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Now reading: Women Who Inspire: Shannon Fisher

Women Who Inspire: Shannon Fisher

Women Who Inspire: Shannon Fisher

Shannon Fisher is a writer, human rights advocate and civic leader.  She hosts the radio talk show, The Authentic Woman – Perspectives on the Female Experience in America, on the Authors on the Air network. An ardent women’s rights leader, Shannon also serves on the Board of Directors for, a national 501(c)(3) advocacy organization. She co-founded the organization’s Unite Against Rape campaign, for which Shannon enlisted the participation of a multitude of legislators, celebrities and everyday men and women. She was named among the “Richmonders of the Year” in 2012 by Style Weekly Magazine for her activism in women’s rights.
She received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and is a graduate of the Political Leaders Program at the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at The University of Virginia.  Shannon strives to enact positive change in the world – one day, one issue and one person at a time.

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?
Shannon: I think the best advice I can give is twofold: 1) don’t expect anything in return for your efforts other than the satisfaction of knowing you are making a positive difference in the word; and 2) be willing to work your tucchus off because being an agent for change is very hard work.
As for my inspiration, I stumbled upon what I do in an almost uncanny chain of events that could not be replicated if I tried.  It’s as if it were fated.  The Virginia General Assembly was debating an ultrasound bill that was intended to squash women’s reproductive rights.  Women in the state were up in arms over this, and the leaders of the local Occupy movement (the group staging protests nationwide) decided to take their knowledge of community organizing and hold a women’s rights protest (with a permit) at the Virginia Capitol. I saw this event advertised on social media and thought, “I want to go there to show my support.” I didn’t know anybody organizing it, and I was just going to be a warm body to help show the breadth of opposition in Virginia to this particular bill, but I felt very compelled to go.

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, – 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 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 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 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.

Shannon on Capitol Steps
Shannon protesting on the VA Capitol steps, the act that started her on this journey! (photo credit: Scott Elmquist)
The only way I’ve found to continue with the work without having it permanently alter my outlook is by taking frequent breaks. There are good people out there who aren’t sexist, racist, homophobic, violent, or sexual predators.  It’s important to spend time with those people and talk about things like puppies and rainbows. It sounds ridiculous, but sometimes activists have to step away from the trenches and take a walk in the park to remember the ultimate goal is for all of us to be able to walk through that park safely without verbal or physical abuse – or the judgment of passersby. While on that walk, we will inevitably see some kind of injustice - and get right back to work. But the break, no matter how brief, is imperative!
Svaha: What is your personal mission statement in life?
Shannon: Do the best you can. Try to help others in any way possible using the unique skill set that you have, but not at the expense of yourself. Do important work without expecting recognition or even thanks. Stand firm in your beliefs, and stand up for those who can’t (or don’t know how to) stand up for themselves.


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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