Progressive activist Sandra Fluke talks hefty agenda


Joseph Diebold/Daily Senior Staffer

Social justice advocate Sandra Fluke shared her long list of hopes for the post-2012 political environment at a College Democrats-sponsored talk Monday night in Fisk Hall.

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

Forget the re-election of President Barack Obama or speaking at the Democratic National Convention. Progressive activist Sandra Fluke said Monday night that the best part of her 2012 was passing the California bar exam.

“If you’re all looking for any sort of motivation to study for exams, just imagine the people on Fox News are going to ridicule you if you fail,” said Fluke, who graduated from Georgetown University’s law school last year.

While that particular line was in jest, it was emblematic of Fluke’s lighthearted but stern talk in front of about 100 at Fisk Hall.

Fluke gained national attention when House Republicans refused to allow her to testify in February 2012 on whether insurance plans should be required to cover contraception. On the Feb. 29 edition of his radio show, conservative host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and “prostitute,” launching Fluke even further into the political spotlight.

Fluke devoted most of her 45-minute address to the 2012 election, crediting what she called the developing “pro-equality coalition” for carrying Obama and other Democrats to victory in November. She had a one-liner for nearly every issue on her hefty to-do list, including several tailor-made for Northwestern.

“And young people are part of this (progressive) coalition as well,” she said. “The affordability of education, you guys are at Northwestern so I know you know about affordability of education.”

She also wasn’t shy about playfully teasing the sleepy crowd.

“I have to tell you that here in Illinois, the number one point on the agenda is,” she started before pausing for a response. When none came, she whispered, “gay marriage.”

“I can tell you’re passionate by your response,” she added.

Fluke shared a laundry list of her priorities, expressing her faith that the post-election political reality will be friendly to progressive causes, even though “Congress is like molasses.”

“I know, this agenda has a lot on it, right? It’s a lot to get done,” she said. “But the thing about it is, we don’t have that much time. When the electorate puts progressives into office, you get a certain amount of time to really deliver on what you promised before everybody decides to go back to the ‘This isn’t working for me. I’m going to switch strategies again.’”

Adam Roth, co-president of NU College Democrats, said his group brought Fluke to campus because her focus on social justice reflects a shifting set of priorities in national politics.

“I thought that her message was great,” said Roth, a Weinberg sophomore. “Especially with the president’s Inaugural, he focused much more on social issues so we of course are changing with the times and we got our speaker which would focus more on social issues.”

Roth said the group reached out to other groups they thought would be interested, including the Women’s Center and Northwestern Women’s Caucus in an attempt to “cater to multiple audiences,” echoing Fluke’s discussion of the new coalition.

But while Fluke believes progressives currently have the political momentum, there will still be challenges in inspiring their coalition to stay engaged in the post-election period.

“Anyone who is not particularly politically engaged, the way to reach them is to make it real to them, to point to how it affects their life, their families’ lives, the lives of people in their community,” she told The Daily after the talk. “When I was on college campuses (in the run-up to the election), I talked a lot about the differences between candidates’ positions on student loans and financial aid and things like that because that’s real for students.”

Weinberg sophomore Emily Vernon said Fluke’s message resonated with her.

“I thought she was really great,” Vernon said. “She seemed very mature, very good public speaker, but also was really trying to motivate us to get involved in the community … Her message really has a place on a college campus.”

And Fluke’s top piece of advice to those college activists in attendance?

“Stop having movie nights,” she said. “I know the consciousness-raising movie nights, they’re good. But movie night, movie night, movie night is not going to inspire bringing other students into your work. Find something that you can tackle as a long-term campaign and get active on it.”