Friday, March 5, 2010

Women Making History: Stacy Falkner

I wrote about two women for the Women Making History supplement in the Idaho Statesman on March 4th, 2010. Stacy was one.
The articles are not available at IdahoStatesman.com, so I've posted them here.
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Stacy Falkner starts each day with gratitude. She is grateful for the love and encouragement of her amazing husband, for her “two hysterical kids, close-knit family and wildly wonderful friends.” But rather than “paying back” her many blessings, Stacy feels an obligation to “pay it forward”.

In 2006, Stacy had a fulfilling life as a wife and mother. But she was nagged by the feeling that she could be doing more for others. “I wanted to do more to make the world a better place for everyone,” she says, “and I saw political science as a path to doing that.” Stacy enrolled at Boise State University to complete the bachelor’s degree that she had started several years earlier at the University of Idaho.

One of her professors challenged the class to read a book that was not part of the assigned readings. Stacy chose “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama. Finishing the book was a defining moment for a woman raised in a well-informed family of staunch Republicans. Obama’s message of hope and change resonated with Stacy and echoed her own optimism and desire for a better world.

Even more significant was Obama’s approach to decision making. “He had me at common sense,” says Stacy. His description of past politics, when Congressional members saw each other as worthy adversaries who challenged one another to clear thinking and creative solutions, struck a chord with Stacy. This helped focus her own approach to creating the world that she imagined. “The pursuit of better policy doesn’t have to be contentious,” she says, “it can be collaborative.”

When Obama announced his intention to run for president, Stacy knew she had to act. Designing an internship through Boise State allowed her to combine working for change with completing her degree. The national Obama campaign challenged Stacy to establish chapters of Students for Barack Obama at every college and university in Idaho. This meant locating students who wanted to work for a Democratic underdog in their historically conservative state. Stacy’s first grassroots organizing experience was a success. By the end of her internship, chapters existed at each of the nine schools in Idaho and students were campaigning for Obama.

Embarking on a second Boise State internship gave Stacy a closer look at how policy is created at the state level. She served as an aide to Idaho State Senator (then Representative) Nicole LeFavour. This allowed her to see the valuable role that personal relationships, often crossing party lines, can play in lawmaking. She says, “Individuals can disagree productively when they respect each other and recognize that each person’s beliefs are as valid and as deeply held as their own. Good debate fosters growth.”

After graduation in May, 2008, Stacy was hired as the Idaho Field Director of Obama for America. She “found islands of bold and eager Democrats in a sea of red” as she shared Obama’s vision for America. She credits experience on the Obama campaign with honing her listening and leadership skills. “The most important skill for grassroots organizing,” Stacy says, “is the ability to recognize what is most important to people. This means listening closely to find the one thing that each person feels passionate about and then turning that energy into action.”

In January 2009, Stacy traveled to Washington D.C. for Obama’s inauguration. The following day, when President and Mrs. Obama visited the Staff Ball, the Idaho for Obama team was thrilled to hear their state singled out. The new President stated, “You didn’t listen to the naysayers. You said, ‘I’m Idaho for Obama. Yes we can!’ ” The crowd erupted into chants of, “Way to go, Idaho!” that provided a celebratory end to months of campaigning.

Unfortunately, Election Day meant unemployment for Stacy. But her organizing skills and experience with the legislature paved the way for her current position. She now serves in the Public Affairs department of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (formerly Planned Parenthood of Idaho). Her job focuses on health policy and lobbying during legislative session and shifts to outreach, education, and volunteer recruitment during the rest of the year.

When women have access to quality, affordable health care, they are more likely to avoid a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or unplanned pregnancy. The key is prevention through comprehensive health education. Stacy point out, “We teach our children about the danger of not wearing a seatbelt even though we don’t anticipate a car accident, but we avoid telling them the risks of unprotected sex because we’re uncomfortable talking about it.”

Stacy is determined that her children will grow up in a more compassionate world. She sees her rewarding family life as the fulcrum on which the rest of her life balances. The happiness she finds with her family and friends gives her the energy to champion progressive causes and dedicate hours to volunteering for organizations close to her heart.

President Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Josie Evans-Graham, Education Coordinator at Planned Parenthood, adds, “This epitomizes Stacy’s attitude and inspiration. She has--and will--play a role in the positive change we seek in our state.”

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