Social justice attorney and women’s rights activist Sandra Fluke made her glossy debut in 2012 on the cover of Ms., after standing up to Republican members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She refused to take no for an answer when the committee forbade her to testify on the importance of birth control coverage in insurance plans.
She has since been slandered by Rush Limbaugh, passed the California bar, and run for California State Senate. Fluke recently served as an honorary judge for Social Justice: It Happens to One, It Happens to All, a new exhibition of artwork centered around the theme of social justice that’s currently showing at the Museum of Art at Saint Mary’s College of California. As it covers poverty and homelessness to female genital mutilation and the incarceration of a Connecticut woman who sent her child to an out-of-district kindergarten, SF Weekly caught up with Fluke to see what she’s been up to since the fight to get contraception included in the Affordable Health Care Act.
You selected three pieces for special recognition. How do you think your selections speak to each other?
I wanted to represent three issues that are current and would connect with the public. I hoped that highlighting these issues would draw people into the exhibit to see some of the powerful work showing modern oppression. Flight is a sculpture that depicts refugees sailing away from war-torn countries. It is aesthetically beautiful, despite the terrible situation it depicts, contrasted with Sunshine State, a woodcut piece that I found so powerful it was hard to look at.
You’re known for being a women’s-rights activist, and yet none of the pieces you selected in this exhibition speak directly to the issue of women’s rights.
Publicly, my gender-equality and reproductive-justice work is what I’m best known for, but I’ve worked for many years on a whole range of issues and wanted to bring that diversity to the art pieces I chose.
Which social justice issues are currently the most under-represented or unvoiced in the public sphere?
Really, all of them should receive more attention. Recently, I’ve been most focused on combatting climate change, fighting for environmental justice, pushing through campaign finance reform, and addressing economic inequality.
What was it like to see forms of social injustice expressed through art in concert with one another?
As an attorney working on legislation, I tend to think about a lot of these issues through the lens of public policy, which can become abstract. This collection reinforces the humanity behind each of these issues and the actual lives that are impacted.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in social justice?
While my family is more conservative, we agree that an important principle of your moral foundation is to devout your life to serving others and fighting for what you believe in, which is what I have done throughout my career as a social justice advocate and attorney.
Considering the things you have accomplished so far, of which are you most proud?
There are many important pieces of legislation that I’m proud to have helped pass on everything from climate change to campaign finance reform to economic opportunity. I am also very proud of my 2014 campaign for California state senate. We ran an ethical campaign that was true to my values, which is not always easy to do in politics.
What might you say to encourage a new or young artist who is considering using her or his craft as a platform for social justice?
It’s really important to find a whole variety of ways to connect with people, raise their consciousness, and inspire them to action. That needs to be done by using every avenue. When I speak to students and young people, I encourage them to try to find a way to make their work benefit others, no matter what that work is. Some people believe that if they care about issues of injustice, they must become attorneys or social workers, but in almost any field, you can find ways to help and to make a difference on these issues, and that includes the arts. It’s incredibly powerful to have an exhibit that calls attention to artists who are devoting their talents to raising awareness.
What is your response to the sentiment “social injustice is such a large issue, I don’t know how I could make a difference”?
The best thing anyone can do is to begin. While it’s important to give members of impacted communities the lead, it’s also important to get involved in supporting them. Find a place to begin and work with others, getting feedback as you go. You make the road by walking.
Social Justice: It Happens to One, It Happens to All, Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art, 1928 St. Mary’s Rd., Moraga, Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.