Hillary Clinten curvemag

Hillary Clinton becomes the first woman nominee of a major political party.

The tension built over the course of an hour. At the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the ceremonial roll call of delegates was garnering more and more cheers and a general frisson of excitement in the hot, cavernous entertainment center. It was just after 6:30 p.m. when South Dakota cast their delegates: 15 votes that made history. Hillary Clinton – former Secretary of State, former Senator, former First Lady – had received the requisite 2,382 delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination for president.

There was cheering. There was applause.

But it wasn’t official – yet. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s one true opponent in the Democratic primary which began over a year ago with six candidates, was going to do the honors. So when the Vermont delegation came up, so did Bernie, while delegates chanted his name and applauded.

“Madam Chair, I move that the convention suspend the procedural rules,” Sanders said. “I move that all votes, all votes cast by delegates, be reflected in the official record and I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States.”

The roar of cheering and chants of “Hillary! Hillary!” in the packed arena were nearly deafening. The excitement was palpable. People – mostly women – were hugging and crying. “Happy” started playing and people started to dance. The entire 20,000 seat Wells Fargo Center, usually the home to sporting events and concerts, was alive with sound and movement and so much emotion.

The hashtag #WeMadeHistory began trending. Hillary Clinton herself tweeted a picture of herself at the rally the night she won the delegate count and just one word: History.


It’s truly impossible to articulate the wave of emotion both in the room and in myself. In the early 1980s I was a member of NOW (National Organization for Women) and vacillating between journalism and politics. Feminist and LGBT activism had pushed me into the forefront of local Philadelphia and New York City politics. I worked briefly for Colorado Rep. Pat Schroeder, who stepped in to run for the Democratic nomination when Gary Hart withdrew in 1987. Schroeder herself withdrew before the end of the year.

I cut my political teeth on her race. Her dropping out stung, as had the loss the previous election of the Walter Mondale/Geraldine Ferraro ticket. I still have my T-shirt from that race, still remember how emotionally invested I was in the first woman vice president. The crushing loss was hard. Schroeder was harder.

I saw Ellie Smeal on the floor of the convention center Tuesday–Smeal was president of NOW longer than anyone and I spent several years working with and around her as she tried to change up the politics of America and turn us into a feminist nation.

Ellies Meal

Seeing her – she’s 76 now, but just as lively as she was when I was in my 20s – on the day Hillary Clinton was nominated was a coda. Smeal, one of the feminist mothers whose activism helped propel me forward as I learned feminism in the 1970s and 1980s, has never ceased her work for women. She’s still working with the Feminist Majority Foundation she co-founded 30 years ago and is still the publisher of Ms. magazine. She coined the term “gender gap.” She organized the ERA march in 1978 where I and members of my women’s studies organization at my college got massively sunburned. She organized the 1979 March for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Smeal is one of the women who has made feminism real and daily in America and she always said we would have a woman president and there she was as Hillary Clinton was nominated.

What a moment after all that activism.

It was a moment for Jerry Emmett, too. The 102 year old delegate was born before the 19th Amendment had been ratified. Women didn’t have the vote. And now? Emmett put forward the name of Hillary Clinton into nomination for Arizona.


It was a moment for many of the women speakers at the convention, like disability rights activist Anastasia Somoza and DREAMer Astrid Silva. Somoza spoke about her work in disability rights and her mere presence in her wheelchair at the DNC was groundbreaking–especially coming as it did on the eve of the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The 28-year-old Silva spoke of her life as an undocumented immigrant – one of the key issues for this election. According to Donald Trump, Silva is one of the people in America who needs to be rounded up and sent back to Mexico.


Speech after speech on Monday and Tuesday highlighted the vast differences between the Democratic and Republican conventions. Where the RNC was a festival of fear- and hate-mongering, the Democratic convention – dissension among Sanders delegates notwithstanding – has been optimistic and full of ideas for change. Clinton’s mantra: ‘love trumps hate,’ was on display, even among the dissenters. On Tuesday night each speaker told stories of Clinton’s public service. One of the most moving came from Lauren Manning, the most badly injured victim of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. Manning spent six months in the hospital and was told she had five percent chance to survive. Tuesday night she talked about how then-Sen. Hillary Clinton would come to the hospital, “hold my bandaged hand” and visit with her “with no cameras, no photo ops, just there because of her concern for me.”

Tuesday night ended with a 45-minute speech by former President Bill Clinton about how he met Hillary and all the work she has done over 45 years as a public servant. Some of it we knew, much of it we didn’t. But the figure that emerged from his engaging tale was one of strength and confidence, a woman who gets things done because they need doing.

“She’s a changemaker,” Bill Clinton told an audience eager for his stories about Hillary.

Part of that change-making was in evidence on the floor—it has been about electing America’s first woman president. Part of that change has been altering the narrative from a male-driven focus to a women and children-driven focus.

The Democratic Convention was always meant to be leading to this point – this historic point in America’s most historic city. There had been two days of speeches and infighting among Sanders and Clinton delegates and outside protests over everything from police violence against black Americans to a Clean Energy March that garnered thousands from over 100 disparate groups and more than 20 different states on the day before the convention opened on Monday, July 25.

And then it was time to say that Hillary Clinton was going to be our next president.

Emotions had been running high from the outset and each time it felt as if the room couldn’t hold anymore, something else happened to kick it up another notch.

On Monday, there was dissension in the room. Sanders delegates seemed to have just realized that their candidate lost the primary, even though he had endorsed Clinton weeks earlier and the primary had been over for nearly six weeks. Several pockets of delegates began booing every time Clinton’s name was mentioned during speeches, including many black politicians and other speakers. Civil rights icon Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was booed as was rising Democratic star Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who gave one of the most impassioned speeches. Even First Lady Michelle Obama was booed briefly when she began her speech – the most evocative of the star-studded Monday night lineup.

Mrs. Obama managed to contain the divergent emotions of the vast crowd of delegates and press. She began by repeating some of her words from her 2008 speech, throwing a little shade to Melania Trump, who had been accused of plagiarizing portions of that speech. Then she launched into a rousing and emotional declaration of endorsement for Hillary Clinton.

Mrs. Obama spoke about her time in the White House and the value of the past nearly eight years. She spoke about her daughters and her concern for the children of America. A concern, she said, only Hillary Clinton could be trusted with.

Mrs. Obama talked about Clinton’s ability to rise above difficult circumstances. Watching Bernie Sanders close up at the convention, I saw his effort to contain his emotions as he made the case to his supporters that they needed to support Hillary Clinton. He noted in his well-delivered case for Clinton’s presidency on Monday night that as disappointed as his supporters might be, “trust me – I am more disappointed” that he didn’t capture the nomination.

Mrs. Obama addressed how seamlessly Clinton moved from fierce competitor with then-candidate Barack Obama to supporter and defender and promoter. She said, “When she did not win the nomination eight years ago, she did not get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home because Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own disappointment. She proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as secretary of state, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe. There were moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being [torn] apart for how she looked, or how she talked, or even how she laughed.”

FLOTUS threw some serious shade at Trump, and then in one of the most poignant moments in her speech and in this primary process she said, “When crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. We are always stronger together. I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president Hillary Clinton will be and that is why in this election, I’m with her.”

I’m with her. The mantra that was repeated again and again over the course of the past year. All the women lined up to give speeches over the course of the convention have emphasized #ImWithHer because #ShesWithUs.

When Mrs. Obama had come out onto the stage the room had erupted. There were purple signs among the delegates that said simply: Michelle.

But when she spoke about what living in the White House meant, about her daughters and about Hillary Clinton’s role as a protector and guide for America’s future, looking around me, people were openly crying – as was I. And when she said this, about the kind of leadership that had propelled America forward as a nation, it literally took my breath away:

“Leaders like Hillary Clinton, who have the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in the highest and hardest glass ceiling until they finally break through, lifting all of us along with her. That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done.

So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters — two beautiful intelligent black young women — play with the dog on the White House lawn.

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.”

There is more to come at this convention, including Clinton’s acceptance speech Thursday night. But at the halfway point, what we have seen is a coalescing of the Democrats themselves – 100 Sanders delegates walked out in protest when he put Clinton in nomination, but his remaining 1,800 delegates stayed – and a place that looks like America.

In the first hour of the first day more people of color and LGBT people and women had spoken than in the entirety of the Republican convention. In speech after speech after speech there were references to LGBT lives and black lives and women’s rights.

And over and over again we heard that Hillary Clinton’s life of public service had led her – and us – to this place. Where the RNC had been full of fear and hate – all the isms and phobias – the DNC has been about what Alicia Keys, who closed out Tuesday night with a rousing, fabulous concert told the crowd – this is about “love and acceptance.” She urged Sanders and Clinton supporters to come together and soon people were holding hands and swaying to her music.

Alicia Keys

She told the crowd it was an historic day and “a great day for feminism.”

And it was. Both Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton – two of the people who know Hillary Clinton best – said that she represented the future of America, the space where we move forward for the next generations.

It felt like hope, in Philadelphia on a sweltering night in July. It may not have been the founding of a nation, like 240 years ago, but it was definitely history being made.