The ‘Bernie Bro’ phenomenon, one of many regrettable footnotes of the 2016 presidential election, birthed an opposition movement that will carry Hillary Clinton’s legacy far beyond this election.
“A lot of young people like myself are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And, I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest. But I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there?”
The question, of course, was not a question at all, but a statement merely dressed as a question, and when first-time voter Taylor Gipple, 22, posed it to Hillary Clinton last January at the CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall in Des Moines, Iowa, he likely had no idea he was regurgitating a variation of the same misogynistic, condescending, and blatantly untrue talking points about her “likability,” or the “enthusiasm gap” that Clinton has been subjected to for decades.
Even President Obama has acknowledged that gender bias has disadvantaged Clinton, famously admitting that “she had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers: backwards in heels.”
Nevertheless, here we were again. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Yale-educated lawyer, a former United States Senator and massively popular Secretary of State, the ground-breaking First Lady who became the first to have a policy role in a presidential administration, and the most admired woman in the world a record-breaking 21 times, was being asked to explain herself to a 22-year-old post-pubescent neophyte with no known accomplishments to his name other than having been born a man. He appeared to be a “Bernie Bro,” the white, male subsect of Bernie Sanders supporters known for attacking “journalists, politicians and voters perceived to be pro-Clinton with misogynistic, often vulgar attacks.”
1,600 miles away, I had congregated in a modest West Hollywood, California apartment to watch the event with a group of men that shared a radically different view: These dudes loved Hillary. They loved her a lot.
“You know look, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve been on the front lines of change and progress since I was your age,” she said, pausing for a moment to look her beet-faced opponent square in the eyes. “When I worked on health care back in 1993...and I don’t know if you were born then. I can’t quite tell.”
The Birth of a Movement
Reflecting on our year as Bros4Hillary is an extremely painful exercise. It is hard to believe, as we approach our one year anniversary, that we began as an obscure Facebook group with a couple hundred members, meant to serve as a tongue-in-cheek response to the aforementioned bigotry and sexism displayed by so-called Bernie Bros. The general concept? Hillary’s “bros” are all of us: gay, straight, black, white, male, female, transgendered, etc. Hillary’s vision for America was one of inclusiveness and we would open our arms to everyone accordingly. Nelson Melegrito, a Filipino-American non-profit professional living in Los Angeles, came up with the idea along with Rance Collins, an Arkansas native now pursuing his modeling and acting career in Hollywood. Together they brought on Thomas McAbee, Matt Garrett, Daniel Fusselman, and myself to help lead the way.
We never expected that by October we would become a political brand, forming an organizing partnership with Hillary for America that included joining their SMS campaign, producing our own campaign PSAs, conducting a massive social media outreach and voter registration effort, and leading the country for calls made by our phone-banking team. LGBTQ Nation named us to their Top 8 People Working to Elect Hillary alongside Ellen Degeneres and Hillary’s campaign manager, Robby Mook. We received national media attention, were accused of being paid trolls and corporate shills, had our live Facebook broadcasts stream direct from Hillary For America, and even found ourselves in the middle of a national media scandal involving Bernie Sanders Facebook pages.
“Our original mission was simply to elect Hillary Clinton,” said Melegrito, who was shocked to see the group grow to more than 35,000 members and volunteers across multiple platforms. “Our extremely dedicated members and leadership team worked tirelessly for countless unpaid hours knocking on doors, phone-banking, and canvassing from the extreme cold weather in Iowa and New Hampshire to the intense heat in Florida, Las Vegas and the southern states. It was very moving.”
Bros4Hillary is important. The wonderful opportunities and media mentions aside, it was a moment in time that meant a great deal to a lot of different people who found in us a vessel, a safe space, and a community of like-minded supporters. Together, we represented a reality that was otherwise totally ignored by the American media: people enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.
“For me, it was about the importance of good minded and like minded people continuing to organize to effect positive change in the world. Our organization worked in engaging hearts and minds around a positive inclusive message,” said Garrett, our Operations Director. “Hillary inspired us to action, but it takes so much more work to break down barriers than it does to build them.”
Losing the election, if you insist on calling it a loss, was something we never counted on, and is something that will linger for the rest of my days as one of the most profoundly disappointing and heartbreaking moments of my life. But the outpouring of support, love, and yes, mourning in the aftermath of Election Day are truly telling of what a superb and historic impact Hillary Clinton made, and more importantly, the myth of her unlikability.
The “Enthusiasm Gap”
What right and sometimes, the fractious left, did not understand, and what the aftermath of the election only served to highlight, is that Hillary Clinton is and was one of the most widely adored and beloved figures in modern American politics. Most might scoff at the suggestion. “But she lost!” I can hear you saying. But only because you too have bought into the myth. That regurgitated lie about the enthusiasm gap echoed by the first-time voter in Iowa nearly one year ago.
Even as she went on to win more votes than any other presidential candidate in American history, second only to Barack Obama (whose 2012 total she virtually tied), the narrative that she was not likable enough will continue on unjustly. Even as intelligence reports are released showing that a hostile foreign power interfered with our free and fair elections in order to sully her reputation and usher in a Donald Trump victory, people will tend towards the narrative that she lost because she was not the right candidate.
Two months have passed since Election Day and people are still mourning. I do not recall such a painful and morbid post-election display of grief for Mitt Romney or John McCain, or John Kerry, or even Al Gore. This is different. People are mourning because they— we— really LOVE HER. For her tenacity, wit, and intelligence. For being a trailblazer, her lifetime of public service, and her trademark resilience and fortitude. And for defying society’s expectations and ideas of what you can or should do based on your gender or who you’re married to or what you’re born with.
So what do you do after working so hard for so long, some for a year, some for 10, some for decades, waking up every day with one goal at the forefront of your heart and mind, a dream of making history that will not come to pass?
What choice do we have but to fight for the inclusive, progressive America she envisioned, honoring Hillary Clinton and her legacy by working for the policies, issues, and values she championed. We are Bros4America. And while some media pundits have speculated, in the days since the election, that the “Clinton days are over,” we beg to differ. They are only just beginning.
In that same CNN Democratic Town Hall on that eerily prescient January evening nearly one year ago, Hillary had one more thing to say to the first-time voter from Iowa.
“You got to keep going. You can’t give up. You can never get knocked off course,” she said poignantly. “That’s my hope for you and for all the young people who are getting involved for the first time. Don’t get discouraged. It’s hard. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be any contest. But it’s not easy. There are very different visions, different values, different forces at work. And you have to have a proven fighter. Somebody who has taken them on and won and kept going.”