Denverite Michelle Baldwin is one of the hundreds of and various Colorado women who participated in the 2016 Democratic State Convention on Saturday in Loveland. As reported on Colorado Public Radio, by Vic Vela on April 16, 2016, Senator Sanders wound up widening his share of Colorado delegates to 41 at the convention event, while Secretary Clinton won 25 delegates. A Clinton supporter, Baldwin consented to this interview talking to what led to her participating on Saturday and what keeps her engaged in the political process, with Colorado as a battleground state in the Presidential election this year.
Interviewer Laura Gabbay (LG): How did your involvement in the political process start? What was the first step that led to your participation in the 2016 Democratic State Convention in Loveland?
Interviewee Michelle Baldwin (MB): I was involved and interested in politics in school, running for office in elementary school, acting as president of my high school’s green club and implementing the first recycling program in my school in 1990. I was also very aware of politics and issues, writing articles in my high school paper about AIDS, reading and discussing feminist writings, including Faludi’s “Backlash.” My first Presidential vote was for Bill Clinton and the first campaign I worked on was opposing Amendment 2 in 1993 (the anti-gay Amendment).
LG: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to be a part of today? What do you think are the biggest barriers to more women participating in the political process?
MB: I’m really lucky. I’m single and I work a lot of odd jobs, so I don’t have family to take care of and my job situation is flexible enough to allow me to be a part of the process. I do think family obligations and work are definitely the two biggest barriers to more women participating.
LG: Did the State Convention meet your expectations? Had you participated in State Conventions in the past or was this your first State Convention?
MB: I really had no expectations, but figured it would be a bit like the county convention, and it was. This was my first time going beyond the caucus and being a delegate.
LG: What has been the biggest surprise or most compelling revelation for you, either as a result of your participation in the Convention today or overall in becoming a delegate?
MB: The biggest surprise is how disorganized much of the process is. The systems really need updating and streamlining. Volunteers need better training and I felt like I could have been better prepared if I had been given more information before the Convention.
LG: What questions or ideas have been raised for you as a result of becoming a delegate?
MB: How I can get involved to make the process better. I think if we make it less confusing, get more information and better systems in place, more folks would be able to participate. Also we need to go back to a primary. I knocked on a lot of doors to get people out to the caucus and met a ton of people unable to participate because they are homebound, or have to work or have children. Being able to vote all day and by mail would really help these folks out.
LG: When did you first vote?
MB: The first one I remember is 1992 for the Presidential election. I turned 18 in 1991.
LG: Do you think you might ever run for a political office?
MB: Probably not, I don’t agree with the process and how much money has to be raised and spent. I like the way other countries do it, without money and the special interest it can bring getting into the process.
LG: 2016 has brought with it an unusually controversial or unconventional Presidential election in our country. What are you most looking forward to in the coming year leading up to November and why?
MB: Mostly just seeing how it all plays out. The process and possibilities are so different than any other election in the past. The possibility of open conventions on both sides, the mess of the Republican party. It’ll be really interesting to watch it all unfold.
LG: What turns you on the most about the candidates you support? What are some of the issues that you disfavor?
MB: Someone whose politics align with mine, who support human rights, women’s rights, the environment and who are also not afraid to protect our country when it seems necessary, but are also not war-mongering and over-reacting the way a lot of the Republicans do.
LG: Do you volunteer in your community? If so, what kind of work do you do for each organization? What makes you passionate about the mission(s) of where you volunteer?
MB: I’m part of a group of women who do fundraisers for The Prom Dress Exchange, SafeHouse Denver and other organizations that support women and children. We call ourselves LUPEC Denver. Women and children are the most vulnerable populations in our society and I believe in doing what I can to help.
LG: Do you have any specific advice on how readers can proceed in their advocacy and political engagement?
MB: Pay attention. I encounter so many people who have no clue what is happening in politics today and why it is so important to be involved. These are people with smartphones and computers and access to all the information they would need to get involved, but their focus is not on the issues. I know everyone is busy, but even just being aware, forming opinions and voting is important.
LG: What do you think the biggest social justice issue is facing women today in our country and why?
MB: The rights to our own bodies and personal health. There are so many states passing laws that restrict or even criminalize (Indiana) abortion. They are chipping away at Roe vs Wade state by state.
LG: You have made a career as a Burlesque Dancer and teacher, as well as an author. Can you tell readers more about this and your website? What is ahead for you in the next year professionally?
MB: I love what I do. Like any artist, it is my favorite gig, but I have 5 other jobs that help support me. I love teaching women about burlesque and often getting them out of a cycle of negative body image, teaching them burlesque, but also teaching them to love themselves. I’ll be headlining the Colorado Burlesque Festival in July and continuing to teach and entertain.
LG: If you saw a newspaper headline 5 years from now that meant your civic engagement had the desired impact, what would it say?
MB: “Hillary Clinton Elected for her Second Term”
To read more about the creative work of Michelle Baldwin, aka Vivienne VaVoom, there is an article published by the Westword in Aug. 2013 by Susan Froyd that describes in greater detail Baldwin’s work as a performer and author.
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