The Selfie Line Life

Hope and civic thirst among 4,000 people waiting for a shot with Elizabeth Warren.

An animated GIF flashing through photos of supporters with Elizabeth Warren.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Kathleen Galligan/Detroit Free Press/USA Today Network/Reuters, Kelsey Kremer/The Register/USA Today Network/Reuters, Alex Wong/Getty Images, and Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” may be a “political phenomenon,” according to CNN, but it’s also a misnomer, twice over: The photos that supporters end up with aren’t technically selfies—campaign aides snap them—and no one waits in a line, or at least they didn’t Monday evening at Warren’s rally in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. It was more of a blob.

“We were told that that was the line,” a rally attendee named Alanna, a therapist, told me, nodding toward a large crowd of people to the east of the Washington Square Arch. “And then someone told me that wasn’t the line. And then someone told me that was the line. So I’m not sure where the line is. But it feels like just a clump.” (She preferred not to provide her last name for professional reasons.)

Most of the attendees were happy to join the clump regardless. “If she can go through all these people and take selfies, I can wait it out for at least 45 minutes,” said Bri Held, an executive assistant. The wait time turned out to be quite a bit longer than that.

Addressing a crowd of 20,000 earlier in the evening, Warren implied at one point that she might forgo selfie hour, which has quickly become a campaign signature (and which, again, does not involve actual selfies) that night. But she was just kidding. “Some things we just don’t mess with,” she said.

And they truly do not. Warren’s staff estimated that she’s taken 59,000 of the photos thus far. (If all 59,000 people posted them, just imagine the social media impressions.) The campaign is even trying to build on the selfie momentum. On Monday, a campaign surrogate said to the crowd, “I want you all to take a selfie with a new friend you just made.” Selfie-takers were then instructed to tag their pics on social media. Many obliged.

But for the Warren faithful in attendance that night, only a bona fide selfie line photo would do. So when the announcement came down—“Please make your way to the front. Selfie line will begin stage left, which is right over here. Please let families with children to the front of the line first.”—it was go time.

With 20,000 attendees, naturally, it was kind of hard to make it anywhere for a while. Enter the clumps.

“I’m just standing here thinking, ‘I hope New York is not the city that breaks Elizabeth Warren,’ because it seems every New Yorker has gotten the word and has come down here steadily to take a selfie with her,” Held said. In truth, she wasn’t mad about it. “I’m thinking that was a barnburner of a speech and this might be my only chance in my lifetime to stand next to a woman president.”

“Obviously to see all these enthusiastic people, it is what it is,” an event planner named Mia Pinto said about what would likely be a long wait. “It’s amazing that she’s willing to stay and take pictures with everybody.”

The crowds stretched all through the paths of the park, eventually forming into something like three lines, some moving in opposing directions. Warren volunteers occasionally attempted to intervene. “You guys are fine—there are three lines, this is one of the lines,” one blared at some people waiting. “I don’t know if I trust that guy,” I heard someone in the crowd say, more quietly, in response.

Were any of the lines actually moving? Had Warren even finished with the families with kids and people who needed accommodations, who were supposed to go first? “We’ve heard all kinds of rumors,” a couple of waiting law students told me.

Nearby, some undergraduates negotiated how long they were willing to wait. “I was about to ask you this question. What is your limit?” Johanna Nelson said to her friend Emily Zhang. “It is 8:10 right now.” The two hoped the line would move quickly.

“I don’t really believe in getting selfies with celebrities and stuff like that, but I really think it would be really good for me to look at and be inspired by,” Zhang said. Nelson added, “It’s also something cheesy to show my sister and also my children one day. I feel like [Warren]’s such a big person in this generation and probably future generations.”

Others had made peace with waiting it out. “I would like a selfie with the next president of the United States, and that’s Elizabeth Warren,” Pinto, the event planner, who was toward the back of one line, told me. “I’m gonna wait till I get one.” She guessed, circa 8:35 p.m., that it might be four hours, and she was prepared to wait. “I did bring snacks. I didn’t bring water, ’cause then I’d have to pee.”

Elizabeth Warren and Mia Pinto pose in front of an American flag.
Mia Pinto eventually got her photo with the candidate. Via Mia Pinto

Pinto praised the selfies as strategic: “It’s a very savvy move. Nobody wants an autograph anymore—everybody wants a selfie.” By taking photos with anyone who wants one, she said, Warren is showing that “she’s truly one of us. She’s putting herself on the same plane as us.”

Soraya Dangor, a project manager, and Kimmianne Webster, a copy editor, said they had arrived at the park at 2 p.m. to secure good spots for the speech, and nothing was going to stop them from getting those selfies. “I’m really comfortable with waiting,” Webster said. “I don’t have a limit. I go to San Diego Comic-Con every year. I’ve slept outside before.” Dangor agreed. “If she’s here, I’m here,” she said.

As for why the picture was important to her, Dangor said, “So many reasons! I want her to be the president, I admire her on a personal level, I’m so excited to vote for her.”

Webster added, “All those things, but also I really want to show my mom. She’ll be really excited.”

Dangor broke in, “That too! Oh my gosh, I want to show my mom!”

The two were gaming out what they might say to her when they got their moment. Warren’s communications director Kristen Orthman has said on Twitter that in addition to the photos themselves, the selfie line is important because of what people tell the candidate, notes they pass to her, and more.

“I don’t think I’ll have very much time, but I wanted to say hi, and also that I used to be a public schoolteacher, and I’m gonna fight for you to win,” Dangor ad-libbed.

Elizabeth Warren and Soraya Dangor pose in front of an American flag.
Soraya Dangor finally gets her picture with Warren. Via Soraya Dangor

I asked Dangor to text me when she got her selfie. I heard from her at 11:14 p.m. “Got my photo!” Pinto got hers around 11:05. All in all, Warren spent nearly four hours post-speech attending to the selfie line, taking some 4,000 photos, per CNN.

Not everyone made it that far. Alanna, attending with a friend, David Rosenberg, decided not to stay. “I would have waited two hours if that’s what she wanted,” Rosenberg, deferring to his companion, said.

Held’s motivation had flagged. “Elizabeth Warren apparently has more stamina taking these photos than I do waiting for these thousands of people to take their turn,” she said.

Rachel Tennenbaum, a communications strategist who professed to feel “totally giddy and starry-eyed” about Warren, said she nonetheless wouldn’t wait more than an hour.* “We love her, but we’re still New Yorkers.”

Correction, Sept. 19, 2019: Due to an editing error, this article originally misstated Rachel Tennenbaum’s job title. She is a communications strategist not a teaching fellow.