When I talked to Paula Overby on the phone August 13, she had just finished gathering the thousand signatures needed to register her candidacy for Minnesota’s Second Congressional District in the 2014 election. She’ll be the first transgender person to run for Congress in the state of Minnesota.
“My campaign is pretty unique, and my status is pretty unique,” Overby told 429Magazine. The main problem she sees with current political process is the domination of government by corporate and financial interests, which creates disaffection amongst a voting population that feels that government no longer works for the people.
While her political views are definitely informed by her trans identity, she is adamant that her unique position gives her a broader perspective on the ways that people feel left out of the political process.
“I’m trying to expand to a much broader context, to the idea that trans people are not alone. There are a lot of minorities in this country that are suffering from the prejudice and discrimination and bigotry. A big part of my focus is trying to unite various groups into a common purpose. We all have a stake in this and we all have something to gain in this.”
This intersectional analysis is the basis for Overby’s campaign: the idea that by working together, voters who feel left out of the political process can come together to create change.
The current political system has candidates focused on fundraising millions of dollars in order to campaign on various media platforms and reach the greatest number of voters, which leaves little time to connect with the population and offer true representation. Overby’s approach will be very different. Her campaign will be driven by her connection to her community and to the people in her congressional district, with an emphasis on reform.
“I’m focused on representative government,” Overby told 429Magazine. “Our election process is broken. Our political process is broken. Legislators are burdened under an enormous amount of corporate investment, political investment, and campaign finance.
“If we don’t fix the process it’s difficult to fix the issue.”
One of the worst outcomes of the current legislative focus on financial concerns is the rise in wealth disparity that has gotten increasingly worse over the last few decades, with more tax breaks for the rich, and the cuts in state assistance to the poor.
“The middle class is disappearing, and the migration of wealth in this country is becoming quite obvious to a lot of people,” said Overby. “It’s basically the have-nots and the have-everythings now. Can I convince people of that? I think so. People know it’s true, they just don’t know what to do about it.”
Overby, an out trans woman who has experienced firsthand the way that minorities are mistreated by the state system, is determined to do something about it.
After coming out as trans, she lost her marriage, her house, and even custody of her son. The ensuing legal battle, which lasted four years, found Overby representing herself in court because no one would take up her case.
“They told me to wait until he was nineteen to get him back, and they told me I couldn’t afford to get custody of my son, and they told me no judge would give you custody of your son. And I said that’s not right.
“I ended up representing myself in a custody battle that lasted four years, and cost almost a quarter of a million dollars, and I won,” Overby told 429Magazine. “But I lost something very important: I lost faith in a legal process, in a family court process, and in a government that no longer works for people.”
Overby will use that same determination that won her custody of her son to make a difference in the way campaigns are run, and give voters a real chance at creating change in a system that she sees as having strayed very far from the people it’s supposed to represent.
“Do we want really more of the same, which people realize is clearly not working, and has not been working for quite a long time now? Or do they want to take a chance on some real reform?
“I speak for people that have no voice, and that gives me a very strong voice. It gives me a tremendous amount of confidence.”
Paula Overby has just collected the signatures she needs to register her candidacy for the Second Congressional seat for the state Minnesota. She’ll be registering by the end of this week, or the beginning of the next. Check out her website for more information, or to offer her support. She finds contact from supporters across the nation welcoming and inspiring.