Hillary Clinton’s campaign welcomed me and my photojournalist, military spouse Ayren Pfeifer, to her event at Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C.
Unfortunately, this event required some due diligence that I failed to give it ahead of time. I spoke to Clinton’s press coordinator once inside about asking a question on behalf of military spouses — his reply, “this isn’t that kind of event, this was a forum on gun violence and policing practices.”
Editor’s note: This is an in-depth series of Meyer’s accounts as a military spouse and veteran hitting the Presidential Campaign Trail in South Carolina. Read from the beginning or discover her experiences with Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or skip to her final thoughts.
I sat down and began googling the names of the women who would be joining Hillary on stage: Sybrina Fulton, Lucia McBath, Geneva Reed-Veal, Gwen Carr, and Maria Hamilton. I quickly realized that I had unknowingly and excitedly picked an event that would be charged with great emotion and conflict, and as a journalist, this would be the hardest event for me to remain unbiased.
To my surprise, listening to the mother’s speak about burying their children struck a deep emotional chord with me. Any mother could sympathize with their pain, however, the thin line of anti-police rhetoric was going to be harder for me to swallow.
Being one of two Caucasian women in the audience, I was not going to use this time to make any kind of statement on behalf of police officers across the nation, even though I wanted to. It wasn’t a time for me to stand up for the 2nd amendment, but I wanted to. It wasn’t time to address Benghazi, the email scandal or Hillary’s big bank donations, but I wanted to.
That being said, I also wanted to give Hillary a fair shake at potentially winning my vote by intently listening to what she had to say and hopefully, speak to her in the media line when the event had ended. I was there to get a job done.
My expectation of self was to report on what I saw, experienced, heard, and how it would benefit military spouses in this election year to make an informed and educated decision on who to elect as our next Commander-in-Chief. And I wanted to be as unbiased as possible.
I brought Ayren with me to help me accomplish this personal goal of balance as she herself was one of the most non-judgmental people I have ever met. She’s the most unique combination of real-estate agent extraordinaire, yoga instructor, spiritual yogi, a self-proclaimed “Masshole” (from Massachusetts), Jewish-Catholic, Democrat and my best friend here in Beaufort. She’s the kind of friend who I hope one day to emulate as well as to pay back for all she has done for me.
Pfeifer represented the other side of the political coin for military spouses. I think it’s a misnomer that members of the military are all Republicans — don’t get me wrong, there are a great deal of us, but as I’ve trailed the campaigns and talked with military friends, veterans, and active duty members, there are a lot more independent voters and Democrats than one would expect — and I should mention some of my nearest and dearest are hard core democrats.
Hillary in person was more petite than one would expect and blue was definitely her color. I judged every candidate on how they looked, from their shoes on up. I’m human and we see first before any other of our senses takes over. Her hair wasn’t as “helmeted” as it looks on TV and although, I’ve often wondered, who dresses her, her outfit was attractive and professional.
Hillary was brilliant, there was no doubt about it. She would not be where she was today if she were not. Ayren and I put our heads together to think of a question surrounding the gun issue. Ayren thought to ask Mrs. Clinton if she herself owned a gun; I thought that was an outstanding question. But would we be given the chance?
Hillary began her speech by thanking those who had come and immediately addressed the day’s topic saying, “There was something wrong where kids, can be arrested for petty crimes, and lose their lives. Something’s wrong when African Americans are three times as likely to be denied a mortgage as white people are. When the median wealth for black families was just a tiny fraction of the median wealth of white families. And something was terribly wrong when African-American men are far more likely to be stopped and searched by police charged with crimes and sentenced to longer prison terms than that of white men convicted of the same offenses.”
At times I clapped and other times I sank into my seat. There were times I stood up and cheered and times I wanted to crawl under the church pew. I tried my hardest suppress my feelings and as objectively as possible take in the message with as little bias as possible.
Clinton then took a quick sharp turn into an environmental issue by saying, “There was something really terribly wrong with little children in Flint Michigan that are poisoned by the water they drink and bathe in, because their government wanted to save money.” Surprisingly, this drew the loudest applause from the audience.
After Hillary spoke, each mother of a fallen child spoke. They were all very articulate and kept to their personal narrative very well. They made sure that the audience knew they weren’t there for Clinton’s political gain, rather, that Clinton had been the only candidate to reach out to them and actually care about what had happened to their families. Pfeifer believed the mothers were real, honest and transparent in their storytelling and pleas. I was a little more skeptical but decided to take their words at face value.
After the event, I interviewed a military spouse of a reservist who was also the wife of a New York City Police Officer. I wanted to gain her perspective on gun control and police practices after watching Hillary’s event on C-Span. She offered, “Hillary has no right to have any opinion on any kind of violence until she pays for the blood on her hands of Benghazi. And gun violence doesn’t change with stricter gun laws, it changes with getting criminals off the street and mental health changes.”
She continued, “For Hillary to have the nerve to invite Gwen Carr to help in her campaign was unimaginable. Eric Garner was a thug who was arrested over 30 times and doing stuff he shouldn’t have been doing. It begs the question as to what type of mother or non-mother Ms. Carr was. His first known arrest was at 10 years old. How many 10-year olds done you know who have been arrested? And you don’t get roughly held against your will if you don’t resist arrest. I hope my husband would have done the same thing in the same situation to make sure he comes home at night. And as far as police practicing the issues of why don’t you taze criminals instead? Or why don’t you shot to hurt not shoot to kill was bull sh*t. Google ‘officer who was gunned down trying to Taze someone’. Dead. And you don’t shoot to kill you shoot to stop. And you shoot to make it home to your family,” the spouse offered.
Obviously there are two different takes on the issue of gun violence and police practices — one thing was certain, most people aren’t on the fence about the issue. For the record, Gwen Carr was awarded $5.9 million in a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of New York.
After all the mothers spoke, Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords both expressed how and why they chose to get behind Hillary’s campaign. I distinctly remember hearing on the news when Gabby was shot and later reported that she had died. I tearfully called my husband because it was so upsetting. Party lines didn’t matter in that moment. None of it made sense. Why would anyone have done such a thing?
Mark and Gabby both stated that they were gun owners and that they had a deep respect for the 2nd amendment. Their mission was not an anti-second amendment; rather, a message for stricter gun control.
After Hillary’s event was over, we stood in the public rope line. Secretary Clinton decided that Ayren and I were important… so important that she asked us questions! It was an exciting moment and my rookie experience as a journalist was definitely exposed. Unexpectedly, Hillary gave us about a minute of her time… here was my — no, our — chance!
After snapping selfies, I began telling Clinton that I was a Republican and relayed that if Trump got the nomination, I would vote for her. After identifying ourselves as military spouses, Clinton inquired about where we were stationed and what our husbands did in the military. She was happy to engage us among the sea of people pushing and prodding to get up close and personal with her.
Looking back, I could have gone Benghazi on her and instead I told her I’d vote for her… this was an example of the power this woman possesses in person. I was ready to take on Trump given the opportunity. Hell, I almost decided to make a scene on the press podium at one point during his speech and here I stood, selling out all I knew and believed in, in this one moment, because Hillary convinced me otherwise.
Quite possibly, I’m not as political as I think I was — or maybe I was a little more left of center? Maybe I was willing at that point and time, to really consider the other narrative? Either way, I’ve grown. Grown in ways I could never have imagined; opened up to the other point of view, even if for a moment, and it was worth it.
This is an in-depth series of Meyer’s accounts as a military spouse and veteran hitting the Presidential Campaign Trail in South Carolina. Read from the beginning or learn about her experiences with Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or skip to her final thoughts.
About the Author: Rebecca Meyer, a veteran of the California National Guard, married to an active duty Marine Corps pilot, works part-time for GBX delivering curriculum to separating/retiring service members on behalf of the Department of Labor, writes a veteran’s blog with ACI Benefits, and most importantly is mother to a brilliant, sweet, tree-climbing, bike riding 4-year-old.
She grew up discussing politics around the dinner table and listening to talk radio on AM several nights as a family. She stepped into politics in the 8th grade after giving an award winning (Rotary Award) speech, firmly announcing that she would be the first woman president of the United States. She has fond memories of dancing around the room with her grandparents when Bush Jr. won the election in 2000. She remains an active part of the spouse community in Beaufort, South Carolina.