“I was in second grade and we had just finished an activity in our classroom, and my classmate next to me turned to me and said that girl adults make less money than boy adults,” said Meggie Wittorf, sitting in Studio 2 Café Monday evening, nursing a green tea. “It was just kind of this question mark when you’re 8 and you hear that, but I’ve probably been pissed off every day since then.”
In the decades since, Wittorf’s anger has turned to advocacy. In August, the 31-year-old General Mills finance and marketing professional and Fulton neighborhood resident launched her campaign to become the next house representative of district 61B in South Minneapolis — and not a moment too soon.
“All the things that frustrate you are also your biggest motivators,” she said, “because I think we all have this energy right now that’s like, ‘Not on my watch.’ And we have to keep that energy going. I feel like when people hear ‘2018,’ that doesn’t mean politics as usual. That means change. That means, we’re going to get stuff done, and it’s going to look different.
“Our mission is to make sure that we have strong, creative legislation happening, because people depend on it. Kids depend on it, women depend on it, workers depend on it, people of color — every single intersection is depending on something different right now. And we want to make sure that that energy and focus shows up in our capital.
“We’ve been talking about these issues for a very long time. 2016 wasn’t the first time that women were talking about the pay gap, and that women of color are even further left behind. So if we want to see the progress we’ve talked about for so long, we have to behave differently, and our campaign wants to see that different behavior in the capital.”
At a time when fatigue about politics can elicit a heads-in-the-sand “here we go again,” Wittorf is a breath of fresh air. At her campaign launch at Studio 2 Café earlier this month, she perfectly described the current political culture as a “malaise,” and how: Incredulous though it may one day be to future generations reading this, Wittorf’s first-time bid for public office comes at a time when the president of the United States has been hit with numerous sexual harassment claims and supports a known child molester in the Alabama senate race; Minnesota Sen. Al Franken is due to face a senate ethics investigation about his accused lechery, and a threatened federal government shut-down looms over tax reform.
Good times. No pressure, but there’s a lot riding on the likes of Wittorf, an obviously passionate and pragmatic new voice who grew up in Wayzata, attended Minnetonka High School and the Carlson School of Management, led the women’s mentorship program at the University of Minnesota, serves on the OutFront Minnesota board and appears to be more than up to the task of fighting the good fight.
“It is no coincidence that a tidal wave of women running for elected office is happening at the same time (as male politicians are being called on the carpet),” wrote Lulete Mola, director of community impact at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in the Huffington Post last week. “November 7 saw barrier-breaking women win. This is women’s frustration channeled into political action. This past weekend, 200 women from 33 states gathered in Minneapolis at the VoteRunLead #RunAsYouAre National Training, ready to step up, run for office and win. Ten thousand more have signed up to do the same.”
Count Wittorf among the frustrated — and inspired — new female politicians who are surfing a long overdue sea change wave, the soundtrack to which could be Joan Armatrading’s “If Women Ruled The World.”
“Everything is urgent right now, because we see this really toxic culture in our government, and it’s not just in D.C., we’re seeing it in our own capital,” she said. “The reality is, that toxic culture shows up and it hinders really important policy making. It shows up in how you manage a budget. I think of a budget as a moral document. When you put pen on paper and you decide what you’re actually going to support, it’s a demonstration of your values, and I think that right now what we’re seeing and what we saw in 2016 is just an outcome of problems that have always been there, and so with these attacks on women’s health care, we see that women are under-represented and not in the room when these big decisions are being made about their and their families’ lives.”
Two weeks ago, Wittorf and her husband Steve hosted an official campaign launch party at Studio 2, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the gathered enthusiasm felt like a much-needed new beginning.
“Our kick-off was so humbling and inspiring to me, because to see Studio 2 packed like that, with over 100 people and the energy in the room, it was clear that 2018 is ‘Go Time,’” said Meggie. “I think we have a responsibility coming from areas that tend to be pretty blue and affluent to make sure that we know that it’s bigger than just 61B. This is bigger than our neighborhood, and we need to bring that energy and that perspective every day to the capital.
“So this means we look through every policy decision with an equity lens. With equity decision-making, you look at transportation, education, health care and everything else because we live in a very blue area where we can always have progressive people, and we need to make sure that those people are doing their darnedest to legislate bravely. We are responsible for that in the legislature.”
Next up for Wittorf is more door knocking, neighborhood meet-and-greets, the Nov. 30 community conversation “Raise The Bar: Civic Engagement and How To Run For Office” (6 p.m.–8 p.m., Lakes and Legends Brewing Co., 1368 LaSalle Ave.) and the all-important neighborhood caucuses, which are slated for Tuesday, Feb. 6., and will have ramifications far beyond South Minneapolis.
“Caucus is your opportunity to make sure that the name you want on the ballot in November is actually there, so if you want to make sure your voice is heard, Feb. 6 is your date,” said Wittorf. “Our campaign is offering childcare and transportation, because we’re serious about empowering people to make sure their voices are heard.
“Politics as usual is not getting us anywhere, and so we must behave differently. I think that 2018 is this moment for us to say ‘No’ to politics as usual and say ‘Yes’ to forward-thinking, and how we’re going to get there is we are going to find leaders who have experience in their community, and in building coalition, and are ready to legislate bravely and be a new voice.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org