In late October 2016, a Maine woman named Libby Chamberlain started a secret Facebook group for admirers of Hillary Clinton with the snappy title “Pantsuit Nation.” Chamberlain later told the Washington Post she thought of “the pantsuit as a symbol” of not only Clinton’s historic run for President, but also of the obstacles against women’s full integration into society.
After all, only a generation ago, women on the floor of the U.S. Senate were required to wear dresses or skirts; in 1993, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Carol Moseley Braun defied the rule by wearing (what else?) pantsuits.
Chamberlain’s Pantsuit Nation page went viral as friends invited friends who invited friends. Minnesotans Mary Jackson and Laura Davis, in a discussion on the national page, decided to spin off a state page; on November 5, three days before the presidential election, Pantsuit Nation Minnesota was born.
“We didn’t have a particular agenda, other than to support Hillary Clinton,” Davis says. “Much like the national group, Minnesota group members discussed how passionate, and in many cases, how emotional they felt about voting for her.
“On November 8, [the Facebook group] was a place of hope anticipating our first woman president, an immensely qualified candidate whose life’s work has been devoted to public service,” Davis says. “On November 9, it was a place of sadness, grief, anger and confusion.
“Group members fear how civil rights will be impacted,” Davis says. “They fear a woman’s right to choose [reproductive healthcare might] be eliminated, they fear the continued proliferation of gun violence and perhaps most of all, they fear how immigrants, Muslims and other marginalized groups will be treated.”
The original Pantsuit Nation group, despite making national news, has “secret” status on Facebook, which means that the group is invitation-only and its content is only available to members. “Many members, particularly those outside the metro area where there are large numbers of Trump supporters, have said they are grateful for the secret status, which we do not intend to change,” Davis says.
Still, Ely council member Dan Forsman made headlines last November when he was able to access the Minnesota page to post a photo encouraging disappointed Hillary Clinton fans to commit suicide. While Forsman apologized to the Ely community for the post, Davis says he has yet to formally apologize to the Facebook group.
The flap with Forsman isn’t the only time the Pantsuit Nation has made headlines: on December 19, Libby Chamberlain announced a book deal based on the national page, a move that upset members who expected privacy and united activism. Davis said that the Minnesota page was already planning a name change before news of the book deal broke, as Chamberlain’s vision for Pantsuit Nation sought to de-emphasize direct political engagement in favor of storytelling.
Minnesota members told Davis that they wanted to work for the causes that drew them to Clinton’s candidacy in the first place, including reproductive rights, economic justice, and LGBTQ rights, among others. “[Our] members want action to combat the direction in which our state and country appear to be headed,” Davis says.
Members voted, and in December its new name was announced: Stand Up Minnesota.
As of this writing, Stand Up Minnesota has over 25,000 members, 18 of whom are in moderator and administrator roles. Davis says that “the group is racially and culturally diverse, by Minnesota standards, and not comprised only of women.” Women of color on the leadership team helped craft an intersectional mission statement that includes “a commitment to confront privilege and dominant cultural narratives to gain a common sense of purpose.”
Cathy Abene, an active poster on the site, appreciates that Stand Up Minnesota members represent “all corners of the state, all ages, all backgrounds and all walks of life.” A veteran campaign activist herself, Abene says she’s inspired by the “raw, untapped energy” in the group, especially among those who say they’ve never been politically active before. “There’s momentum there,” she says, “and a very real sense of hope.”
Davis and the leadership team moderate the site, but so far the actions taken by the group have been member-directed.
Stand Up Minnesota members are signing petitions and emailing members of Congress; joining letter drives for embattled mosques and synagogues; starting coat drives for homeless shelters and refugee centers; and protesting sexual assault. Members are geared up for the 2017 legislative sessions, both state and federal, with many saying they plan to visit their representative’s offices for the first time. The year started off with details about petitioning members of Congress about the Affordable Care Act.
Davis says that plans are in motion for a website to connect those who are not Facebook users. “Our vision is that of a powerful, inclusive and engaged community,” she says, “to ensure equality, justice and fairness for all.”