The Feministing Five: Representative Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin, Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Representative from the 2nd District of Wisconsin, announced in September that she is running for Senate in next year’s election. Representative Baldwin is a pioneer in many ways; as the first woman ever elected to Wisconsin’s Congress, she is also the first openly lesbian Representative and first openly gay non-incumbent elected to U.S. Congress. If elected to the Senate, she would be the first openly gay U.S. Senator.

But as amazing and inspiring as all those things are, we have a ton more to look forward to with a candidate like Baldwin. Not only is she breaking glass ceilings with all of her endeavors, but her progressive values stay firmly rooted regardless of how high she advances.

Through her work in Congress, Baldwin has consistently stood up for the people, evidenced by her support for the working class. As one of only a few members of Congress, Baldwin voted against repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression Era law preventing banks from engaging in high-risk investments. The repeal ending up being a major factor in 2008’s financial collapse. She also voted against the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and continues to speak out against the war.

A politician to truly get excited for, it was an honor to interview Rep. Baldwin in the midst of her very busy campaign trail.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Rep. Tammy Baldwin.

Anna Sterling: What made you decide to run for Senate and how does being a “first” in so many ways affect your work?

Tammy Baldwin: Wisconsin is a unique state right now. A lot of our progressive values are under attack. Our new governor, Scott Walker, has basically announced an all-out attack on workers’ rights, civil rights, women’s rights, education, healthcare, and a lot of things we hold dear. Across the state, I hear from people their very real struggles and their frustration with the disconnect between what’s happening in Madison, Wisconsin and in Washington D.C. They want a fighter who is there for them and that’s what I’ve always done. Everything I’ve done is inspired by the people of my state and why I decided to run for U.S. Senate.

It’s incredible being given the opportunity to shatter glass ceilings but the more important focus is making sure we are creating a path many more will follow. I might not have aspired to public office if women and openly gay and lesbian candidates hadn’t run before me and shown me that doing so was possible. I recognized when I became the first woman elected to congress from the state of Wisconsin and first out lesbian elected in the history of U.S. that that’s not enough. We need to have legislative bodies that reflect America. Being a first is an extraordinary privilege, but the battle is won when there are many.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I’ve enjoyed reading about her leadership in such incredibly unconventional ways, including her expertise as a computer hacker and her absolute commitment to fighting violence against women.

My grandmother who helped raise me is my real life heroine. She was there for me at a time in her life where she might have been enjoying her golden years. Despite the fact that she was born before women had the right to vote in 1906, she got to see her granddaughter elected to U.S. Congress. She was also a professional woman as well as somebody who devoted herself full-time to her children. She presented the model of a working woman as well as somebody who was always there whenever I needed her.

Another person I always single out as someone who is extraordinaory is Aung San-Suu Kyi of Burma. The fact that she still finds ways to promote a message of hope, democracy and change through peaceful resistance despite the years of house arrest — it’s an amazing story.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

Right after the November 8th elections nationally in which voters in Mississippi voted down a personhood amendment, a state legislator in Wisconsin said he was going to introduce a constitutional amendment in Wisconsin just like the one that was defeated in Mississippi. I thought, oh my goodness, I can’t believe this is happening right in our own backyard!

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

As a member of the House of Representatives, there is clearly a war on women being waged by the Republican majority. It has taken many forms. Whether it’s the attack on funding for Planned Parenthood, which goes to the root of where so many women get their primary and preventative healthcare and cancer screenings, or whether it’s the consciousness clause that allows people to cite their faith in refusing to sell prescriptions for contraceptions, it’s clearly an all out war against women. That’s a huge challenge but in terms of how it’s facing feminism today, I think we have too many people of all ages who think the battle has been fought and won and don’t understand that we still have to keep on fighting today.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

TB: For food, I have a woman-owned business in my district called Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier so I’m going to bring a box of her chocolate. For the drink, I’m going to bring beer from a woman-owned brewery in my district called The New Glarus Brewing Company. I’m going to bring a 6-pack of Spotted Cow, one of their most popular brews. For the feminist, I’m going to bring Gloria Steinem who is not only a heroine of mine, but we’re also both graduates of Smith College, so we can catch up on all that too.

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