Cathi Crabtree had to pinch herself to convince her that this was really happening. Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee and Crabtree was going to be there to vote her in.
“This time I want to be there, I want to be there to vote for her,” Crabtree said. “It’s historic.”
Last week, Crabtree, a Hillary Clinton delegate for District 9, and two District 9 Bernie Sanders delegates Jeanne Smith and Martha Hilderbrand were the eyes and ears for their constituents from Greenwood to New Albany, as they live tweeted and Facebook live streamed delegate walk outs, peaceful protests and the acceptance of the first woman presidential nominee for a major political party at this year’s Democratic Convention.
The three friends all live in Bloomington and hula hoop together as part of the Hudesucker Posse. The posse is not politically affiliated but defines itself as an inclusive LGBT ally and a drama-free zone. The group “jams” together on Sundays and Wednesdays in Bryan Park and offers classes Sunday mornings at the Girls Inc. Gym.
The delegates occasionally perform together, each showcasing their speciality— Hilderbrand is best at dance sequences while Smith is more likely to try new tricks.
From this hula hoop troupe, came three Monroe County delegates, all with strong, passionate opinions about how the election was unfolding for their candidates. They jumped into political discussions with each other and with the public in their self defined “Facebook tantrums.”
“We are three of the most politically charged women from Monroe County,” Hilderbrand said.
The ideal delegate
When Smith and Hilderbrand walked around the streets surrounding the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the sidewalks outside Wells Fargo Center, they found hundreds of like-minded Sanders supporters.
Some were louder and angrier than others as they protested in the streets around City Hall shouting “Hell no DNC. We won’t vote for Hillary.”
Smith had no idea how to best serve these voters on the delegate floor, but she felt responsible to represent their interests, regardless of the roll call outcome.
“I’m taking it really seriously that it’s not just for me, it’s for every woman who voted for Bernie (in District 9),” she said.
Smith took to Facebook to express her disappointment in the tensions between Sanders and Clinton supporters on the first day.
“I am more convinced than ever that Trump may win. I see virtually no support for Hillary from Bernie supporters,” she wrote on her wall after walking into the Wells Fargo Center to hear Sanders speak.
Two days later, after Senator Sanders had moved for Clinton to receive the nomination during roll call, she updated her post saying she was feeling more optimistic.
Smith, who ran for Congress in 1996 and has been active in politics since, has never considered herself a moderate, she said. But with fiery oppositions at the convention she felt pushed to the middle.
Going into the convention Smith said she planned to just cast her vote and her duty would be over. After seeing the protesters she felt like she needed to fit a certain mold and be the delegate supporters were pleading for — one who wouldn’t give up on Sanders.
As one of 24 transgender delegates at the DNC, this internal struggle to perform a certain way felt familiar, Smith said. She made the comparison of trying to act masculine for the majority of her life, to that of trying to act the way Sanders supporters expected her to.
But by the end of the convention, she silenced this inner dialogue and disregarded the pressure to act a certain way.
“One thing my life taught me is you can’t try to guess what people are thinking and most of the time they don’t care,” she said.
It’s about the message, not the man
It was after each state representative took their turn at the mic. It was after Clinton reached the 2,383 voter threshold. It was after the convention hall vibrated from the overwhelming “yes” to tap the first female nominee. It was then that Sanders delegates decided to make some noise of their own, even if it was white noise.
Silently, hundreds of Sanders delegates got up from the delegate floor and headed to the media center to stage a sit-in. Hilderbrand stayed on the sidelines.
Hilderbrand is currently finishing her degree at IU, all while working as a Bloomington deputy city clerk and taking care of her son who is on the autism spectrum. She was not looking to get arrested.
Even more than her own personal responsibilities, it was her responsibility to Sanders’ message that kept her from joining. That’s not what he would have wanted, she said.
When Sanders spoke to delegates he did not encourage walk outs or sit ins, instead he told them his campaign was about building a movement, with or without him.
“Election days come and go but the fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice continues,” Sanders said to delegates Monday morning before his speech that night.
Instead, Hilderbrand wanted to read to the media a prepared statement with the other Indiana Sanders delegates, but they never got the chance.
After the convention, Smith posted a statement from the delegates on her Facebook wall. It said they “reached the end of a long and hard-fought primary.”
Overall the lengthy statement had one clear message: get out and vote.
“The revolution is not Bernie for president, the revolution is getting you to the ballot,” Hilderbrand said. “Getting you pissed enough to vote.”
This grassroots movement needs momentum, just like a hula hoop, Hilderbrand said.
And it did. And it still does.
Throughout the week there was rarely a conversation between the Monroe County delegates, Sanders and Clinton supporters alike, that didn’t name drop Indiana Democrats like Shelli Yoder for congress, Glenda Ritz for state superintendent and John Gregg for Governor.
“No matter what happens in this presidential election, people need to come out to vote,” Hilderbrand said. “These people affect your life more than Trump or Hillary.”
A historic moment
It doesn’t take much to give her goosebumps. At nearly any mention of Clinton’s name, Clinton’s campaign or Clinton’s historic role in this election, Crabtree could be seen rubbing her arms in delight.
“When she didn’t win in 2008 I was distraught,” she said. “I thought I wouldn’t see it in my lifetime.”
At the convention center, Crabtree made the rounds to each organization’s table. As she walked the halls she gave a thumbs up to veterans, she told the Nuns on the Bus she loved them, she collected stickers and pins from Planned Parenthood.
Crabtree said she’d like to run for elected office one day. Her current job as a mechanical engineer under the department of defense at Crane prohibits her from doing so, but she plans to retire in four years and pursue a career in politics.
As a Middle Way House volunteer since 1995, Crabtree naturally made an effort to stop by and get a selfie with the directors of a local domestic violence shelter. She even met Zionsville mother and gun control activist Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts.
This prompted more goose bumps.
Crabtree considers herself a late bloomer to the feminist movement. She didn’t get involved until her late 30s. Now she’s a feminist with a capital ‘F’, she said.
She was heavily influenced by her mother, who passed away last year, and said she was thinking of her throughout the week. Being at the convention to witness a historic moment in women’s history brought Crabtree to tears — several times.
Bringing the DNC to Bloomington
Some of the other delegates didn’t want to sit next to Crabtree at the convention.
She danced, she yelled, she waved signs. All of this energy is what caught the attention of TV cameras.
Crabtree started receiving texts from friends and family with pictures of her in her American flag scarf, covered in buttons holding her purple Stronger Together sign on MSNBC, C-SPAN and PBS Newshour.
Then everyone wanted to sit with her.
But she didn’t let her 15 seconds of fame get to her head when she arrived back home in Bloomington.
“I think as silly as it was, people seeing me on TV really got them excited and shared my enthusiasm,” she said.
Now her goal is to capitalize on the post-convention excitement, which gave Clinton up to a 15 point boost in the polls, according to the nationwide survey conducted by RABA Research the day after the DNC.
“If we can get people to go to the polls then we’ll win, but voter turnout is huge,” Crabtree said.
Moving forward, Indiana Clinton delegates are looking to tap into a certain demographic.
Women voters have not only exceeded men every election since 1980, but they are also 54 percent more likely to go Democrat, according to the Center for American Women in Politics and Pew Research.
In an effort to keep women politically engaged, the Democratic Women’s Caucus is meeting Friday morning at Village Deli to discuss the convention and come up with a game plan for the next 100 days before election day.
At the convention, Crabtree said she saw more young Clinton supporters than she had previously seen publicized and wants to reach out to them as allies. She said she plans to work with the IU College Democrats and is willing to be a liaison for college voters who want to get involved in the Clinton campaign.
“I think we can win, but it’s going to take a lot of work,” she said.