On Wednesday, she woke up inconsolable. On Thursday, angry. But on the Friday after the presidential election, as she prepared posters to join thousands in protesting Donald Trump’s victory, Mia Hernández came to a quiet realization: If she found her country’s direction intolerable, she would have to try to change it.
She would change it not just by signing petitions, or protesting, or calling her legislators. For the first time, she sketched out a plan to run for elected office.
In 2020, Hernández intends to make a bid for a seat on the San Jose City Council or the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Her focus will be reproductive rights and community empowerment, she said.
“Everybody says organize, don’t mourn, make a change,” said Hernández, 22, a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “So I said to myself, ‘How am I going to be an active member in this? You know what, I need to run for office. I need to be a part of that decision-making. I need to make sure Trump’s voice is not the only voice out there.’ ”
Among young, liberal women who expected to see the country elect its first female president Nov. 8, Hernández is not alone; many are responding to Hillary Clinton’s defeat with a new sense of obligation to seek political power. After years of never imagining a career in the public eye or only vaguely entertaining the idea of working in politics, these women are determined to run for elected office.
They don’t speak for all women, many of whom voted for Trump — 42 percent of them, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research. Notably, a majority of white women favored the Republican. But Clinton still benefited from an overall gender gap, and young women supported her by a margin of 32 percentage points.
For many of those rooting for Clinton to break the glass ceiling her campaign repeatedly invoked, her loss, painful as it was, could be an even greater mobilizing force than a victory might have been.
“It’s incredibly ironic,” said Alexandra Melnick, a 22-year-old from Florida who recently decided to run for a spot on a local school board after she obtains her master’s degree in education. “But to think this could inspire women like me to run for office — it’s the only belief one can have without losing hope.”
For Hernández, the ascent of a man she sees as menacing to her full inclusion in American society as a Latina — and menacing to the safety of her undocumented friends — has changed everything.
Her focus had not been on electoral politics. She considered herself an activist, concentrating on rent and eviction issues in her home town of San Jose. She used to spurn city council members and state legislators, politicians against whom she had “spent so much time fighting.” But the election convinced her that these offices wield unparalleled influence, and it made clear to her the scope of the power she could exert and the scale of her responsibility.
Michele L. Swers, a professor of government at Georgetown University who specializes in gender and policymaking, said this response has historical precedent.
In the early 1990s, televised hearings brought the Senate debate over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court into living rooms across the country. The all-male Judiciary Committee’s treatment of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, helped motivate women to run for office, Swers said. In 1992, four successfully ran for the U.S. Senate, increasing the number of women in that body threefold. They were Patty Murray of Washington, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, all Democrats. Their electoral success branded 1992 the “Year of the Woman.”
“You had people who decided they didn’t like what they saw,” Swers said. “In general in politics, anger is a very motivating factor.”
Swers said this year’s election may be another pivotal consciousness-raising event for women “deciding the only way to change things is to get into the halls of power.”
The volume of calls and the amount of cash coming in to Emily’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect Democratic women, testify to this effect, said the organization’s spokeswoman, Marcy Stech.
“We have heard from women across the country who are raising their hands to be part of the solution,” she said.
Although women remain underrepresented at all levels of government, Stech said, young women searching for role models can look to the slate of Democratic women who found success on Election Day. She pointed in particular to Stephanie Murphy, who unseated Rep. John L. Mica, a Florida Republican nearly twice her age, to become the first Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress. Women like Murphy, Stech predicted, will play a major part in the evolution of the Democratic Party as it aims to represent the growing diversity of the electorate while making renewed overtures to working-class voters forfeited to Trump.
“We’re going to have to fire on all cylinders,” Stech said.
More than 1,000 miles from Santa Cruz, where Hernández watched the election returns in her dorm room, Emily Sheridan, a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, sat in a crowded theater and watched Trump notch a victory in Florida. Then she saw Pennsylvania begin to take on a red tint.
It was then she decided she would stay in Boulder after graduation and run for a position at the county level.
“I wanted desperately to be able to do something but I couldn’t. . . . I felt so powerless as something so historic for all the wrong reasons was happening,” said Sheridan, 21, who studies evolutionary ecology and biology and serves as president of the campus’s college Democrats.
Many young people are motivated but directionless, Sheridan said. They’re angry but lack an outlet for that anger; they flocked to Bernie Sanders but disengaged from the election after he failed to win the Democratic nomination. Sheridan said the election’s outcome could be a wake-up call.
“I’m hoping the revolution starts the day after. That’s what Bernie said,” Sheridan said. “What I’m hoping is that the biggest thing that comes out of this is a change in the idea that it’s not cool to be in politics.”
It wasn’t concern for her social capital that kept Lindsay Fletcher, 30, away from politics. It was the sleepless nights staying up with her two children. After four years in the Air Force, Fletcher now cares full-time for her children — a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son — at Sheppard Air Force Base in north Texas, where her husband is stationed.
She feels called to politics, which she sees as an extension of her responsibilities as a parent. After the election, she started a list on her phone of military spouses who have run for office.
“I want to show my little girl that you stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “I’ve never been involved in politics. My focus has been on my home. But my kids are getting older, and I’m getting antsy. I’m ready to get out and do something.”
In a year and a half, Fletcher and her family will relocate. Once they’re settled, she plans to explore local races, perhaps starting at the city level. Fletcher said she would like to focus on women’s issues — from parental leave to health care — as well as the treatment of veterans.
Years from now, she sees herself competing for a seat in the U.S. Senate, she said, in the model of Elizabeth Warren, the liberal firebrand from Massachusetts whom she admires.
For young women with more long-standing political ambitions, the election results solidified their plans — while also laying bare the obstacles they may face.
It has been Aurea Bolaños Perea’s dream to be a congresswoman virtually since she immigrated to the United States from Mexico about a decade ago. On Wednesday she set a deadline: A graduate student at California State University at Chico, she plans to run for a local position in the San Joaquin Valley or San Diego area in the next four years, before ultimately moving to the federal level.
She sees her life story as a refutation of Trump’s rhetoric. For immigrants who fear for their safety under his presidency, she said, “there needs to be someone in power who will understand. That has to be me.”
But she now knows how difficult her path will be.
“You see men who do not internalize failure like women do,” Bolaños Perea said. “If before I thought I would need to prove myself five times over, now I see that it’s more like 10 times.”