Our Interview with Shannon Fisher:Svaha: You have dedicated your life to acting as a voice for women's issues and gender equality. What was your inspiration for going into this line of work and what is your advice to young girls who are interested in continuing your mission?
I got there early (in order to get good parking – haha), and the organizers got nervous as droves of people arrived, the crowd growing larger and larger by the minute. They hadn’t anticipated more than a thousand people who showed up to protest this legislation. Since I seemed like a responsible person, and I was standing right next to them, the organizers asked me to help them run the event and manage a certain portion of the crowd. That was the day we sat peacefully on the steps of the Virginia Capitol, in our windbreakers and mom jeans, as the Governor called in the SWAT team and had 32 people arrested. The arrests of the peaceful, permitted protest made the national news, putting Virginia front and center in the resurgence of the women’s rights movement.
In response to that national news story, and to Sandra Fluke’s being denied testimony at an all-male Congressional hearing about birth control, UniteWomen.org – a brand new national women’s rights organization – was being formed to organize people around the country in the fight against the “war on women” happening in state legislatures via anti-reproductive rights bills. I was by this time actively involved in the fight in Virginia, so I helped UniteWomen.org organize an event in VA and developed a working relationship with some of their national leaders. Shortly thereafter, the women’s rights activists who had planned the protest at the Capitol were named Richmonders of the year – and they were kind enough to include me (which they did not have to because I was not part of the initial team planning that protest). The UniteWomen.org leaders liked the work I was doing, and not too much later they invited me to be on the national executive team (all of UW’s planning is done online, so their leaders are all over the country). Within weeks of my joining the executive team, we founded the Unite Against Rape campaign – and activity surrounding that that launched me into women’s rights activism on the national stage. People started asking me to write things, and then I was offered the radio show on the Authors on the Air radio network after I represented UniteWomen.org as a panelist on a Global Conversation about Domestic Violence.
So, back to the advice, I’d tell people to say, “Yes!” when given an opportunity to help raise awareness or impact policy. I did not get paid one single dime for anything I just mentioned. Zilch. Nadda. I did it because it was important to me, and it made me feel good to be having an impact on policy and societal attitudes. We can all really make a difference, individually and collectively, but it must be fundamentally fueled by passion. In rare cases, it can become a vocation – but understand that it will usually remain a volunteer activity that requires commitment.Svaha: Considering there is still so muchwork to be done as a society, how do you stay positive and focused with such a daunting task on your hands?
Shannon: I must admit, there are days when it’s really tough to stay positive. One such time was during the Unite against Rape campaign, when thousands of women sent us emails describing having being sexually assaulted. These women weren’t merely faceless statistics anymore; we were reading very personal words from each of the people who wanted to share their stories as part of the healing process. When you read 5-20 of those per day, and you are inundated with violence in the media, it can skew your perspective on things. We can’t focus on inequality, gender violence, and social injustice all the time. Those who do tend to see the world through a skewed lens, and I would like to remain a glass-half-full person.
Svaha: What is your favorite memory from childhood?Shannon: The first thing that comes to mind is riding the super tall swing carousel at a theme park. I remember feeling like I was floating on air, overlooking the world and seeing only beauty and joy. It was a simple feeling, and a simple activity, but it was such a profound feeling that it sticks out in my mind. I guess it’s like Bette Midler’s Song, “From a distance, there is harmony and it echoes through the land. It’ the voice of hope; it’s the voice of peace; it’s the voice of every man…God is watching us from a distance.” I recall the feeling being very ethereal.
Svaha: If you could pick any song to be your theme song when you walk into a room, what would you choose and why?Shannon: “Here Comes the Sun” by George Harrison. It acknowledges that life can be difficult but ultimately reassures us that there will be a better day. I guess that’s not a theme song about me, per se, but I’d still like it played when I enter a room to set a happy, positive, contemplative mood. We need more of that in this world.
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