Little Rock native and recent Clinton School of Public Service graduate Anne Haley spent most of 2016 living out of a suitcase while working as a site lead for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. With the election now over, Haley reflected on her defining moments, life on the road and our next steps as a country.
So, let’s start with what a site lead does.
Anytime a principal, that could be Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, Chelsea, Sen. [Tim] Kaine or anyone else … would do an event, there’s someone in my position to organize it. For each event, there’s a team of people that come in to plan out every single detail, everything from how many feet to walk to the bathroom or how many flights of stairs to get somewhere.
Leading up to the event, we’d hit the ground with, if we were lucky, three to four days’ notice. We’d start by scouting locations. We’d get some general ideas from our state political teams, and then our headquarters would say that we needed a rally, for example, for somewhere between 300 and 1,200 people, and that it needed to be at a venue in this specific neighborhood. And so, we’d have to look and find a space that would work logistically, optically and politically.
Once the venue was locked, everything would go very quickly. I collaborated with the Secret Service to create the principal’s movements for events. The Secret Service and the advance team are actually somewhat at odds. Both of us have as our first priority to keep the candidate safe, but advance’s idea is to give the public as much access as possible, while the Secret Service’s is the opposite. After we would do a walk-through with them and gotten their approval, I would move on to create a visual design of the event, essentially making it look good on camera. It has to be aesthetically pleasing, but it also needs to have a sense of place so that you know where in the country you are, while at the same time conveying the messaging of the event.
After I would get the site design approved, I would contact the vendor to order any staging or lighting we might need and then schedule a load-in and build phase. We had a production coordinator based out of D.C. that had vendors all over the country that would connect us to the labor union. Since you’re never really working with the same team twice, it’s always a bit of a toss-up what your local vendor will be like. Often things went smoothly, but, of course, anything and everything will go wrong once.
Finally, when the principal arrived, I became their point person. I would brief them, telling them anything they might need to know about the venue, the site or the city, and then walk him through the entire event.
That’s quite a process for just a single event, and I know you did almost 50 of them during the campaign. Did a sense of monotony ever sink in?
Well, it easily could have, but eventually I (and probably everyone who’s worked on this kind of campaign) had to find a way to break up my day and keep myself personally invested in each event. I studied art in college and I actually got really into crafting for the events. So, obviously there are a lot of signs at these campaign stops, most of which were preprinted and handed out, but I began making custom things for each new city we visited.
One of the goals of each event was to give it a sense of place, and there’s really only so much you can do with a state flag on a stage. So, if we didn’t have some other built-in signage in place, I took it upon myself to create something. It became a way to occupy myself during these long, overnight site builds, so that I was still present and could manage things but I wasn’t micromanaging everyone else.
I started out small, making cutouts and working with volunteers to paint signs, but then I started getting a little bit more adventurous. I made an H for a Madison, Wis., rally out of foamcore. At first, I didn’t think it would be too difficult, but then I decided that I wanted it to look like it was made out of cheese and I just knew this was going to be amazing. Of course, like a lot of my art projects, I usually get 10 hours in and begin wondering why I ever thought it was a good idea. My plan was to use pumpkin carving tools to hollow out holes of the cheese. Of course, it turned out to be the day after Halloween and I couldn’t find a carving kit to save my life. I ended up staying up all night using an ice cream scoop and an X-Acto knife, but the final product looked amazing. After the event, one of the local staffers came up and asked to buy it from me. I’m not sure where he thought I was going to take it. It ended up being almost 8 feet tall.
In the future, I think one thing that will be looked at as setting this campaign apart was the individual creativity of everyone involved. It was really emphasized, especially from those who had been on the 2008 campaign, that we should all be as creative as possible and really explore our passions as they related to the campaign.
Well, speaking of 2008, you volunteered a lot during that cycle as well, correct?
Absolutely. I would have worked on the campaign then, but I ended up taking a job right out of college. I really regret not working on it. As soon as people began saying that she was going to run again, I just knew that this was what I was supposed to do. I ended up planning when I went to grad school (at the Clinton School of Public Service), so that I would be finished in time to join. Actually, I left for an event the day after I graduated. In fact, President Clinton, as he was handing me my diploma, was giving me notes on the event I was going to.
I just always knew that I wanted to work for her. I think part of it had to do with my grandmother [Maria Haley], who worked for President Clinton when he was governor and then in the White House. Since she couldn’t be here to be a part of this, it sort of became a way to get closer to her.
I almost hate to ask it, but what were you up to on election night?
It was a hard day. I did Sen. Kaine’s very last event of the campaign in Richmond the day before. We had set up this huge rally in an airport hanger and everyone could watch as the plane came in and taxied over to us. So, I was just on this incredible high.
I was actually working at the Javits Center doing crowd control that night. It had not even crossed my mind in months that she wouldn’t win. I think we were all like that. We had five times more people than we could let in, so it was packed. Everyone was so excited, and then it just sort of slowly fell apart. We all kind of thought it would be a quick decision, that results would be in by 9 p.m., but as the numbers kept coming in, it started to dawn on people. It was like watching a really slow-motion train wreck while knowing all of your loved ones are on board.
At the point in the night when it started to look very worrisome, I had someone relieve me at my post and I went to take a break. I think that’s when I started to cry. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while who was in the same sort of mindset and she invited me back to the room where she was watching the returns come in. And this is one of those times when the nature of a campaign can be so surreal; you’re so “go, go, go” all the time that you often don’t stop to take notice of what’s actually happening around you. But we got back to the room and Pennsylvania had just been called and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry were sitting on the floor in front of the TV holding each other and crying. And, of course, I start crying even harder and then someone gives me a hug. It’s not until after she’s let me go that I realized that the person who had just hugged me was Cher. We were all in this shocked state of communal grief. I think I only stopped crying just a few days ago.
Later on, I got lucky in that I was able to get into the room that she gave her concession speech in. It was very, very small and it was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking speeches I’ve ever heard. Being someone who had set up rooms like this, I should have known to pay better attention to where I was standing, but I ended up being right across from the network cameras and they had a few close-ups of me crying.
How do you come back from that? How do you go about life the next day?
I’m honestly not sure. I just went back to the office because I didn’t know where else to go. We were all processing it at different speeds. It was just blow after blow of realizations. You know, our tagline was “Stronger Together.” Maybe to the public that can seem a little hokey, but the campaign was a space that was very intentional about making a space for everyone at the table.
As a very androgynous queer woman, I’ve never felt not only comfortable to dress and express myself, but valued for it. The diversity of the people there was what the entire campaign was about, and I didn’t really realize how ingrained that had become until then. We’d all been so immersed in that way of thinking that, when we were all sort of violently taken out of it, I don’t think anyone knew how to handle it.
Obviously, we all knew that Trump represented these horrible things, but I had been so busy with work that I didn’t watch the news. I never watched any of Trump’s speeches, outside of the debates, so that day was the first time I actually had time to think about what a Trump presidency would be like. It was just a punch in the gut over and over and over again.
While I was still in New York I would wear my campaign jacket out and people would pat me on the back or give me a nod. I even got a free haircut from someone who just felt so bad for me. I think a lot of the hardship was due to the fact that I was just so tired both physically and mentally. I hadn’t been home for more than two days in row in almost three months. The adrenaline and excitement had worn off and I just didn’t have anything left to give.
Why did Trump win?
I don’t know. One thing that makes me feel better is that she did win the popular vote. More people voted for her vision of American than his, and I find a lot of solace in that. But because of this wonky way our Constitution works, we didn’t win the whole thing.
A lot of people that are smarter than me are going to throw out a lot of reasons why we lost and I’m sure they’re all going to be right in some way. I think fake news played a huge part. I think the FBI’s last-minute craziness had a huge impact. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to the fact that Trump managed to deteriorate the fabric of what truth is in the public sphere. He was able to get up on stage and lie and face no repercussions. I think the media is partially to blame for that, but so are regular people like you and me.
There’s just a lot of hate and anger out there. I’m finally at the place where I’ve stopped crying and stopped bargaining and now I’m just angry. It’s so easy for me, even as a queer person, but as a white middle-class American — my privilege isn’t completely intersectional. I’m able to go back to my life and to stop listening to the news. But it’s the people like me that have to get up and go back out there and fight because there are so many others who can’t. Now more than ever, we have to look out for each other and fight for those with the least privilege and the smallest voice. If we as liberals and as activists become complacent then this will be just the beginning, things will never get better.
Before I let you go, I have to ask you about what is, for me at least, one of the defining photos of this election cycle. I’m speaking about a photo of Secretary Clinton at the memorial to the victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando. She’s walking over to the memorial wall holding flowers with her hand coming up to her mouth and walking with her, pointing out some detail of the memorial, is you. What was that moment like?
Yes. You know, she made that stop right after a roundtable discussion between local leaders in the Muslim, Latino and LGBT communities, and as I always was, I was in work mode. Even when I went to scout the site, I did it from a working perspective, looking for ample parking and line of approach and where we might put the public. And it wasn’t until I was about to leave the scouting visit that I really sat back and realized where I was. I had to drop out of work mode and back into Anne mode, and it was just an incredibly powerful moment for me personally.
Secretary Clinton embraced LGBTQ issues in a way that no other presidential candidate ever has, and my greatest feeling on that day was just one of wonder and amazement that she, who was well on her way to being the leader of the free world, took time to show that I, as a queer person, matter, that all queer people matter to her and to this country. She actively and loudly said the LGBTQ Americans were her people and that we’re all going to fight for each other. You can go back and look at that photo, look at her eyes, so much grief and such a weight. And that’s the same way I felt when I saw the memorial for the first time. It was a huge honor, something I’ll never forget.