Wednesday, May 17, 2017
INTERVIEW: Marsha Conant
Written by Chris Jarvis
I’ve known Marsha for 25 years and she’s always been a force to reckoned with. While she’s been political her whole life, she recently found the opportunity to throw herself into her passion, and her voice has never been stronger. Last year she was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention during possibly the most chaotic campaign in American history. I asked Marsha what motivates her, where she sees American politics headed, and what drives the divide in this nation.
What sparked your recent interest in stepping into the political arena?
In 2016 with Hillary Clinton running to be the Democratic nominee for President, I decided I could not let this election go without becoming re-involved. As I looked at the Republican candidates I felt they were ALL a threat to the rights and issues that were vital to me. LGBTQ rights, equality for women, health care, gun control, etc. All the issues that are currently being challenged, defunded and threatened. Our daughters are both away at college and I felt I had the freedom to follow my passion which is political activism. I have long been a fan of Hillary Clinton and felt she was the candidate who best represented my values. In 1992, as a member of the Majority Council of Emily’s List, a PAC that raises money for pro-choice Democratic Women I was invited to the White House and met Secretary Clinton.
How did you get chosen to be a representative at the Democratic National Convention? What’s the process?
To become a delegate to a National Convention you choose the candidate you want to represent and run at a Congressional District meeting. I ran as a Clinton delegate and was elected with four other Clinton Delegates. There was a Sanders Delegate election happening at the same time and 5 Sanders delegates were elected. The district only sends a total of 5 delegates and it reflects the actual vote in the primary. There were three Clinton Delegates and two Sanders delegates from CD22.
What was the most heartening thing you experienced at the Democratic convention and the most disheartening?
It was very heartening that there were so many LGBTQ delegates, around 500, over 10% of the total number of delegates at the convention. Also, around 36 tans-gendered delegates, the first trans keynote speaker, Sarah McBride, who work for HRC. The belief that we really were going to elect the first woman president of the United States was very emotional and exciting. For some of us, who have been fighting for women’s rights most of our lives it was almost overwhelming. The convention was amazing, inspiring and motivating speakers, encouraging, validating, story after story unfolding demonstrating how we really were #strongertogether, how we could live in a country that was inclusive where everyone was valued and appreciated for who they were.
Who was the most exciting person you met?
There was an amazing woman, Jerry Emmet, 102 years old from Arizona at the convention. She was so excited and enthusiastic. She believed there would finally be a woman President in her lifetime! She was an inspiration! I also met Gloria Allred, Jessie Jackson, Kathleen Spillmire, Head of the Feminist Majority, Delores Huerta, Amanda Renteria, Ellie Smeal, Gavin Newsome, Barbara Boxer, Jessie Jackson. I decided to collect political signatures on a rainbow flag.
What tactics do you use when met with flagrant prejudice or ignorance? How hard is it for you to walk away from certain situations?
I try to listen to their comments and opinions and respond calmly, respectfully, and non-emotionally. I shared my opinion or make a statement that expresses my very different truth or reality. Sometimes, people will listen or consider my opinion, often not. Some people just like to argue, I don’t. I also have learned, my opinion is not always right! There have been many times I have changed my position on an issue after hearing other opinions and getting more information. I once had a difference of opinion at a CDC Convention with Harvey Milk. He could be very persuasive, I changed my vote! LOL
Why do you think there is such a disconnect in this country between sides in the political climate?
When President Obama was elected I believe many Americans felt they were losing control of their country. People came out and voted for him, who had never voted before. As more liberal and progressive ideas were adopted legislatively and backed by the courts I believe the sense of lack of control and anger continued to grow. I think they felt as though they were no longer being heard! Once there was a candidate who expressed their outrage and promised to return the country to something they were comfortable with, they latched on! As a candidate his outlandish comments and brutish behavior gave people permission to act the same way. It is shocking the amount of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and prejudice that has been revealed! The divide is deep! People have permission to be bullies! A very sad and tragic situation! Although. I will always find this kind of hate intolerable I believe we must continue to reach out to these people. We must educate and we must listen. I still believe fundamentally people are good and want to do the right thing. Hate is never the right thing!
What do you think motivates those who want to reverse progress and civil rights?
I think misogyny runs very deep, 53% of women voters did not vote for a qualified woman candidate. Churches have a huge influence in elections and are very effective at getting voters out! I guess that leaves LGBT!
What are your thoughts on what will happen first…the first female President, the first LGBT President or the first atheist President?
Before that can happen, we must elect LGBT candidates up and down the ticket and in local elections! In order to do that we must become actively involved in local politics. We must work in political campaigns, register voters, give money and our resources to candidates that represent us, find qualified LGBT candidates to run for school boards, appointments to commissions, City Council, Board of Supervisors, and make sure candidates seek our endorsement, because they know we are organized and can impact a local election!
This is not currently the case in Fresno.
The LGBT community does not have a large political presence. I am going to continue to work toward changing that. I want to encourage people to join Democratic Clubs and to become involved.
I am a member of the Kennedy Club, Democratic Women in Action, Stonewall Democratic Club, Fresno County Democratic Women’s Club and the Fresno Chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus! All of those Clubs support LGBT rights and all of them have been very supportive of me. We must get involved to have an impact in our community.
What’s your take on the media these days?
The news media was unduly harsh on Clinton in the last election and gave Trump entirely too much free publicity! Some newscasters and networks biases tilt the information and story. Sometimes we will watch the BBC news just to get a different perspective on the world. If you only watch FOX or CNN you only are hearing one side. I of course love Rachel Maddow!
How do you feel about the rallies and protests happening now? Do you think it’s something people will maintain or will it burn out? And how do we get more people to vote?
I have been participating in the demonstrations and rallies! I think the demonstrations will continue to grow. We participated in the Women’s March in Sacramento and a group of us have been meeting monthly to write postcards to our elected officials expressing our opinions and outrage about the threats to LGBT Rights, the ACA, Immigration, planned parenthood, the environment, Medicare, etc. We have sent over 1,300 postcards!
How do you feel about the future, politically?
I think things will move back to a more moderate position. I believe there will be a significant change in 2018. I do not believe the current policies of the administration reflect true American values. I believe we are an inclusive and kind nation.
You have two daughters with your wife Marilyn. What is the most important value you hope you have instilled in them?
I hope we have taught our daughters to be respectful of all people. To not be afraid to speak up when they see something is wrong and to be kind, loving and brave!