Speaking at a conference for professional businesswomen in San Francisco on Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that she is back.
“I am thrilled to be out of the woods, in the company of so many inspiring women,” she said to an enamored crowd of about 3,500 at the Professional BusinessWomen of California’s annual conference, adding that there is no place she would rather be “other than the White House.”
Clinton has made few public appearances since losing the presidential election to Donald Trump in November. Earlier in March, she gave a speech to women in Pennsylvania and said she was “ready” to come out of the woods, speaking coyly to her low profile as well as social-media buzz over people spotting the politician on hikes near a family home in New York State.
At the San Francisco speech, she articulated disappointment about the election but spent most of her time on stage sounding defiant tones. She called the advancement of women’s and girls’ rights “the great unfinished business of the 21st century” and concluded her speech by saying that she would be out in public fighting for progress on those fronts.
“The last few months haven’t been exactly what I envisioned, although I do know what I’m fighting for: I’m fighting for a fairer, big-hearted, inclusive America. And the unfinished business of the 21st century can’t wait any longer,” she said. “Now is the time to demand the progress we want to see … and I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.”
Though Clinton did not mention Trump by name, she took issue with the way he characterized the state of America in his inauguration speech. “Where some see a dark vision of carnage, I see a light shining,” she said, arguing that the country has never been “better positioned” to take on the work of treating women equally in society and encouraging their full and fair participation in the economy.
She repeatedly encouraged the audience to “get in the arena;” criticized Silicon Valley for its failures to be inclusive; and expressed empathy with working women who had suffered indignities like sexist comments or being patronized in the course of trying to do their jobs. “It’s not like I didn’t know all the nasty things they were saying about me,” Clinton said of the campaign. “Some of them were actually quite creative, ones I hadn’t heard before, but you just have to keep going.”
Calling for more representation in C-suites and in Congress, Clinton sharply criticized “groups of men” in Washington making decisions about women’s health, referencing the Republicans’ currently scuttled health-care bill that would have eliminated funding for Planned Parenthood for a year and left 24 million Americans without health-care coverage over the next decade, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
“When this disastrous bill failed, it was a victory for all Americans,” she said, to great applause. She credited the women and men who showed up in marches after Inauguration Day for generating enthusiasm that helped limit support for the bill among members of Congress who “were met with a wave of resistance.” She also said that enthusiasm would need to be sustained. “The other side never quits,” she said. “Sooner or later, they’ll try again.”
Clinton spent much time arguing for better paid-family-leave policies and suggested that she would be pushing for legal change on that front if she had won the election. “As a candidate for President, I put out a comprehensive plan. I don’t expect you to remember that,” she said to laughs. “In fact, there was a recent study showing that none of my plans were really publicized or talked about, so that gives me something for speeches for at least a decade.”
She did not say anything specific about how she will be spending her time or focusing her efforts, but Clinton made it clear that she is not leaving public life. “Obviously, the outcome of the election wasn’t the one I hoped for, worked for,” she said. “But I will never stop speaking out.”