Many people chose to serve their communities on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We meet some folks who serve year-round and approach volunteerism in ways you may never have considered.
Two years ago, a photo of Juli Briskman flipping off President Trump’s motorcade from the back of her bike went viral. Last week, she won election to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, defeating an established Republican incumbent for the seat.
How did she go from being a symbol of the progressive resistance to the Trump administration to being elected in her own right? And what happened in-between? We’ll discuss.
Produced by Margaret Barthel
- Juli Briskman Supervisor-Elect for Algonkian District, Loudoun County
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Later in the broadcast how service animals make a difference including in a Maryland prison where prisoners train dogs to support veterans. But first two years ago Juli Briskman was riding her bike in Loudoun County when the Presidential motorcade passed her on the road and she flipped it off. A photographer caught that moment on camera and the image went viral. Briskman became a social poster child for the progressive resistance to the Trump administration. She also lost her job. Last week Briskman won her election to serve on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors unseating the Republican incumbent.
KOJO NNAMDIThe board now has a Democratic majority for the first time in decades. What's behind the journey from viral sensation to elected officials? Joining me to discuss that is Juli Briskman. She is the supervisor elect representing the Algonkian District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. Juli Briskman, thank you for much for joining us.
JULI BRISKMANThanks for having me.
NNAMDITake us back to that day when you were riding your bike by the Presidential motorcade. Do you remember what specifically made you so angry?
BRISKMANYes. Actually I do. Part of it was that he was golfing again when we had so many critical issues going on in our country.
NNAMDIBecause you knew they were headed for the golf course.
BRISKMANThey were headed back from the golf course. Yeah. They had just finished. It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. So they were heading back to D.C. You know, going through my mind were things like his hateful rhetoric, his attitude toward immigrants sort of blaming them for all the problems in the country, the dismantling of Obamacare and, again, the fact that he didn't seem to think that, you know, that he should be paying attention to those issues. That he's golfing again.
NNAMDIHave you ever regretted expressing your anger with a rude gesture?
BRISKMANNo. I have not ever -- I've regretted that. No, I might have briefly regretted it when I got fired. But then I immediately decided that I wasn't going to be silenced and this was an indication of, you know, the whole attitude of silencing women and silencing the resistance at that point in time. And I decided I wasn't going to be silenced.
NNAMDIThe photo of you went viral. You were celebrated on the left, but you also got a lot of criticism and even hatred usually from the right. And you lost your job. How did you cope with that degree of public scrutiny?
BRISKMANYou know, I think I'm a fairly seasoned person at this point. I'm 52 years old. And, you know, especially as a woman I was used to being sort of people trying to silence me. You know, being tone policed and those sorts of things in my life. And I do continue to get hateful phone calls and letters and that sort of thing, threats. And to me they're usually anonymous. And to me if you're going to want to have a conversation with me on the issues then you can't be anonymous. And obviously you would rather threaten me and try to silence me than talk about the issues. So I kind of let it roll off my back.
NNAMDIBut threats these days on social media can be pretty frightening for some people. Was there ever an occasion on which you were actually frightened? Did you ever have to consult with your local police department about it?
BRISKMANI did. Shortly after the incident I was getting lots of phone calls and threats and I had to take my son somewhere and my daughter was home alone. And there were knocks on doors and she was very scared. So we did call the sheriff's department. I had a wonderful deputy from the sheriff's department, who sort of took me under his wing after that for the next couple of months. He was studying for some tests and he would just sit outside my door and on my street and do his studying and have the car outside my house.
NNAMDIOur guest is Juli Briskman. She is the Supervisor-Elect, who is recently elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. You may remember her from the viral photo of her flipping off the President's motorcade at some point. But if you're interested in talking with her just give us a call 800-433-8850. You'd already been involved in your community long before any of this happened. What work were you doing?
BRISKMANSo my kids have grown up through public school. Now they are high schoolers in Loudoun County. So from the very beginning I was a PTA mom, a room mom. I volunteered at the schools on a regular basis. I'm a cofounder of a local running club. And I've always volunteered and helped out on their sports teams, fundraising for the swim team. You know, working the parking lot on weekend mornings in the summer time. So I was already fairly visible in the community, because, you know, now they're in high school. So we've been in the community for quite some time.
NNAMDICurrent Board of Supervisors Chair, Phyllis Randall, asked you to consider running for the board shortly after the photo went viral. What was your initial reaction to that idea?
BRISKMANI was really overwhelmed the day that she called me and asked me about it, and, you know, I told her that I would definitely think about it. We had mutual friends already. I had helped Andy Resnick run for this seat in 2015. And, you know, he was a mutual friend. And I said, okay. You know, I'm going to think about it. And what I did aside from, you know, rejoining Loudoun democrats and working the polls. I went and decided that I should try to figure out if this would be something that would work for me, if it was something within my character. And I went and started going to board meetings more and I also worked on Jennifer Wexton's campaign quite a bit helping her with fundraising, knocking doors and phone calls.
BRISKMANJust to see if it was something that would be suited to my personality and something that I wanted to do. If that was the way that I wanted to become active, because I was going to be active no matter what. And come about August 2018, Phyllis had a meeting with all of us and she said, okay, guys, who's onboard? And I said, I'm onboard. Let's go.
NNAMDISo working on Jennifer Wexton's campaign for Congress you got an inside look at how a campaign runs before trying it yourself. What did you learn from working for her?
BRISKMANI learned that she works really really hard.
NNAMDIThis is hard work.
BRISKMANI don't know if I ever will run for Congress. She's tireless and she's been tireless since. I mean, she's been having, you know, Town hall meetings and she's been supporting candidates this whole cycle. I also learned that one of the most important things you can do is go out and knock doors and make phone calls and meet people and listen to what they care about. And ask them for their vote.
NNAMDIWell, you're a runner. You're a bicyclist. You've just been knocking on doors. You can handle running for Congress. We'll see what happens in the future.
NNAMDIHere's Kathleen in Fairfax. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHLEENOh, hi. I just wanted to congratulate Juli and also say the funniest thing happened. One of my friends from Australia texted me right away and was so excited about your winning and told me the whole story like I hadn't heard it before, right? I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. And he just thought it was so hilarious. So anyway, he's celebrating your victory. So am I. And I wanted to second one other thing that you just said. I think it is so important for candidates to go out and knock on doors, because it changed some of my votes because I thought if someone is willing to make that effort to talk to me even if it's only for a minute it really, you know, made me feel for that person. So anyway, thanks. I appreciate the story. People in Australia are laughing about it too.
KATHLEENAll right. Bye-bye.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Kathleen. We'll talk more about knocking doors in a little while. Do you remember what finally decided you to run? Do you remember a specific moment when you said, okay. I'm going to do this.
BRISKMANNo, I don't really remember a specific moment. I just know that I wanted to get involved and I saw so many ways that you can get involved. But, you know, I have to say it was probably Phyllis that day in August where she said, okay, who's in? And I said, I'm in. And I think it was because I saw this opportunity to flip the board blue and make an impact on the local level. And I also had learned so much about the state level candidates. And, you know, we coordinated together. It was a situation of all boats rise. And we really all worked together from the school board seats to county board seat all the way up to the state level. And so for me it might have also been kind of that bigger picture of the impact that we could have in Virginia.
NNAMDIHere now is Jake, who is in Alexandria. Jake, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAKEHey there. Yeah, I just wanted to applaud your effort. It's really easy to complain. It's another thing to get involved in public service and actually do something about it. So great job. Hang with it. I'm sure you're dealing with a lot continually from people being upset about it. But as a side note I think the golf course is probably the best place for Trump to kind of stay permanently, can't do a lot of harm from there.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Jake. Last Friday a piece in The Washington Post opinion section celebrated you as quoting here, "The queen of the revenge run. One of the many unlikely progressive candidates for office that emerged to push back on an incident that affected them personally." Do you feel like you've gotten revenge, and was revenge a motivator in your decision to run for office?
BRISKMANYes, is the short answer. I think that, you know, I don't need to flip off the motorcade, because I won this seat and I can start to bring progressive values to the Board of Supervisors. You know, we've been building this progressive coalition in Loudoun County for some time. And I'm really excited to be sort of the tip of the iceberg or the, you know, symbol of that progressive coalition finally taking hold in Loudoun County and in the state. So, yeah, I'm just really excited to be sitting on the board in 2020.
NNAMDIWas it a steep learning curve figuring out how to actually set up and to run a campaign?
BRISKMANIt was a little bit of a steep learning curve. But I've had so many great mentors and people that were supporting me from, you know, Kathleen Murphy, Barbara Favola, Jennifer Boysko, these state folks. John Bell, you know, I went to his house and he let me sit down and call time with him. And so, you know, once I had a lot of help hiring a campaign manager. And once I hired a campaign manager it all kind of came together, because he had a lot of experience on a couple other campaigns. Excuse me. So once he came onboard, you know, structurally things came together.
NNAMDIHere now is Linda in Wheaton. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAHi, I understand that Juli was fired for violating the Hatch Act and I wonder how you feel about the Hatch Act, which as I understand it is meant to depoliticize the government workforce.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please. Were you fired in a relationship to the Hatch Act?
BRISKMANNo. No, I was fired in relation to Hatch Act in any way, shape or form. I was fired for quote on unquote and I say quote on unquote violating their social media policy. But basically they said that they couldn't have someone like me on staff, who was so opposed to the Trump administration. And I say violating their social media policy in quotations, because one of the reasons my story became public was because there was a gentleman on staff, an operations director, who had horrific comments in a Black Lives Matter feed that was called out several months before I was fired. And he was not fired. And he had the company name all over his social media and in fact had said things that were derogatory and racist and he was not fired. So that's why I say social media policy in quotes. I was singled out, because of my opinion and I was wrongly and unjustly fired.
NNAMDII think the Hatch Act has more to do with people, who work for the government who want to run for office and participate directly in politics.
BRISKMANI was a contractor.
NNAMDIThan just people who make comments. It's my understanding that your favorite part of campaigning was knocking on doors, which one caller referred to earlier. Why?
BRISKMANWell, I'm an extrovert by nature, which is another reason why I'm well suited for this. But in knocking on doors it was a validation in many many ways that I was doing the right thing. I had so much positive feedback so much support. But I also learned so many things about my district and the folks that live there that it was really fulfilling for me to be able to knock on doors. I knocked personally on more than 3,000 doors in the coordinated campaign. Like I said we all worked together. Coordinated campaign knocked on 15,000 doors in my district. So we were really out there and energized and talking to voters all the time.
NNAMDIDid people recognize you from your viral moment when you knocked on their doors as a candidate?
BRISKMANSome people did. Yeah, a lot of people did. Like I said, I already had a, you know, a profile for lack of a better word in the community. A lot of people knew me. And it was -- one of the things that was really interesting is I knew people like from PTA, from sports teams, you know, one woman who was a nanny in my neighborhood. I knocked on her door like the Election Day I think. I was like, oh, Kat, this is where you live. And I got to learn like, oh, you live here. Like I've known you for so long, but this is your actual house. So that was really cool.
NNAMDIHere's Chris in Falls Church, Virginia. Chris, your turn. Hi, Chris, are you there?
CHRISYes, I'm here. Hi, Juli, just wanted to say congratulations. I'm a fellow member of Moms Demand Action for gun sense here in Virginia. So we appreciate you running.
NNAMDIHey, Chris, thank you very much for your call. And you should see Juli here raising thumbs up in response to your decision to talk about Moms Demand Action. You're a single mom.
NNAMDIHow did that life experience inform your campaign and your future plans for what to do when you take office?
BRISKMANSo being a single mom informed my platform a lot. You know, I was running on fully funding our schools, supporting working women, intelligent development in the county. And fully funding our schools, intuitively I had felt things being peeled away from our school budget before I even thought about running for office. And then I went to look at the actual reconciliation documents between the school board after the county gave them their budget. And the things that were pulled away were just baffling to me. You know, new buses, bus maintenance, security systems. ELL teachers, one year were completely stripped out of the budget. So that had a lot of meaning for me as a single mom because I want my kids to have a quality education.
BRISKMANBut also working women, seventy-percent of the women in my district are part of the labor force. However, we had representative who didn't support the ERA. And that was baffling to me. As a single mom who has struggled, you know, to pay the mortgage to pay the athletic fees for my kids to do their sports in high school. You know, to make sure that I could pay the electric bill and the cable bill. To have someone that wouldn't support working woman was baffling to me and that was one of the things that most motivated me to run. And to have a board that would vote down supporting that. So I think that my experience is so similar to many of the women's experience in my community that I think that resonated with folks and definitely allowed me to relate to them more in a personal level.
NNAMDIDid you seek your kids' approval in order to run?
BRISKMANI talked to them about it for sure. I talked to them about it for sure. But it was such an evolution, right? Like was two years ago that I was fired. So it was an evolution, like they saw me working on campaigns. And I think in a way, you know, I told them that I was asked and it was such an evolution. I don't think that there was a moment where I was like, well, is it okay with you? I think they kind of knew that I had been asked. They knew I was thinking about it and then I was like, yeah, I think I'm going to do it.
NNAMDIAnd I'm pretty sure they're happy that you won.
BRISKMANThey are. They think it's pretty cool.
NNAMDIDo you have any advice for people who are considering running for office?
BRISKMANI do. I mean, I think if you're going to run for office that you should, you know, obviously investigate and research which office you might run for because there's lots of opportunities out there. Go to the meetings. Join the Democratic Party or the Republican committee if that's our position. But join the committees and the folks and, you know, get to know your representatives, as well, because they will help you decide if it's something that will work with your personality. The other thing is you don't have to run for office to make a difference. I mean, you can join groups like, you know, the Democratic committee. You can be a precinct operations person. I did precinct ops in my precinct during the Wexton campaign. You can also join Moms Demand Action, Network Nova, all sorts of groups that actually support candidates running.
NNAMDIYou said that you didn't intentionally make your viral moment a focal point of your campaign. So if that's not what really resonated with voters about your candidacy, what do you think did? Your position on issues?
BRISKMANI think that absolutely was what resonated with voters. But I have to say we cannot -- there's no doubt that that Trump effect was in play for every seat this year in Virginia. I mean, I knocked on doors and I never led with that issue, but it came up time and time again. So many times, you know, Democrats would say, I'm voting the straight ticket. You don't need to talk to me anymore about it. I'm not, you know, I can't take what's going on in this administration. And even Republicans said that to me. You know, some of them would say, I haven't voted Republican since like 2014 and I'm not going to do it again until Donald Trump is out of office.
BRISKMANI wore a little bicycle pin on my lapel. So if folks started talking about the administration and how upset they were and how traumatized they were that this person was actually, you know, sitting in the White House, I would say to them like, well, you might want to know this is -- I'm the person who, you know, who's photo went viral.
NNAMDIIn this election you and other successful Democratic candidates flipped control of the Loudoun County Board and the board in neighboring Prince William County too. The Washington Post called this quoting here, "The most dramatic political shift in a generation," for those areas, and you and others seem to feel that a lot of this is because of President Trump.
BRISKMANAbsolutely, yeah, I do. And like I said that was at play. And I think when you think about the values that we stand for, they're polar opposites of the values that he seems to stand for. And so it was definitely at play from the local level all the way through to the legislature.
NNAMDIJuli Briskman. She is the Supervisor-Elect representing Algonkian District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. Congratulations again. And thank you for joining us.
BRISKMANThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back how service animals make a difference including in a Maryland prison where prisoners train dogs to support veterans. It's Veterans Day. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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