Gina Fischer `07 works every day to improve women’s lives. For four years, Fischer worked at Planned Parenthood where she organized community outreach and education as the director of public affairs for the organization’s Central Coast chapter. A passionate advocate for civil rights, Fischer is now working on the campaign for Joan Hartmann's bid for 3rd District Santa Barbara County Supervisor.
Her passion for activism took root during her college years at UC Santa Barbara, where she served as an elected representative for Associated Students. When she ran for re-election during the 2006 AS spring election, Fischer wrote about her dedication to student community issues in her election supplement statement. “I think that students are more bogged down with work, classes, and debt than ever before, because of constant fee increases and program cuts,” she wrote. “This means that most students plainly do not have the time or energy to give a f--- about decisions that are made regarding their education. But, I really do give a f---.”
After graduation, she worked on local political campaigns and managed community communications and fundraising efforts for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Throughout her busy career, she also maintained close ties to her alma mater. She is an active UCSB alumni leader on the Santa Barbara Locals and the All Gaucho Reunion planning committees.
In this Alumni Q&A, Fischer talks about life in the non-profit lane, how she celebrated her UCSB ties at her wedding reception and what inspires her to continue to work hard for women’s rights.
Why did you choose UC Santa Barbara?
I was the first person in my entire family to attend a four-year university out of high school. Since we were not familiar with the college application process, I only applied to UC Santa Barbara and UC San Diego. I was accepted to both, but I had become too ill my senior year of high school to tour UC San Diego. I had fallen in love with UCSB because I had two friends from high school who had come here-- so I chose to enroll here. It was the best decision I ever made.
What lessons and experiences at UCSB helped build the foundation for your career today?
Student life at UCSB is so rich! UCSB afforded me so many opportunities to get civically involved. During the fall of 2004, I decided to jump into political organizing because I felt our country was headed in the wrong direction and that I could do something about it, so I started volunteering with a student voter registration coalition. I was a political science major, so I felt that my involvement with the Campus Democrats was the real-life application of all the political theory I was learning. I was also a huge geography enthusiast, so I added geography as a second major. I made the connection between political campaigns and their reliance on mapping and data, so my majors helped me carve out a specialized niche in politics. I also minored in history with an emphasis in the history of labor and social movements and towards the end of college, I was able to intern at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund as part of an upper division seminar course.
What drew you to work at Planned Parenthood?
Like millions of young people across the US, during college I needed access to family planning services -- so I found our local Planned Parenthood. I had such a great experience and was so impressed with the outstanding care I received. The affordable birth control was pretty great, too!
A few months later a small handful of out-of-town activists opposed to safe and legal abortion were protesting in the Arbor on campus, and while I respected their First Amendment right, they were saying vitriolic things to strangers, singling out women, and trying to shame folks. I found their behavior appalling. I did what any committed student activist would do when witnessing an injustice- I ditched class and counter-protested.
A representative from our local Planned Parenthood came to support the growing counter demonstration and I asked what more could I do to stand up for Planned Parenthood. She said their public affairs department had student internship opportunities, so I applied and earned an internship. I learned that advocating for women's health care access was critical to ensuring that all women continue striving towards equality and college and career opportunities.
Describe a typical day at your job at Planned Parenthood.
Like many non-profit employees, I kept a busy schedule and every day was a little different.
One of my favorite things at Planned Parenthood was overseeing our student internship program. I am energized by college students and their commitment to a diverse and intersectional reproductive rights movement. I often travelled to Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties to check in with student supporters and helped them grow their activism. I managed our public policy and government relations strategy, so I checked in with elected officials and frequently travel to Sacramento in support of our statewide legislative work. I worked with social justice coalition partners ensuring that our public policy advocacy was not limited to birth control and abortion access, but encompassed wider-ranging intersectional issues like farmworker rights and environmental justice (which are reproductive rights issues).
I helped organize our young professional supporters and engage them through various social events. I worked with other reproductive rights coalitions and organizations and educated the public on the state of reproductive rights in the United States. I made presentations on the history of family planning and educate folks on what's next for our movement. I did tabling and outreach at events and festivals throughout the tri-counties to make sure folks knew about our services. I helped our Action Fund with its fundraising and electoral priorities through event planning and assessment of candidates running for office. I also supervised our social media platforms, online communications with supporters -- and I was the webmaster.
As for our challenges: Planned Parenthood was the victim of a vicious and false smear campaign last summer so we faced a new set of challenges in ensuring that our doors stayed open, no matter what. While it was tough to weather that storm, we have were cleared of all wrongdoing, and our movement emerged stronger than ever.
For students looking to work in community-driven organizations and nonprofits, what sort of skills and personality attributes do you think they need to be successful in this field?
Compassion, tenacity and resiliency. Non-profit work can be really difficult because you're serving critical needs of the underserved and resources are often very thin.
You are a key member of our alumni planning committees here in Santa Barbara. How did you start becoming more involved as a UCSB alumna?
I was recruited and asked to step up! I love networking so while attending my first-ever alumni holiday party a few years ago, a friend from college recommended that I get involved with the All Gaucho Reunion Kick Off Bash planning committee, so I said YES! The chair at the time, Julie Capritto, took the time to engage and encourage me and the rest is history!
You brought a piece of your UCSB experience to your wedding. What did you and your husband do - and what inspired this moment?
I met my husband, Josh Andersen, at the UCSB Bookstore where we worked together throughout our undergrad years. While I was more of an activist in college, Josh was the best accomplice I could have asked for. Marriage equality is very important to us so when we were undergrads every spring we symbolically married each year at the annual Queer Wedding that capped off Queer Pride Week. The ceremonies were eloquently officiated by (now retired) Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young. We delayed getting married for real until marriage equality was restored in California so when we got married this past fall, I couldn't think of anyone better than Dr. Young to officiate. So as he joked during our ceremony, he married us for the “fifth and final time.”
A week before our wedding, Josh surprised me by finding the last two of the old green bookstore employee aprons we used to wear, so in the middle of our reception, we thought it would be hilarious to put them on and parade around the reception hall. It was the best -- and they made for great photo booth props!
Why should more young alumni professionals like yourself be involved in mentoring and creating outreach for our UCSB students?
I think that current UCSB students are paying an enormously high price to get a world class education and in my experience they are engaged and eager to leave a positive mark on the world. I get so much energy and inspiration from the students I work with -- I'm unsure of whom the mentoring benefits more -- me or them.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the resiliency I see in so many people around me right now -- and by so many women doing courageous things and fighting to be in spaces that weren't designed for us.