It was Dukakis’ presidential campaign that did it–launching Marjorie Clark’s long stint in politics. “We both graduated from Swarthmore,” Marjorie says; “I thought I should be supporting him.”
It was 1988 and she jumped in with both feet. “It was a time for older women,” she says. “There were so many opportunities out there and even more since then.
At an age when many women are looking forward to relaxation, an empty nest or traveling, Marjorie Clark decided to volunteer in local Democratic politics, starting with the district in Virginia where she lived.
Claiming, “not to know much,” she made friends with activist members to recruit delegates to the state party convention. In the process she got a first hand taste of democracy in action.
“I learned so much about what a balanced slate means—an equal number of men and women plus a racial balance. I saw how much the organizers planned ahead, several years in fact, so that what happened in the end is what was hoped for.”
Age Has its Advantage
In fact, she says, “One benefit of being an “older woman” who is retired but still involved is that I am often available and have been called to show up for press events during the workday for many different candidates and issues. Usually this is just to background crowd, but sometimes there are ‘talking points’ for interviews.”
Volunteers Can Go to the Top
She also learned that people who volunteer go right to the top! Over the next 20 years Marjorie was a delegate from the state of Virginia to five Democratic presidential conventions—a living example of the power of volunteerism, regardless of age.
“Because I was involved in these different ways,” Marjorie says, “I was elected to the PAC Board for the Virginia Education Association, too, which enabled me to be a VEA representative/lobbyist to an event at VP Biden’s home in Washington in 2012.
She also wrote an article for the VEA-Retired magazine about how retirees can be politically active.
“Once I had started volunteering,” she says, “–making phone calls, showing up for committee meetings and fund raisers, being a delegate to district and state conventions–I was elected to represent Chesterfield County on the Democratic State Central Committee from the 7th Congressional District. Then about 1992 I became Chair of that committee; that role lasted 13 years.”
But You Have to Work
During the four years between presidential elections Marjorie worked at the state and local level for whatever election was occurring that year.
Because local, district and state committees meet regularly there is always intra–party politicking and leadership jockeying going on, too, Marjorie says. A lot of this is organizational, scheduling conventions and caucuses or primaries and elections plus regular reporting of funds and organization.
Standouts from Five Presidential Conventions
Marjorie remembers the pageantry and the individual ways each delegation made an effort to stand out so the cameras were focused on them. (Once the delegation got Katie Couric to sit with them in honor of her Virginia sister who was very ill.)
1992. Bill Clinton’s year, along with rumors that Doug Wilder, Virginia’s African American governor, might run. Buttons were imprinted with “Home of Wilder Democrats” and Marjorie went to the convention undecided. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition also made its appearance. Marjorie and two other white women decided to see what they could learn and crashed the party.
2000. Los Angeles with lots of security amidst the excitement of Joseph Lieberman, the first Jew on a vice presidential ballot.
2004. Boston —the first time the world heard a senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.
2008. When that particular African American senator received the Democration nomination a football stadium was filled with people who wanted to be part of the historic event.
What Stands Out After 20 Years
During her 20 years of political volunteerism Marjorie believes in “the universality of people working for the good of the country.” And even faced with the soap opera quality of the current presidential campaign she still believes that “we elect the person the country needs at the time.”
Women like Margery Clark could be the poster girl for volunteerism. A role model whose attitude of openness, hard work and going after what she wants has earned Marjorie respect, admiration and enough clout that during the last presidential campaign, she was chosen to introduce Vice President Biden at a major event.
Now at age 77 she says she’s “cutting back.” We’ll see.