Disheartened by the 2016 presidential election, anti-bullying activist and abortion rights champion Marie Newman decided to challenge longtime Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski. She fell two points short of defeating the then six-term incumbent Democrat last year—but the narrow loss only fueled her fire to see change in their community. Newman has announced she will run against Lipinski for a second time in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive Democratic primaries of 2020. Below, she explains why:
I followed politics all my life, but it wasn’t until the 2002 presidential election that I became actively involved in my community. I volunteered for Al Gore’s campaign and did some door knocking. When George W. Bush won, it absolutely outraged me. My perception was that the campaign was stolen in Florida. And it’s happened again since then!
After Trump won the election in 2016, I went through a similar kind of outrage, but this time it was equal parts denial that this was actually happening and absolute fear of what this meant for our society. My daughter, Evie transitioned four and a half years ago, and I couldn’t help but think Trump’s election just might put us back 20 years in terms of people’s rights. I had to do something.
I’d done my fair share of activism in the past. Back in high school, I started volunteering to help homeless immigrants. In college—I went to Marquette University for a year and a half and then transferred over to University of Wisconsin—I volunteered teaching adults how to read. I also worked in gun violence prevention, and advocated for gun reform.
Later on, I became heavily involved in the anti-bullying space. My son, Quinn, was traumatically bullied in grammar school. The ugly secret about bullying in our culture today is that it’s not necessarily what a given child is doing, it’s what the culture drives in a given community. So, we built an anti-bullying system in my district with a coalition of 100 families. Then, I established a national non-profit called “Team Up to Stop Bullying.” His story has a happy ending: He’s now a senior at Xavier University in Ohio, and he’s just knocking it out of the park.
After the 2016 election, I began to feel that a more involved role in politics was the way I could truly make a difference. For 14 years I’d watched my congressman in Illinois, Dan Lipinski, put up a lot of walls and divide people with his policy stances. At that time, he was a sixth term incumbent and I knew challenging him would be hard, I wasn’t naive. But I really did think I would win. I’m a right brain, left brain kind of person, who is really good at understanding thorny problems. I look at the psychology of the situation, and bring those right brain left brain pieces together, and make sense of them. I knew I could do it.
For 20 hours a day, for a full year and a quarter, I campaigned, working harder than I ever had before. I found out I’d lost the 2018 election at a party at a brewery in Bridgeport, which is part of my district. I was astonished, because we’d been up a few points a week and a half prior. Then, I was disappointed. Then, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken, mostly, for our district.
But, I’m a strong Midwesterner, I’m not a whiner. I will take on anybody, and I’m obviously ready for work. I have a long track record of hard work. I grew up in the middle of the middle class. My parents didn’t give me anything, they didn’t give me jobs, they didn’t give me a lot of money. They helped where they could, but I put myself through college. I scrubbed tables and floors. Then, I worked for another 12 years after college to fully pay off my loans, and I was lucky, right? Students today can’t even pay off their loans in 12 years.
I didn’t know immediately that I would run again. I took a couple of days to do a full numerical analysis and understand what I did wrong. I started getting hundreds of emails, texts, and messages across social media telling me to run again. So, I started asking people, “Is this what you want?” Because it would be silly for me to run again if the district didn’t want me to run.
By March, I was 100 percent confident I would challenge Dan again. The premise of our campaign, and the question we ask everybody is, “Is your life affordable today?” And the answer is resoundingly, “No.” So we are running on solutions that create a life more affordable for everybody. Things like raising wages, empowering unions, bringing the middle class back through paid leave, universal childcare, a green economy, and bringing infrastructure and transportation projects that are green to, not just the districts, but to the nation, as well.
I’m spoiled by the endorsements of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Jay Inslee. AOC is also a supporter. While our districts are very different, there’s certain things that I have common with her, and she gives the best advice. One time she called me and said, “You know your district right?” And I said, “Like the back of my hand.” She told me, “I know my district, too. You tell everyone that you know the district, and if you can say it with great confidence, you’ll win.”
When she won her seat in 2018, I sent her a Twitter message saying, “You know, machines can be broken.” She said, “Thank you, I hope so.” And that’s truly what I believe, that the Chicago machine can be broken and rebuilt. The most important thing in life is to learn from the past. I’m not afraid of hard work. It’s in my DNA.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.