Secret Facebook group gives Clinton supporters hope

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If you're like many pundits who question whether Hillary Clinton has a devoted, passionate fan base, try checking behind closed doors.

On Pantsuit Nation, a secret Facebook group for Clinton supporters, more than a million people (and counting) have gathered to share emotional reflections on why they're voting for the first female presidential candidate from a major political party.

The diverse testimonials have one thing in common: they gush over Clinton. Many contributors, however, talk about how they fear sharing those sentiments with family, friends and neighbors. There are pictures of Clinton lawn signs that have been resurrected after vandalism and selfies of people who've just been confronted by Trump supporters but stayed calm.

Those anxieties give way to an outpouring of gratitude from supporters, both men and women, who feel like they've finally found their "tribe." There are joyful pictures from people who've voted early and photos of women born before suffrage who just cast a ballot for Clinton.

Heartfelt recollections of meeting or working with Clinton pop up frequently. So do tales of oppression and misfortune. There are women who've been discouraged from going to school, working or voting; people who say the election has led to heightened racism and discrimination; lesbian and gay couples who refuse to surrender the federal right to marry; and the ill who are counting on Obamacare to survive.

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Campaign chairman John Podesta (C) and Senior Advisor Huma Abedin (R) for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stand in the aisle on the campaign plane from New York enroute to Miami, U.S. October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
John Podesta, chairman of U.S. Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, listens as she talks to the media inside of her campaign plane after the third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in North Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's director of communications Jennifer Palmieri (2nd L), longtime aide Huma Abedin (C), and campaign manager Robby Mook (R) listen as Clinton speaks at a campaign rally with Senator Bernie Sanders in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, U.S. July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Robby Mook, Campaign Manager for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Communications Director Jen Palmieri (L) talk to reporters onboard the campaign plane enroute to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton talks to staff members, including aide Huma Abedin (L), onboard her campaign plane in White Plains, New York, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Communications Director Jen Palmieri and Campaign Manager Robby Mook get off the campaign plane in White Plains, New York, U.S. October 28, 2016. Picture taken October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Robby Mook, Campaign Manager for U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and Communications Director Jen Palmieri (L) talk to reporters onboard the campaign plane enroute to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
John Podesta, campaign chairman for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, talks to staff members on Clinton's campaign plane enroute to Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at a gathering of law enforcement leaders including New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton (L) and advisor Maya Harris (R) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, U.S., August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks with members of her staff inside of her campaign plane at the Westchester County airport in White Plains, New York, U.S., October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Chairman of U.S. Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, John Podesta, boards her plane in White Plains, New York, U.S. October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks offstage with aide Huma Abedin (L) after the conclusion of her debate against Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
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The dozens or sometimes hundreds of empathetic, supportive replies create a sense of optimistic unity even in the face of sorrow.

This is no pity party, though. Spending time on Pantsuit Nation is akin to hearing a chorus of battle cries. And they all flout conventionalwisdom, which says that while Clinton may be decent and overly qualified, she simply doesn't inspire.

Try telling that to members of Pantsuit Nation.

When Libby Chamberlain started the secret group more than two weeks ago, she never anticipated it would become a huge digital force capable of fundraising and organizing.

Instead, it was like a release valve. The 33-year-old mother of two had watched the final debate and was outraged when Donald Trump called Clinton a "nasty woman."

The next day, after telling a friend how fabulous Clinton looked in her white pantsuit and hearing that younger girls thought it was dowdy, she decided to start the group with a simple aim: encourage about three dozen friends to wear pantsuits on Nov. 8 when they voted for Clinton.

Those friends invited their friends and so on and so on. The ripple effect was lightning fast: Within a day, Chamberlain told Mashable, the group's membership reached 24,000. By the evening of Nov. 5, more than two weeks after its launch, Pantsuit Nation claimed one million members — 150,000 more than earlier in the day.

"The internet is full right now of every possible combination of things being said [about Clinton] except for this," said Chamberlain, who is not currently working in coordination with the campaign. "[Pantsuit Nation] is not a place to convince anyone how great she is. It's a place to celebrate how great she is."

The group's rapid growth, which is uncommon for secret Facebook groups, has posed some challenges. Chamberlain added two-dozen moderators to help manage the page; they all have jobs, and some have kids. At one point Friday there were 1,800 pending posts.

The spike in membership early on triggered a temporary pause on adding new members, the result of a Facebook review process that helps prevent spam. While Chamberlain could see some people dropping out of the group, that number was for outpaced by those clamoring to get in: "Everyone was hammering on the doors within the group saying, 'This is so amazing, let's add more people.'"

New members can only be added by existing members, which is designed to prevent trolls from joining. Still, a small number of Trump-supporting interlopers have been blocked for abusive posts or comments.

The group also has clear rules: No poll updates, memes, videos or news articles. You can "go high," but don't be mean. Posts are more likely to be approved if they're "personal narratives." The goal is to make Pantsuit Nation feel like a "positive, energizing space."

Chamberlain has been accused of attempting to block out opposing viewpoints, an increasingly easy thing to do on Facebook thanks to an algorithm that presents content in line with one's personal preferences and views.

But Chamberlain doesn't see Pantsuit Nation as a refusal to acknowledge criticism of Clinton. It's more like an oasis in a desert — members can seek refuge when they need to, get encouragement and go back into a world that often feels hostile to Clinton supporters.

The group isn't perfect. It's size and diversity (think progressives, independents and Republicans of all backgrounds) mean not everyone may express their feelings as sensitively as the next woke liberal. But there's no infighting yet, something Chamberlain attributes to the "all hands on deck" mentality.

"It's so clear that people are thankful to be in this space," she said. "Everyone wants it to succeed."

What comes next is less clear. The group started tracking its donations and found members had donated $84,000 by Saturday evening, though there's no way to confirm that figure. A similar tally of phone banking efforts showed that members made more than 2,900 calls.

Given the momentum, Chamberlain is prepared to turn Pantsuit Nation's passion toward making sure that Clinton succeeds as president if she's elected.

"All of us in this group want to see her win, but we all recognize that's just one of many steps," she said. "It's not the last one."

Welcome to Pantsuit Nation.

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