I laced up my electric blue New Balance sneakers, smoothed out my lime green pantsuit, and peered into the mirror at my reflection. I’ll admit it: I grimaced. This outfit was not my finest look.
It was October 22nd, the morning of National Pantsuit Day, an event that myself and three friends had diligently worked on every hour of the previous 20 days. But now I was in an itchy, ill-fitting, borrowed pantsuit. It was raining. I felt a creeping, all-encompassing anxiety. Was this going to work? Was this a terrible idea?
I blame it all on that damn feminism.
As best as I can describe it, I was raised as an “indoor feminist.” It wasn't a childhood of marches or protests; but there was never any doubt that women were definitively the equals of their male counterparts, no matter the field or laboratory. It was an incredible privilege that not until I left for college did I begin to grasp that this was not the accepted norm.
That’s not to say that I’d never encountered gender bias or discrimination – far from it. But I'd thought that creepy catcalls, unwanted advances, lecherous older men and misogynist authority figures were all aberrations, people operating completely outside of acceptable society.
Quickly, I realized how insulated I'd been. As a woman and independent business owner in New York City, I'm repeatedly reminded of all the ways in which females are not seen as equal to their male counterparts.
National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: Ben Sidoti
This has never been more obvious and unavoidable than in this election, with the all-consuming, pestilence of hatred and intolerance that to me comprises Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Suddenly, the need for more action, more progress, more visible, safeguarded equality in legislation and in our government, felt urgent.
Which is when Sami called.
My good friend Sami lived down the block from me in Greenpoint, and asked if I'd help her with communications for the event she had created, National Pantsuit Day. I said yes and quickly joined the rest of the "team," my friends and fellow creatives, Mike Jacobson and Kate Dearing, to make this event a reality, all within three weeks.
National Pantsuit Day Celebration. Photo Credit: David Williams
We were motivated and united by our exhaustion of the negativity, cynicism, and apathy we’d witnessed the past two years. We were tired of listening to continual tirades, smirking asides and "dog whistles" that insisted equality of all American citizens was just a fabrication by the liberal media. With the creation of National Pantsuit Day, we decided to try to counter this, to flip the narrative on its head.
NPD was designed to recognize the progress we’ve made as a country, and the incredible work Hillary Clinton has accomplished to further the equal status of women and minorities. And, honestly, to add some much needed levity and fun to the conversation.
What resulted was more massive in scale and momentous in impact than we could’ve dared to envision. National Pantsuit Day was held on October 22nd – a drizzly, cold mess of a day – and began downtown at Foley Square. With the help of a generous brass band at the helm, 200 New Yorkers marched and screamed and sang as they walked from downtown Manhattan, across the Brooklyn Bridge, to Hillary Clinton’s HQ (where we earned some hi-fives from staff and ambassador Michelle Kwan), to a celebratory party at Hill Country. (Pun not intended but appreciated.)
Our loud, brash parade wasn't confined to New York City’s borders. Spurred by a similar urgency, seven other organizers volunteered in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to put on their own simultaneous events under the National Pantsuit Day umbrella.
The attendees were all ages and colors and professions and backgrounds. There were families with small children, millennial-aged men (in women's pantsuits, thank you), older couples, and even two dogs in pantsuits. The most commonly heard sentiment was that the day was "refreshing," and "joyful" -- clearly, we'd all been hungering for something positive to celebrate. We'd all had our fill of hatred. Every person who attended or shared their images on social media or emailed or wrote about our project, felt like a resounding rebuke to the incessant ignorance of Trump’s campaign.
And incredibly, the movement continued – and actually grew more quickly – after the event's close. We began collaborating with our (previously unknown to us) sister site, Pantsuit Nation, which was founded by Libby Chamberlain in Maine. She's created and meticulously nourished a private Facebook group of over a million members, all of whom were equally hungry to share their stories of inequality, progress and hope.
During our march we were outgoing and friendly to everyone we met, brightly-colored, ridiculously dressed, and impossible to ignore. We unabashedly took up as much space as we could, and no matter how dorky my pantsuit, it felt incredible. Even more incredible? The fact that we, lime green pantsuit included, got the attention of our female presidential nominee herself and incredibly, were included in her final campaign video.
Though it's unclear what the future for this movement holds, it's been a thrilling experience to have tapped into this thriving community of enthusiastic humans of different backgrounds and beliefs. And so for the first time I'm confident that no matter what happens on November 8th, we will find a way to continue marching forward.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.