Representative Melissa Sargent: Interview
Updated: Aug 9, 2019
Name, pronouns, career/job title?
State Representative for the 48th Assembly District of Wisconsin
How has being a woman impacted your life thus far?
Being a woman in our society certainly comes with its challenges- too often, we as women have to work twice as hard, with more stigma, more obstacles, and less resources, to achieve the same level of success and respect of our male counterparts. While these challenges are an unjust reality, facing them throughout my life has motivated me to be an advocate on behalf of all women, and has strengthened my resilience. In addition, being a woman has allowed me be a part of an amazing network of other women and allies. There are so many inspirational people out there fighting for equality, representation, and to have their voices heard, and I am so proud to be a part of that movement and of the friendships I have gained along the way.
How has being a women specifically impacted your career?
Being a woman while running for elected office was not easy. Too many times, I faced
questioning about my capabilities, from belittlement about my qualifications to challenges about my ability to be a mom and handle the responsibilities of the position– questions that men candidates, with comparable or even less qualifications, seemed to be exempt from.
In my positions as an elected official both on the Dane County Board of Supervisors and now as a State Representative, I have again faced similar challenges due to my gender. In addition, as an advocate for women in the state legislature on issues such as menstrual equality, women’s healthcare and reproductive rights, the right to breastfeed in government owned buildings, and the prevention and education of domestic and sexual abuse and violence, I have faced backlash from constituents and fellow lawmakers alike for my “radical” ideas.
Despite these critics, being a woman in office has also been overwhelming positive– allowing
me to understand the critical importance of such topics, and the need to fight and ensure these fundamental rights that approximately 50% of our population are being denied.
In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing women today?
1. Discrimination & lack of equal opportunity:
Women in Wisconsin and across our country are still facing a multitude of
discriminatory practices, and a lack of equal opportunity compared to their male
counterparts. Under Governor Walker, Wisconsin took steps backwards in protecting
equal pay for women and women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Wisconsin
also continues to deny basic rights to women such as the need to eliminate the unfair menstrual tax, a woman’s right to have menstrual products available in public
restrooms, and the right to breastfeed. These obstacles come in addition to universal
challenges for a livable minimum wage, quality healthcare and education, and much
more. For women of color, with Wisconsin being one of the most segregated states
in America, these disparities are even more apparent.
Women also face safety threats at an alarming rate. From domestic abuse to sexual
violence and gun violence, women’s lives are at risk– and yet, there are pragmatic
policy solutions that are being ignored. We must do better as a society to bring
women to the table on these issues, lift up their voices, and protect our communities.
Without equal representation, women’s voices will continue to be marginalized.
Women deserve to be represented and have a seat at the table in decision-making
processes at all levels.
In your opinion, what are the most prominent challenges facing underrepresented groups as a whole today? (i.e. racial minorities, those with physical and cognitive disabilities,
socioeconomically disadvantaged, etc.)
While I do not want to speak on behalf of all underrepresented groups, as an ally I see a
multitude of challenges facing these groups in our society. Perhaps one of the most prominent issues being the accumulation of all of these challenges together, paired with systemic discrimination and oppression.
There are many steps that we must take to bring justice to underrepresented groups. One
crucial step is fighting for diverse representation in our leadership roles from schools,
government, businesses, etc. to lift up the voices of underrepresented groups and individuals.
Further, we must work to create a fairer system of governance, including campaign finance
reform and a nonpartisan redistricting process, to ensure that the fundamental principle of “one person, one vote” is upheld and that the voices of everyday people are heard.
How has the political and social climate of social justice changed throughout your lifetime?
One of the most prominent changes I have seen in the climate of social justice is the influence of social media. Social media has done incredible things in bringing together people across the country and globally, to share thoughts, ideas, and information, to have critical discourse, and to organize and mobilize individuals and groups around shared values.
At the same time, social media and technology has also created unique challenges, adding to the spread of misinformation and the creation of echo chambers.
Other aspects of the climate of social justice has been consistent throughout my lifetime: the
passionate individuals who have the courage to stand up and speak out against inequalities,
and the marginalized groups who have continued to make headway towards equality and justice and are still working to do so today.
What is of your utmost priority in terms of social justice and/ or politics currently?
My utmost priority is creating values based policies that come from the voices of my
constituents and the people of Wisconsin. I will continue to prioritize any and all work that I can do to bring equity and justice to Wisconsin, and to aid in helping the hardworking people of our state.
Some of my top legislative priorities this session include introducing legislation to: fully legalize marijuana, create a $15 minimum wage, stop unlimited campaign contributions, educate children and teens about abuse and dating violence, institute practical gun reform, remove the tax on menstrual products and provide menstrual products in public buildings, and protect our communities from sexual violence.
Please describe your political and/ or social activism:
As a State Representative, I see my primary role in political and social activism as being a
listener– hearing the voices and activism of my constituents, and bringing their concerns to the political process within the Capitol. My constituents are my bosses, and I cannot do my job without hearing from them.
I also find great value and importance in rolling up my sleeves and being active in my
community hands on.
What do you encourage others to take part in, in order to make their communities more socially and politically inclusive?
There are so many great ways to take part in our democracy in order to make our communities and state more inclusive: keep up with and contact your elected officials, be informed about and vote in every election, volunteer your time and share your skills within your community, give your money to causes and organizations you care about, invest where your values are, support fair and balanced media sources, speak up against hate and divisiveness, and get involved in the governing process.
You can be more involved in our government at various levels by attending school board, city
council, or county board meetings; attending or testifying in legislative committee hearings about bills or issues you feel passionately about; serving on a committee commission, or council; or, better yet, running for office.
Any final thoughts?
Young people are our future, and your voices matter! Don’t ever let anyone try and tell you