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Currently working as Human Rights Campaign’s Michigan State Director, Amritha Venkataraman’s interest in all things politics started young. She said that as early as in high school she “was always that person talking about politics,” and her interests didn’t stop there. Eventually, she found herself front and center into the world of grassroots community organizing and on the campaign trails of a variety of candidates.
“I really got involved in 2012 with the Obama campaign and being a neighborhood team leader. That was really fun and really inspiring,” she said. “But then going into the next election cycle in 2014, getting to work on a State House race and then really seeing the power of the community when it comes together to get an awesome candidate elected got me the bug — I was officially hooked.”
Venkataraman’s work eventually took her across the country, working in places as far-reaching as New York and Nevada. However, as soon as several months ago the Bloomfield Hills native was in California when she heard of an opportunity to come back to her home state and give back to the LGBTQ community.
“Immediately before this I was actually in Oakland, California. I was training Democratic Women to run for office with Emerge California,” she said. “I saw HRC’s program that they were trying to launch in Michigan, HRC Rising, and I really wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to come home and be a part of doing some long-term HRC organizing in my home state.”
HRC Rising is a grassroots initiative launched by the organization that targets six states that have a chance at voting out or impacting politicians who are not LGBTQ-friendly, and as Michigan State Director, Venkataraman plays a big role in helping to make that happen.
“In Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada, HRC will make an especially strong, early push to organize against the Trump-Pence agenda and support pro-equality candidates in coming elections,” said the HRC website.
Currently, she is gearing up for the upcoming election. She said the most vital work there is to be done between now and Nov. 6 is getting as many progressive, or equality voters familiar with local candidates who can make a difference and then on to the polls.
“So we have more than 1 million equality voters in Michigan. That’s a lot of people,” she said. “When we lost a presidential election by 10,000 votes basically, 1 million voters more than makes the difference. So, at HRC, we are working every day to support candidates, knock on doors, making phone calls and making sure that voters understand the importance of voting. And to make sure that no one in our community sits out this November.”
However, even with all the potential voters out there, Venkataraman said that perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome before then is combatting the mindset that voters can’t make a difference in their communities.
“Sometimes people don’t feel that their work matters or that they can make a difference and having that conversation with people so that they understand that you getting involved really does matter,” she said. “These conversations make a huge difference and the most fun part of this job for me, without a doubt, is watching new folks who have never volunteered before having a conversation with a new voter (and) have that first conversation and realize what an impact it makes. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to convince people and show them that these conversations really are going to make a difference.”
When asked if there are specific elections or candidates that have caught Venkataraman’s eye, she recommended three races in particular on which voters should definitely keep up-to-date.
“Obviously the gubernatorial is really important. Bill Schuette has been extremely anti-LGBTQ and would not be LGBTQ-friendly if elected, so that’s a super, super important election for us,” she said. “We have endorsed Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin who are both running for Congress who are both excellent on LGBT issues and would be wonderful representatives for their communities, so we’ve been working with those teams to make sure that we turn out the equality vote.”
To find out more about HRC or HRC Rising, visit HRC.org.