steps of the White House. I whispered back to you when you talked about those of us who went underground, tried so hard to make it possible for you to hear me, thought about everyone in my tiny secret Facebook group who followed you diligently on your path toward the finish line, who finally let go of fear, who had been ready to celebrate in white just twelve hours before.
The cigarette burnt out eventually. The speech ended. Just like in 2008. Just like in 2008. The dream crashes down. The ceiling doesn’t. And nobody ever seems to give a fuck.
A part of me thinks I have spent the better part of the last ten years doing what I do because I wanted to believe I could build a country that was finally ready for you to be president. Not just any woman, not a woman, but you. The woman who inspired me and my mother and my grandmother. The woman who shook my hand and handed me back my cell phone. The woman who spoke about me countless times, over and over and over again, across the world and on the campaign trail. The woman who stood tall because she knew she would have to stand on stilts to climb to heaven.
I have as many hours in a day as you. I remind myself of that often. I have the capacity to be as strong, as graceful, as resilient, as powerful, as persistent, as persuasive, as confident, as proud, as kind, as compassionate, as empathetic, as strong-willed, as sincere, as pragmatic, as sly, as coy, as funny, as sweet, as light as you. I have the ability to look my enemies in the face and smile. I have the capacity to fail, to shoot and miss, and still do good work. I have the propensity to survive.
I have these things because I know you have them. Because you are all of the women who raised me. Because there is something inside of me that you remind me of, and that your work has made me aware of.
She was like me, y’know, or I guess I was like her. A dreamer. My grandmother thought you would be president. My grandmother wanted you to be president. My grandmother wanted me to jump up and down in the sea of pink balloons we never took out of the bag when they said you were president.
I have to prove her right. I have to prove myself right. I have to prove you right.
I have to fight, tie my boots, get back up, stop crying on airplanes. I have to dig deep inside myself and remember what it was like to think anything was possible, and everything. I have to dig deep inside myself and find a version of myself that can survive a future where your inauguration isn’t in my past.
You were gonna look so fucking amazing under the glass ceiling confetti.
I know that you will never give up. I won’t, either. And when you need a comrade, feel free to call on me.
Carmen Rios is the Managing Editor at Argot and Digital Editor at Ms. magazine. Her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed; Bitch; Mic; MEL; Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, and she is the former co-host of THE BOSSY SHOW. She stays very zen in L.A. traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.