Crowds cheered under a scorching sun on New York City’s Roosevelt Island Saturday as presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivered her first campaign speech of the season, promoting a vision of America rooted in shared economic prosperity. Clinton's targeted message of support for struggling American families and women’s rights was just what Jill Donahoe, 26, a fashion industry sales worker, wanted to hear.
“Now I’m officially going to be excited," about the presidential campaign season, she said. “I might actually really get into politics now.”
That enthusiasm is just what Clinton's recently launched campaign has been aiming for, particularly from young voters like Donahoe. Voters mobilized on college campuses to support President Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections, and candidates from both parties are hoping to tap into millennial support to heighten their chances in key swing states.
"There’s a lot of young voters, and they will vote if they’re contacted and mobilized,” Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, told International Business Times in November. Michael Czin, the Democratic National Committee press secretary, said candidates would "without a doubt" need young voters to win.
Young people, who made up the bulk of the crowd Saturday, largely embraced the former secretary of state's 45-minute speech, which set up an image of Clinton as a champion for struggling Americans and their families, women’s rights and equality for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual communities. In addition to equal pay for women and support for same-sex marriage, the speech touched on access to childcare and curbing tax cuts for the wealthy, all of which clicked with supporters in the crowd. For young women at the event, the excitement was especially palpable.
“The speech was absolutely incredible,” said Kayleigh Lynch, 23. “It’s so hot out here, but I had goose bumps the whole time. It was so moving.”
Lynch, a social worker, said Clinton’s support for the poor and pledges to tackle income inequality resonated with her the most. “From a social service perspective, it’s beautiful to see someone fighting for our clients who are unable to fight for themselves,” she said. “I have clients who can’t even afford transportation to get here.”
During her speech, Clinton took aim at the growing disparity between the wealthiest Americans and those on the lower end of the economic spectrum.
“While many of you are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, you see the top 25 hedge fund managers make more than all of America’s kindergarten teachers combined, and often paying a lower tax rate,” Clinton said during the speech. “So you have to wonder: ‘When does my hard work pay off? When does my family get ahead?’ I say now.”
Abby Crisafulli, 25, who came to the event already in Clinton's camp, said she was particularly optimistic about the speech. “I came as a Hillary supporter, but I wanted to know the specifics,” she said. “I’m a special ed teacher, so everything she said about getting rights for people with disabilities and child care access, that was so key.”
Adriana Rodriguez, 26, was energized by the speech as well.
"For me, [the speech] was personal in terms of her talking about jobs for recent grads," she said. "Coming as a recent grad, working two jobs, three jobs to try to make a decent wage, it was really inspiring to hear that we have hope with her."
Clinton touched only briefly on foreign policy issues, mentioning her tenure as secretary of state and emphasizing U.S. diplomacy in international relations. She also tread lightly on immigration, saying, “We should offer hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families a path to citizenship. Not second-class status.”
Jane Chen, 23, waxed enthusiastic about Clinton’s remarks on women’s rights and support for American families, but added there was one issue about which she wished she had heard more. “One issue that’s tricky is the issue of race, because that’s a big thing going on in the country right now,” she said. “If there was just a little more addressing how we can really make change and make sure what happened in the past wouldn’t happen in the future, that would have been great.”
Clinton briefly alluded to “unequal rates of incarceration” during her speech. It was her only reference to the topic of race and the criminal justice system, which has grabbed headlines in recent weeks with the suicide of Kalief Browder at Riker’s Island last week and a viral video of a confrontation between a white police officer and black teenagers in McKinney, Texas.
But Chen was excited by Saturday’s event nonetheless. “I’m ready to knock on doors and call people,” she said.
There was a small opposition presence at the rally, including Republican supporters who reportedly wore “Stop Hillary” shirts and were asked to turn them inside out before heading into the park area.
The campaign asked the RNC attendees to turn their shirts inside out. Before and after. pic.twitter.com/wLPIkgZaP0
â€” Philip Bump (@pbump) June 13, 2015
Bob Kunst, president of Jewish advocacy group Shalom International, kept watch outside the park entrance bearing a set of anti-Clinton signs, including “We’ve Had Our Fill of Bill and Hill,” and “Hillary Betrayed America and Israel.” Kunst, a former Clinton supporter, flew to New York from Miami specifically to protest.
“She said in 2009, [President Bashar] Assad of Syria is a reformer. And now we have a quarter of a million dead and 9 million refugees and ISIS doing a genocide and killing Christians left and right,” Kunst said shortly before the speech began. “And she’s going to discuss her mother today. It’s beyond insulting that the woman who creates the mess is going to tell us that she’s the answer.
“We don’t want a Bush or Clinton dynasty as a family. We’ve had enough,” he added.
But the opposition presence had little impact on the vast majority people inside the park. There, the atmosphere remained jubilant as Clinton ended her speech, flanked by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea.
“This is going to help build momentum,” said Crisafulli, the special education teacher. “There’s already so much criticism against her campaign. I’m excited to see the positivity coming out of this today. I hope she can keep it going.
“It was a good intro," she added. "I’m curious to see what’s next."