Wendy Says Things Ep. 3 Part One with Maren Bertelsen: Politics – From Despair to Activism (Audio Transcript)

Link to PodCast here.

Wendy: So, the idea that I had was kind of coming from the fact that we’re post-election here and that it feels like this kind of great relief that a lot of that is over and kind of behind us. Because it was kind of intense leading up to the elections this year and then hopefully trying to get some…to make some headway on dealing with the pandemic. I know I feel still kind of like, you know, I want to be working and I want to do things, and I want to go places, but I can’t quite yet because I haven’t got vaccinated. But I know that for you at, not this past election, but the election before that you had kind of a moment where things changed for you when you went from, or not from, but in addition to, you know, putting forth your ideas about how things should be politically to becoming actively involved and I was wondering if you could think back to that moment when it was kind of like: “You know what, saying something and writing things is not enough for me. I want to do something different.” How…how did that realization, you know, and what kind of sparked that realization for you that turned you from conceptualizing politics to actualizing?

Maren: I can’t say that like…you know, I’ve rewritten this idea, this history, in my head a few times because a lot of times I’ll say: “Oh, you know everything changed after the 2016 election,” but there have been, you know when I think about it, there were several times throughout my life where I did get politically active around like one issue, or one election, or one candidate, and usually it went down in a defeat type of thing, and I just said: “OK whatever,” and went back to my life and…and never did anything about it. And so, I think you’re right the 2016 election was sort of a watershed moment for me, and I think for many, many people. I have spoken to so many…particularly women, since the 2016 election, whose experience of that and going forward were just identical to mine.

Maren: And they just had this moment where I realized that whatever I had been doing up until that time it just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to be an educated voter. That’s what I had been doing. I would research and get to know the candidates and I would choose the best candidate that was running. And I just decided after the 2016 election, it’s not enough to do that anymore. I need to know more than just of these two available candidates to me which one is better. I need to know way…way back when, when candidates are starting to run for an office, I want to have input into who runs. And so, I’ve been involved since then in campaigns, and knocking on doors, and talking to people, you know, to make sure that whatever candidate is on the ballot is the candidate I want, you know, that is the candidate that won the primary.

Maren: And then beyond that, I need to know what the issues are. It’s…there’s so much to learn and I think most people, you know, they’re very busy with their lives. I’m very busy with my life and to, like, have to take it upon yourself to, like, educate yourself on all the issues, you know, it can be really daunting and that’s where I think it’s so helpful that as you become an activist and you connect in with other activists you learn about groups. And so, you don’t have to carry the whole load of knowing everything about every single issue because you’re connected with groups that have people who are doing that work, and that will filter that back to you, so you know what to support or what not to support. And then you can pick the things that you’re super interested in to do the deep dive on so that you can bring that information back to the groups. So…but I don’t know after that, you know to me, like some of my passion things are voting and elections and so I’ve done things in the last you know 4-5 years like: I’ve worked the elections. I became an election worker at the 2018 general election, and at school board election that we had here in 2020. I volunteered to be a poll watcher up in Pennsylvania because there was great concern that there might be attempts to suppress voters, and so I went up to a polling location in Lancaster PA stood outside the polling location all day just saying, “Hello,” to people, and helping them…you know, to point out to them the door they needed to walk through, and just to make sure that there was nobody there attempting to suppress the vote or anything like that.


Maren: So, I don’t know, just a lot of different things over the last few years. I don’t know, I mean, the big moment was just this realization that, you know, whatever we’re doing as a country isn’t enough. Like as in…as an electorate, as regular people, we’re getting the candidates that we deserve because nobody’s paying attention. And so, that’s like my basic thing everybody needs to pay better attention. Everybody needs to put time into the community. Yeah.

Wendy: How did…I know you participated in the women’s March, did that kind of affect the trajectory that you ended up on, do you think? And how so, if it did?

Maren: I mean, in a strange way it did. Yeah, the women’s March started happening, you know, it was just a weird confluence of events, that my wife and I were moving from the Seattle WA area to Delaware right after the 2020 election. December is when we closed on our house in Delaware and so from like around late November through like the end of December, we were in the midst of moving like all of our stuff here and getting settled in our new home. And my wife’s family is like from the East Coast region the mid-Atlantic region. And so, we’re very close to Washington DC and I just saw it as such an interesting opportunity to go and do that. Like, a lot of women were rising up at the time, like I said before, having the exact same response to the 2016 election. And the women’s March kind of caught that that feeling and desire. And so, right. I…we invited my wife’s two sisters and the four of us drove down to the nearest, you know, outer subway station, which is above ground where we caught it, and took it into the city.

Maren: It was really quite a powerful day in that, like the train station was just so crowded, we had to wait for a while to get through the ticket thing, we had to wait on the platform. I think it was two trains before we could get onto a train. And then, as we crossed over the River, you kind of took a little turn and you could see, I don’t…I think it’s called FedEx field now, but the former RFK stadium that the Washington football team played at. And so, where what it was a bus staging ground this is the station where all of the people who had bussed in were catching the subway. And so, we saw that and there were just so many buses. And I’ve been…since then, I’ve been to several marches in DC, and it has never been like that. I mean it really shocked and stunned the entire train when they saw it. There was this big cheer that occurred and when our train stopped there was no room for the people, and yet we made room for like, I don’t know 10 people in each car, to get on to take us downtown, you know, for the march drop off.

Maren: So, which was…I’ve been really talking to a lot of people about that in light of the Capitol riots because we were told don’t bring any, like, we got our signs – don’t put them on like a yard stick or any like little piece of wood because you know you won’t be allowed in if you have anything that could be a weapon. You won’t be allowed in, so people were getting creative. I folded over corrugated Cardboard to make the stick. You know, they went into the signs so I could hold it up and stuff. So, lots of creativity around like these restrictions, but when I see people with flagpoles at the capital riots, like everyone I know who went to the Women’s March is like: “How?” How…how are they allowed to be down in that space…

Wendy: Right.

Maren: …with those types of things like that?

Wendy: For an organized…for an organized event.

Maren: It was shocking to us. I’ve been to like four Marches, I think. They were all like the Women’s March for us. Like, you couldn’t bring anything that could possibly be a weapon. You went through checkpoints, like the whole thing, and these people are walking around with bear spray. And like it was just…it’s…it’s there’s something really weird there. Anyway…

Wendy: Yeah, I mean, I have a background in security, so…

Maren: Yeah, I mean it was it was really shocking but all of my friends were like: “How the heck were they allowed to bring these things?” Because we couldn’t…we couldn’t use a yardstick as a sign holder. And these people have like eight-foot flagpoles with metal on the end. Like, it was just really crazy. So, but I didn’t stay connected with the Women’s March so much. I mean, I still get emails from them and everything, but the reason why it was an ongoing thing for me, is when I got back to Delaware, you know, you’re writing this high[WK1]  of: “Wow, I felt so connected!” So what do I do with that? And at the time the Delaware Women’s March Facebook page was, you know, “Hey, here’s this outrage around the world. And here’s this outrage around the world.” And just felt like very much pointing out outrageous things, and very little like this is what we’re going to do to make things better, you know?

Maren: And that was what I wanted. And so, somebody recommended I joined this other Facebook page called Delaware Women for Inclusion, and it turns out that they were an indivisible group which was another like grassroots thing that was starting of progressive…progressive, you know, people coming together around the idea of: How do we organize? And so, there are many indivisible groups and a lot of the people who are experiencing what I feel…was feeling. They definitely were thinking along the same lines and joined indivisible groups, too. I think there’s like 3 in Delaware there. They’re all over the country, you know, different chapters. So, this group of women, for Delaware Women for Inclusion, they were having the same experience as me, this feeling of whatever we did before it’s not enough. We need to be more involved. We need to know what’s going on, and then we need to affect change. And so, I was very drawn to that. Now, they had come together to go to the Women’s March together. I didn’t go with them. I joined the group like maybe six months to a year after the March. Maybe six months, and I never even met them in person until well over a year after the March because, as you know, they weren’t just a Facebook page, they were meeting in person. And they were very focused on Delaware, and the issues here, and I have come to strongly believe that everybody needs to get involved, but they need to get involved locally.

Maren: Like, that’s how you affect change. That’s how you get good candidates. Candidates start as a candidate for school board, or a candidate on the County Council, and they go up from there learning about government as they go, and eventually, maybe, they’re running for those federal offices. But you get good candidates by getting good candidates early on, you know, in…in your 20s and 30s, getting these people to do jobs, you know, serving on boards or whatever. And so, I like affecting real change and local makes more sense to me, so…and Delaware is just a very fun place if you want to be involved in politics, because, you know, you do things like, you know, the first election that is, on a state level, that happened after the 2016 presidential election was a state Senate race in Delaware so that was perfect, as well.

Maren: In January and February, I think the actual election was in March, they started ramping up for this election, which was occurring because the state senator who had been in that seat had won and was now Lieutenant governor of the state, so there’s this opening that needed to be filled and a special election occurred. And so, I was out there helping to campaign for Stephanie Hanson, who was running for it. And the country was kind of looking at it because it was this microcosm of: How far does this new Trumpism go? How far, you know, is a state like Delaware that has, you know, in recent years been traditionally more Democratic Party wins, are they going to lose? And a lot of money came in. A lot of money from outside the state came in for this race. Like, it was crazy and people were coming in. Like, I go down to the local headquarters near me in Middletown and there would be men and women walking in, mostly women, again mostly women. You know, and I’d say hello and they were…they had driven down from New York. I met some women who had come over from Ohio. There were people, for little Delaware, coming in for this state race because of this like groundswell of: “We don’t want to be a country following Trumpism.” Like that is…

Wendy: They came in to help with the campaign?

Maren: Yeah. Yeah, they were knocking on doors, and making phone calls from the local, you know, phone bank that was downtown in the offices of a labor union…local labor union here. And so…but one day, I had just been making calls and I walked out and in coming…coming in the door was my US senator. I have never met a US senator in my life, and yet and I was able to just walk up to him and say, “Oh, hi. You know, I’m your constituent,” and have a 5-minute conversation with him. That stuff happens in Delaware a lot. Like, you run into people, if you live here long enough, everybody I know has a story of meeting Joe Biden, you know? And…and a story just like all of the ads that were behind him. He is just genuinely a kind, good, very human person, who wants to know people, like deeply.

Wendy: So, have you met Joe Biden, yet?

Maren: I haven’t. I apparently haven’t lived here long enough, but yeah, I haven’t. All of my friends have.

Wendy: The day will come, my friend.

Maren: Like almost every, you know, every year people are posting pictures of them with Joe Biden, their children with Joe Biden. Joe Biden has been in a lot of places, but if you’ve lived here for 10 years, you will get a picture with Joe Biden. I don’t know about now, now that he’s, you know, President.

Wendy: Right? He’s beyond reach.

Maren: There will be Secret Service forever. I don’t know about now. But for sure that is the case with him. So, yeah, I think…I don’t know, I guess if I had to boil it down, my experience really, the past few years has been there is a large, large cohort of women who have become politically active.

Wendy: So, one of the things I did want to ask you about is: I remember you talking you’re involved with a group that works on presenting laws and one of the things I remember you saying, you were kind of distressed because the laws that you guys had written before that was presented didn’t get passed and so and that one of the ladies that you were working with said we don’t have time to focus on that, we need to finish getting the next one done.

Maren: I don’t recall that. And I am not part of any group that writes legislation so…but you might be…it may have been a discussion about I…I do…I have volunteered with Moms Demand Action?

Wendy: Maybe that was it.

Maren: We did suffer like a pretty big defeat, and it wasn’t…it wasn’t a voting defeat. Like there was legislation that was supposed to go before the Senate, the state Senate here. 3 bills and the president pro tem (president pro tempore of the senate) who is a Democrat.

Wendy: I don’t know what that means, the president pro tem.

 Maren: The president pro tem in Delaware is the leader of the Senate.

Wendy: Okay.

Maren: So, you’ve got the president pro tem that’s the leader of the whole Senate, but he is from the party that’s in power. Then, you have the Majority Leader who is actually the 2nd in power within the state of Delaware.

Wendy: Okay, thank you.

Maren: And so, he had promised that these bills would be released from committee so that they could get an up and down vote. It was by no means sure that they would pass, but he had promised that the different activists focused on gun violence reduction and prevention, that they would be voted on. That was the only promise he made, not that he would support it, you know, not that he would cause the whips to go out and try to get it passed. Just that he would release it from committee, and he didn’t do that. He just kept them. The bills were within the administration committee, and that’s the committee that he chaired, and he just, you know, they call it “keeping it in the drawer.” He kept it in the drawer. He never released it from committee, so they were never given a vote. And this was seen, amongst the activists in this area, as a big betrayal, you know, as a lie. Like you told us a lie. And so what’s been happening particularly since 2016, is that this group, Moms Demand Action, there’s others three or four groups within Delaware that are strongly working for gun violence prevention, you know? And lots of different bills to do this. Lots of different efforts to reduce the violence, you know, outside of the legislative arena. But in terms of politics what happened is there was a concerted effort by the group that I’m involved in and others to say there has to be consequences. We’re going to support the candidate that’s running against you in the primary.


Maren: Now, that support came in the way of, you know, they were an approved candidate. They did…they had won it’s called “The gun sense distinction” and there were multiple like primaries where all of, you know, both of the Democratic Party candidates had the distinction and so the volunteers could choose between them. I believe in this…the case of the president pro tem, only the opponent had this distinction. And most of the volunteers like me just felt like: “I’m going to give this…this challenger a little bit of my time because I’m still very upset that he put those bills in the drawer.” Now, this is the most powerful politician in the state legislature, this guy. He had been in office, I think, for over 40 years. And, over half of that time he had never had a primary challenge…challenger. And the district that he was from is overwhelmingly Democratic Party and so whoever wins the primary pretty much wins the election for that particular district. And so, to not have an opponent means: “I’m sailing through,” type thing. Still, the woman who was running against him was a…was a completely new person [who] had never run for public office. A nurse. African American woman, who’s also a lesbian. And so I don’t know that he thought that this was a serious challenge or not, but that’s senator Marie Pinkney who is now serving in the state legislature.

Wendy: Right.

Maren: You know, and I think she had a lot of support from a lot of groups. I don’t think that, you know, Moms Demand Action is the only reason why she’s in office by any means, but I think that they were part of that…like I think that they were one of the groups who helped her get across that finish line. You know, who helped it. You know, lots of hours spends calling voters in our district and telling them about her and what she wanted to do, you know, for them. So, I think to me like being involved in that, being aware of what was going on, it was a really big moment. Like there were some disappointing pieces for me. I had worked on the campaign of a woman who wanted to be my state Rep, you know, because I’m currently represented by someone whose political views and I don’t match up 100%. You know, they don’t match up super well. I really wanted to be represented by this woman who would represent my ideas better at the state level. She didn’t win, you know, and so there was a lot of disappointing moments about the 2020 election for me.

Maren: Clearly, the presidency was a big happy moment for me, and my anxiety level has definitely decreased having a different president in office. But the wins and the things that make me feel most hopeful are always at the local level, and definitely Senator Pinkney’s win, it was just a huge moment in the primary. Like that’s in September and that was just a really beautiful moment, where it felt like the real…like real people had a real say in who would represent them.

Wendy: Right. That’s awesome. So, I know…did you, did you help register people to vote in some of the things that you did?

Maren: I learned how to register people to vote. Delaware is one of these states that actually has a pretty good registration number. I believe that we hover around 85% of our eligible electorate as having, you know, is being registered. So, it’s not registration that’s our big issue, it’s people actually using the franchise. That is the thing. It’s voter engagement that is our problem. But I do think that, if I’m recalling this right, the last election was actually one of our better ones. It might be because of the candidates running, you know, that there was…that it may be because Joe Biden was on the ticket. He still is very popular in the state of Delaware. I mean, and the people who like him really love him, so it could be that people wanted to vote for a Delawarian to be president. But I think it’s also quite likely that it had to do with the pandemic and voting measures that were put into place by the state to allow voting to be done more easily.

Maren: Delaware is an interesting state in that, when you look at the Mason Dixon line it like it goes down Delaware. So, it puts us into..it puts us above the Mason Dixon line but like here’s Maryland and here’s Delaware, and they’re under it, and we’re above it. You know, it was a state that allowed for slavery. There was slavery, particularly I think down in the southern part of the state towards the Atlantic Ocean, and stuff. And when you look at the history of civil rights in the state, it was one of the states that I think it has a pretty atrocious history when it comes to African Americans. And yet it has this, you know, I think most people would think of it and would think: “Oh, that’s a Northern State.” But when you start looking into the public education system, you just see this really virulent racism like going through the whole thing. And so, it’s got…it’s a bit interesting when you look at the laws in place. Some of our voting laws, like, if you just took away the names of the states and just lumped them together based on the laws in place, we would probably have been tossed in with the southern states.

Wendy: Oh, interesting.

Maren: Yeah, I mean, it did…just a few years before I moved here, they had changed it so that you didn’t need to get a notary if you wanted to vote absentee. Prior to that you needed to go and have your application for absentee ballot notarized. That is a big bar for people.

Wendy: It really is.

Maren: I mean, it’s really annoying to go get a notary. You generally have to pay them.

Wendy: Right.

Maren: You know and so like the whole there’s no reason to need that. And so, like…but you look at the states that require that and most of them are southern states. We didn’t have no-excuse absentee voting. There was like a list of prescribed reasons why you could vote absentee. Now, they didn’t necessarily, like, go and investigate people they’ve relied on a: “We’re going to trust that if people say they have this reason that they have the reason.” So, it’s not like they’re going out of their way to try to bust it or investigate you. Do you really have to be out in the state on this day? Get your cell phone location information. They didn’t do that, but they made it…they didn’t make it easy. You know? And so, what I see, since I got involved in politics and since so many people got involved in politics, you know, here at the state level, is we’ve had just a lot of laws coming forward to make it easier to vote instead of making it harder to vote. So that is, to me, like, that’s what you can do when you do local. So, and right now, like I think everybody in their states should really be aware of what laws have been passed or are being passed right now about your voting rights, because there are dozens of states, I think at least 30, 20 to 30 something like that, that have active legislation or have already passed legislation that’s going to restrict people’s rights to vote.

Maren: I mean, a lot of people may be seeing an article or two about Georgia, because that’s the obvious one. Wow, this amazing thing just happened in this state everybody thought was a red state has two Democratic party senators and how big a deal that is, but now look at all of the laws that are starting to form. And you know, one of the like the obvious law to me that this has nothing to do with voter…election integrity is they allowed for early voting on both Saturdays and Sundays, and now they’re restricting one of those days. Well, Saturdays was the day where there were a lot of drives among Jewish people to go from the synagogues to the voting polls and vote.

Wendy: Right.

Maren: And Sundays was the day: the souls to the polls. Like you would go to your church and then you would go, and you would vote. And now they’re going to restrict like one of those days bringing down probably you know, the number of votes either from African American churches or from Jewish synagogues. And why just reduce one of those, if it’s about election integrity? It doesn’t make any sense. No. So, they’re just…they’re making it harder because…I don’t know the Republican Party, to me, it’s a minority party and they win when they can make sure that the people in the majority are suppressed enough that their voters who do show up more than the other parties is enough. Like that’s their politics now. It’s really disappointing and depressing to me but, you know, you have faith and hope, and you keep working. You never stop working. Like that’s also the thing that I’ve learned in the last few years: there’s never going to be a moment when this is done.

 Maren: I had a really silly moment in my life where I thought, “OK like if we can just elect this person then will be done, and then I can…” No. There’s never a moment where it’s done. You have to keep working all the time.

Wendy: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Maren: It is. It is. It’s also, you know, if you take your eye off the ball, corruption happens very quickly. And so, right now like, the big thing that I’m involved in this year’s taking up most of my time is actually redistricting efforts. You know, we have a really…it’s going to be a really strange this year because the census…the census is having lots of trouble. There’s a lot of trouble in the data for the census. We don’t know how good it is. We know they keep pushing it. In Delaware, we’re not supposed to see our census data until September. We usually get it in January after the census. I don’t know how much of this is the incompetence of the Trump administration, or…also you have to add in the pandemic. People weren’t able to go knock, and go door to door, in the way that they have in past years. I think both of those things go into this. Also I think that there was the incompetence of the Trump administration but then there was also this other thing going on where their only focus was on not counting undocumented people. And this isn’t the way the census is supposed to run. The census is supposed to count the people in an area. It isn’t supposed to count just Americans. It’s supposed to count all the people in that area. And yet, the Republicans were trying to change that to only count American citizens. And this is again another thing of: “We are a minority smaller party, and we are growing smaller in relation to the rest of the country all of the time and how do we maintain power and one of the ways is to say oh let’s do it this way. Let’s make everything about the evil immigrants, the evil migrant person, the evil illegal person.” You know?

Wendy: Right?

Maren: So yeah, so that’s my focus right now, is redistricting and it’s a big challenge in this state because this state is a triple majority state. We, the Democratic Party, has the governorship and the Lieutenant governor. We, in fact, have every single state office – is in the hands of the Democratic Party candidates right now. We have a super majority, I believe, in the state Senate. And we have a majority in the State House.

Wendy: Okay.

Maren: So, the fear, in Delaware, isn’t that it’s going to be gerrymandered, you know, out of you know…for the…when you look at the history of gerrymandering in the last 20 years, the Republicans have made it an art form, but Democrats are quite capable of it as well. We don’t have the issue on the federal level. We have one US Representative because there’s less than a million people in the entire state of Delaware, but they do have the…it’s the state legislators that draw the maps right now under our state law. And we would like to change that to be an independent commission, but that probably…it’s not going to happen this census, so maybe for next time. But it’s the fear that the party in power is going to game the system for themselves and I don’t want that any more than I would want it if, you know, the party that it doesn’t follow like the same ideas that I do I…you know, it doesn’t matter to me what party is in power, I would just like to have fair elections.

Wendy: Yeah, that’s a good point.

 [WK1]Peak experience