The Facebook group Pantsuit Nation(Opens in a new tab), which went viral in 2016 as a safe haven for Hillary Clinton supporters, is abruptly shutting down.
The news took the group’s members and moderators by surprise. But in 2019, Pantsuit Nation became a part of Supermajority(Opens in a new tab), a membership-based organization that helps women advocate for themselves and their communities. It was no longer under the direct control of its founder Libby Chamberlain.
On Thursday, Taylor Salditch, Supermajority’s interim executive director, announced(Opens in a new tab) that the organization would begin “pausing” any new posts, comments, and reactions, starting March 18. The move effectively shuts down the 2.9 million-member group.
Salditch said Supermajority would instead be focusing on engaging young women in key states to win upcoming elections, including the 2024 presidential race. Supermajority had been paying contract moderators to keep Pantsuit Nation running.
“We know that it will take a laser focus on our core work and are prioritizing our time, talent and resources to achieve that outcome,” wrote Salditch.
Salditch’s post has since garnered more than 1,500 comments, many of them critical of the decision, calling it “short sighted,” “terrible,” and a “huge miscalculation.”
In response to Mashable’s request for additional information about why Supermajority decided to shutter the group, Salditch sent a version of her Facebook post but provided no additional information:
“Over the past several weeks and months, we have taken stock of our work, particularly focusing on our success in 2022, and developed a strategic approach to best position Supermajority to build women’s political power into 2024. We are focusing on engaging young women voters, both white women and women of color, in key states to increase turnout and win elections and policies that enable women and their families to thrive. We know that it will take a laser focus on our core work and are prioritizing our time, talent and resources to achieve that outcome.
“Supermajority has decided to pause the ongoing management of the Pantsuit Nation x Supermajority Facebook page on March 18. Pantsuit Nation has always been much more than an homage to sharp trousers and the leadership of one woman; this group grew into a community of connection, knowledge sharing, and mobilizing because of each member.
“What does this mean? We are pausing any new posts, comments and reactions on the page. Community members will continue to have access to years worth of shared stories to revisit, and they will continue to be an invaluable part of the Supermajority community. We like to think of this channel as a time capsule that spans a historic and tumultuous 7+ year time in our country’s history.
“When I was working on the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, knowing that this space was created where people could celebrate, commiserate and organize together was a bright light in an otherwise dark time. Pantsuit Nation x Supermajority created a community that inspired strangers to share their stories and hopes for the future. Those conversations sparked friendships, trained new activists, organized community meetings and so much more. The group may be paused but the spirit (as well as the memories in this group) remain!”
Some of the group’s moderators, who were suddenly laid off effective Friday(Opens in a new tab), started a new Facebook group called Our Nation(Opens in a new tab), which has already attracted tens of thousands of followers.
Yet, it will be impossible to replicate Pantsuit Nation’s unique origin story.
In the final weeks of the 2016 election, Chamberlain started the group as a place to express unabashed support for Clinton at a time when that felt rare. She invited a few dozen friends to wear pantsuits when they voted for Clinton. Those friends invited their friends. Within weeks, Pantsuit Nation had a membership of 1 million people.
“[Pantsuit Nation] is not a place to convince anyone how great she is,” Chamberlain told Mashable at the time. “It’s a place to celebrate how great she is.”
The praise also gave way to storytelling and organizing. Members shared heartfelt personal experiences about subjects like emigrating to the United States, seeking abortion care, coming out to conservative family members, and more. These stories could spark controversial or even offensive discussions about race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, and disability, and some activists remained skeptical of the group.
Yet posts also frequently prompted conversations about how to raise money for various causes, how to be a better ally, how to protest, and how to advocate for certain pieces of state and federal legislation. Members in conservative states often said the group helped them feel less politically alone.
In a post responding to the decision, Chamberlain thanked the organization for making it possible to compensate the group’s moderators but also pointed to efforts to keep Pantsuit Nation going.
“I’m disappointed at this decision, but it’s not mine to make,” she wrote(Opens in a new tab). “If you look around the community today you’ll see some of our passionate and loyal moderators are fighting to keep the group alive.”
Chamberlain, who formerly served as head of community for Supermajority, told Mashable in an email that she’s “proud and excited” to see the organization’s state-based turnout strategy yield “crucial wins for women across the country.” She added that she understood why Pantsuit Nation’s “story-based, international community” might feel tangential to Supermajority’s electoral strategy.
While Facebook groups can be powerful engines of connection and organizing, they typically require highly active moderation for a high-quality experience. A volunteer-run operation can become beset by burnout. At the same time, it can be difficult to convince funders that moderation for a Facebook group should compete with resources for efforts like microtargeting voters in swing states such as Wisconsin and Arizona, for example. Though Pantsuit Nation could energize and mobilize groups of female and female-identifying voters, its reach isn’t granular, and the effects are hard to quantify.
But as Supermajority swiftly discovered, Pantsuit Nation’s loyal members appeared to see the decision as about much more than a strategic tradeoff. Chamberlain said in an email that she was sad no one else would be able to share their story in Pantsuit Nation.
“I also think that we need all hands on deck and all resources available to tackle threats to our democracy, particularly as we approach the 2024 election,” she wrote. “I strongly believe that Pantsuit Nation has a role to play, and so my hope is that Supermajority will consider giving us a chance to make that happen.”