Today we bring you the second in our series of progressives from around the country advocating for change at the local level. After our initial profile of Joanne Fleming from Spokane, multiple people reached out and told us we had to talk to Lena Thompson of Michigan. Specifically, people spoke highly about her work on the Democratic platform committee in conjunction with her overall outspoken advocacy for marginalized groups.
Lena first got involved with politics in the late 80s, when she worked in a grassroots capacity on the board of the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF). Her main focus was on gay politics and she was a founding member of the Michigan Gay Lesbian Democratic Caucus and was the Treasurer for Pride PAC.
Being outspoken against injustice was Lena’s nature. She explains, “I was a member of GLOBE – gay lesbian or bisexual employees of Ford. So I was active and very OUT. I could not hide.” At one point, she wrote a letter about her experiences concerning a job relocation with her partner. The Vice President of Ford circulated that letter and she credits her letter as being part of the reason that Ford has domestic partner benefits.
Talking about her experiences with Ford, Lena states, “I have a knack for pointing out the obvious and absurd injustices. So, there’s no other politics for me but progressive social justice. My life is a protest.”
Bernie and the Platform Committee
Lena canvassed for local politicians and worked as a precinct delegate as well, but after DOMA and other similar defeats, she grew discouraged and left the political scene. She states that Obama brought her back and she canvassed and phone banked for him, but, she says, “Bernie made me a political junkie again! I was Bernie 24/7 through the primaries. My wife called herself a Bernie widow.”
Her work with the Bernie campaign eventually led her to an appointment on the Platform Committee, where she passed a few amendments to the platform. She added some language to the death penalty section and added transgender protection language for undocumented immigrants in ICE facilities.
Toward the end of the Platform Committee, there was a final amendment that some tried to pass. Lena made a video about it, which Nina Turner shared on Facebook. The video explains what the amendment was (to insert Hillary Clinton’s name into the platform itself) and why it upset so many people.
Time with the Green Party and Beyond
Lena went to the Democratic National Convention, where she saw first-hand the way that the Bernie Sanders supporters were treated. After her experiences at the convention, which she describes as “hugely emotional,” she left the Democratic party to work with the Green Party during the general election. Since the Green Party only ended up with 1% of the vote for the presidential election, she has gone back to the Democratic party, deciding to work at the local level.
She is running for one of 15 delegate slots in her congressional district to be on the state central committee and the black caucus. She was inspired to do so by a Michigan Bernie Sanders delegate, who encouraged her to run for DSCC delegate on the way to the national convention.
Her current goals are to get back to her grassroots and make connections with people. She wants to win a seat in the Michigan State Democratic Party and be outspoken about LGBT, race, and other issues. Above all, she wants to stay active within the party. She explains, “I look at this as a way to elevate my voice for social justice causes.”