More About Gwen

I was born in a steel- and paper-mill industrial town in southwestern Ohio - in the same county as JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. I was a poor kid born to a teenage mom and a machinist father - both first generation high-school graduates. After we lost my dad to mental illness when I was 10, my stay-at-home mom bought a small farm where we raised horses, Golden Retrievers, chickens, a few cows and pigs, and a huge garden to help fill the necessary gaps between her sporadic paychecks as a part-time community-center art instructor and Social Security Survivor Benefits.

Fortunately, our home was within the boundaries of a school district in a college town where I was exposed to friends with college-educated parents for the first time. My silver lining became that I ultimately aspired to become a first-generation college graduate. I lacked the financial resources and support systems to make that happen, though. I went to college on a scholarship for two years before my funding was exhausted. Then I followed in both of my grandfathers' military footsteps.

I served my country in the United States Air Force Special Operations Command at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan as a communication and navigation systems journeyman, maintaining a squadron of MC-130P Combat Talon II aircraft equipped to deliver special-forces troops, supplies, and equipment. It was my job to carry a 50-pound toolbox on the launch truck and ride around the flight line all day, keeping our aircraft mission ready. While serving my three-year, overseas-long tour, I also served temporary duties in South Korea, Thailand, and Alaska. I earned the Air Force Achievement Medal for meritorious service during my deployment to Thailand. Thanks to the Air Force, I found my home in Arkansas in 2001.

After my honorable discharge, I became a military spouse, a mom, a four-time college graduate, and an accomplished public teacher. In those capacities, I served my country quietly by educating our country's youth. I've taught grades K-11 in rural, suburban, and urban Arkansas, and for the majority of my teaching years I've focused on guiding children to consider future careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields; empowering kids in entrepreneurism as they’ve run their own businesses; and encouraging the importance of being good stewards of both our natural environment and the civic resources around us.

All this time, I was never involved in politics as more than a voter. I never belonged to a political party, and I didn't have any interest in doing so. I became increasingly engaged in July 2016 as the presidential campaign season began to unfold and issues arose. Teachers have an ethical responsibility to keep their political beliefs to themselves, though, so as not to make impressions on the political beliefs of their students. I abided.

Teaching at the time in an urban Title I school where every single student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, as measured by living at or below poverty line, became a game changer. Ninety-nine percent of my students were minority students. Leading up to the presidential election, several of them asked me if they would be murdered or deported if a certain candidate was elected. These kids were 8, 9, and 10 years old, and they had these weighty concerns that my family had the privilege of never needing to feel. To face them the morning after the election was unbearable, and to have unwritten rules preventing me from even telling them how I cast my vote was beyond my capacity. I had to stand up and do something.

That Friday evening, I scrolled through posts on social media and learned about the Women’s March on Washington. Those posts - as well as the fact that a demonstration was being planned - gave me hope. The realization that people wanted to unite in support of those who had been marginalized by a hurtful campaign and election energized me.

As a teacher, I knew I couldn't take the time off work to attend the Women's March, nor could I afford such a trip. I shared information about it in a local Facebook group, thinking that perhaps other Arkansans would be able to participate in the march. Many people were happy to hear about it, but others expressed that they, too, would be unable to make the trip. And then they made a suggestion: Maybe we could have a similar march in Arkansas.

I decided to jump in with both feet and make that happen. I created a Facebook event and shared it to social media, asking if anyone wanted to help. Within the hour, my post was flooded with comments from strangers, some of whom ultimately worked with me to organize the march and most of whom attended. It became the largest demonstration of its kind in Arkansas history.

As organizing began, I received a message from the mom of a former student about the importance of forging a movement rather than just a moment, and the women who worked with me to plan the march were fully on board with such a mission. Within two weeks, we had decided to call ourselves Be the Change Alliance because of two factors: 1) We wanted to encourage people to take action to bring about positive change, and 2) we wanted to do so in a way that would connect people with the wide array of existing groups and organizations already experienced at doing such work. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Rather, we wanted to help people find resources and organizations already in existence.

Through the process of reaching out - and being receptive to as many groups and organizations as I could find - I was contacted by Housing Works about organizing a healthcare advocacy training. After we trained in Little Rock and an Indivisible group trained in Northwest Arkansas, we were contacted about opportunities to advocate for healthcare in Washington, D.C.

I made two trips there this past summer to advocate for healthcare. I met with one of my Senators, as well as with my other Senator’s legislative staff, to share my healthcare story as a veteran, as someone with multiple pre-existing conditions, and as an educator in a Title I school. However, as I watched both of our senators vote to repeal the ACA without replacement in the early hours of July 28, I realized that neither my voice nor the voices of countless others had been heard. I do not believe in complaining without putting action behind my voice, so that day I filed with the FEC to run for Congress.

I love my country deeply, and I see running for office as the next step on my personal path of patriotism. We need people representing us in Washington who care about people other than themselves. We need representatives who will listen - even to the voices of people who are very different from their own - and particularly those of people who are oppressed and marginalized. We need elected officials who are willing to do the work necessary to talk across party lines and engage in bipartisan efforts. We need Members of Congress who know what it's like to work hard, to overcome obstacles, and to fight for what's right. I believe I fit the bill on all counts.

I hope my candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arkansas's 2nd Congressional District will play a part in changing some things in a world that seems more and more frightening each day. If my story inspires one person, I have made a difference. If it inspires enough people, we can make real change.

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