It’s mild for January but chilly in the 40,000-square-foot City Harvest warehouse in Queens, NY. Fifty or so Clinton Foundation employees, dressed in matching blue T-shirts, are digging through huge crates of grapefruit, sorting them into smaller bags to be distributed to food pantries across the city. Loud pop music blasts in the background, while 75-year-old Clinton Foundation president Donna Shalala energetically shares stories of working in her father’s grocery as a teen. I’m not exactly dressed to help — wearing totally the wrong shoes — but I don rubber gloves and pick through the crates of grapefruit anyway.
I'm waiting for a chance to talk with Chelsea Clinton. The communications team at the Clinton Foundation invited me to attend this Day of Action, a semi-annual volunteer event, under the pretense that we'll discuss the #NewDaysResolution campaign. But the daughter of Hillary Clinton has kept a very low profile since her mother’s defeat in November, so while I'm happy to chat about childhood obesity, I really wanted to see how she was doing.
I met Chelsea once before, when I interviewed her in Haiti for a story about women entrepreneurship in the poverty-stricken country. In the year and half since, we’ve both had babies, born just a few months apart. Today, she greets me warmly, asks about my son, and if I’m sleeping. Who knows if she really remembers me, or if she’s been primed by her staff, but it’s nice. Our conversation is more casual and relaxed than last time. I read somewhere that Chelsea is shy, and I wonder if that’s why she always comes across as a little stiff in interviews.
We exchange a few anecdotes about our babies (I tell her I’m impressed she was back on the campaign trail so soon after having her son, Aidan) and chat some about City Harvest (this is the fifth time the Foundation has hosted a volunteer event there). And then I ask her what I really want to know: What are we supposed to do now?
It might be an unfair question — no doubt Chelsea is going through her own grieving process post-election — but she’s considered by many to be the future of the Democratic Party, and there’s no doubt we need her leadership now more than ever.
“Everything we believed before the election, we still believe,” she says. The casual tone slips away as she’s clearly thinking about every word she says before she speaks. “Everything we worked so hard for, we have to continue to work hard for. It requires engagement in our own communities.”
For many of us, Hillary Clinton losing the presidential election was a wake-up call. Who knew our nation was so divided? And what can we do about it now that we do know? Once we got over our initial anger and shock, we got busy. We donated to Planned Parenthood. We paid for subscriptions to reliable news outlets. We planned a march. And Chelsea encourages young women to consider how they can continue to make a difference.
“What do we do in the small world of our own lives?” she asks. “How do we ensure that we are being the best parents, friends, citizens that we can be in our own day-to-day interactions? And then how do start from that place to then engage in the wider world?”
You simply have to start, she says, regardless of whether you’re feeling hopeful or angry.
“Use those emotions to engage and organize and advocate to protect and advance what you think matters most. Whether that’s combatting climate change, or protecting women’s rights, fighting against gun violence, or advocating for LGBTQ equality.”
The Clinton Foundation has long been an outlet for the family to pour their time and support into those very causes. And even with Hillary’s loss, the Clintons will continue to fight for change — Hillary said as much in her concession speech. And then there are the rumors that Chelsea might pursue a congressional run in the future, though she has yet to confirm any of that.
The conversation turns toward her #NewDaysResolution campaign from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which encourages kids to take on goals they can achieve in a day, rather than over the course of a year.
“We want young people to set goals they can really reach,” Chelsea explains. “Not goals that are unambitious, but goals that are achievable. If you achieve a goal today, and a goal tomorrow, ultimately you’re able to get where you want to be.”
It might be a campaign for kids, but it’s not a bad motto for all of us as we prepare for a new year and a new presidential administration. We have no idea what the world will look like in four years, or even four months, and there are many things we don’t have the power to fix. But there are actions we can take within our own communities, even if it’s as simple as donating to a local charity or spending a day volunteering. We need to start achieving our goals today, so we can get where we want to be tomorrow. Even if we’re wearing the wrong shoes.