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Czyczynska: Gloria Johnson is one cool woman

Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!

My best friend Mindy Rice is a history professor at Ole Miss. She reads, translates and scours information to keep her classes dynamic and educational. She reviews what has happened before to better understand what is happening today, and offers these insights to her students.
I’ve realized I do the same thing, but I do it differently. Rice’s main sources come from people of the past through pages, mine come from people of the present through speech. I’m lucky enough to host several live events where I interview today’s extraordinary figures. My students are the audience and my historic guests are alive. Some are well known, some barely known; yet all deserve to be known because they push the envelope.

One such woman is the tiniest, most tenacious local feminist you’re likely to notice, who has applied her grandest efforts across the nation. I had the fortune of interviewing Gloria Johnson last night at my once a month forum called “Coffee & Conversation with Cool Women” at The Center.

Gloria has been on the frontlines of civil rights efforts since the ‘60s and is retired from 30 years in social work. She managed AIDS cases back when AIDS had no treatment and was synonymous with death. She studied women’s rights concerns at San Diego State University, when the program was birthed. SDSU had the first Women’s Studies Department in the country.

That was then, and even now, she’s not slowing down. She is the political relations chair of the San Diego Democratic Club Board, co-president of the San Diego County Chapter of the National Organization for Women and action vice-president of the California Chapter of N.O.W.

Johnson was appointed to former California Gov. Gray Davis’s Committee on Women’s Issues in 2000 and was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention three times. She campaigned tirelessly for Hillary Clinton in our last presidential election and has aided countless powerful women into achieving political office. She labels her role in helping elect female Democrats to office as being the “Queen maker.”

Although she’ll stand up to anyone, she’s unpretentious in nature and refused to list for me the awards she’s won over the years. I managed to find out she was listed as one of the top 400 U.S. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) leaders by Advocate magazine in 1984. And, she was recently inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003, inducted to the Wall of Honor at The Center in 2007 and named the 2009 Person of the Year by the Gay & Lesbian Times.

True to her feminist and out lesbian character, when I asked her before the interview if she has any hobbies, she said “equality.” When I asked if she were in a relationship, she said “with the Democratic party!” Even her travels are politically motivated, either to our state capitol, our nation’s Capitol.

I’ve often perceived her actions as deliberate, her intentions as ambitious, and her nature as direct and playful. She proved me right by coming to the interview in a Suffragist costume, wearing all white cotton with overlapping purple and gold sashes.

Johnson and I agree that there is no divide between the personal and the political. We recognize where our social lives blend into our political lives. Even so, the most dedicated activists would be hard pressed to match Johnson’s stamina. She artfully and humorously weaves her political views into everything she does.

However, we don’t always see eye-to-eye, and not just because she’s more petite. She’s dead-set against bipartisan coalitions and boycotts my non-partisan events of 51%-A Woman’s Place Is In Politics partly because my co-founder Lisa N. Sanders is a Republican. At first I didn’t know what to make of it when she told me, but I quickly realized how important it is for us to accept the philosophic and political platforms we choose to live by.

Johnson doesn’t like Republicans because of the way they vote. She feels the efforts to pull them across the aisle aren’t worth it. She’d rather campaign to get more Democrats in unison with egalitarian policies than to waste time talking Republicans into supporting progressive change.

I wish more of us had the power of conviction that Johnson has. Taking a stand, even if we don’t agree, is what really pushes people to think, feel and act. The best part about Johnson is her willingness to hear the other side. Believe me; we’ve shared words about our differences. And, we’re glad to shake hands when it’s all said.

It’s safe to say that the Tea Party is to the kettle what Johnson is to demitasse espresso. We all know espresso is stronger and you don’t need as much. If we had a political party of Johnson’s leading the American way, we’d have universal health care, an Equal Rights Amendment and same-sex marriage rights from coast to coast.

In recognition of March as National Women’s History Month, I’m honored to share the history of Gloria Johnson’s life, and to witness the history she continues to create.

Tryce Czyczynska is the co-founder of 51%: A Women’s Place Is In Politics and host of “Coffee & Conversation with Cool Women.” She is an SDNN contributor. Follow her on Twitter.