She told me that she’d succeeded in everything she’d tried.
Really? I thought.
I cocked my head with curiosity. “What about the first time you ran for Congress two years ago?” I said. “You lost that race.”
Joyce Segers, who’s taking her second shot at the Second District seat held by Greg Walden this November, nodded with understanding. Her brown eyes blossomed into a smile.
That’s true, she replied. But success and victory aren’t necessarily the same.
For the next three hours in her second-floor studio apartment in Ashland, while her somnambulant gray cat Cosmos lay sprawled on the Murphy bed like a throw pillow, Joyce illuminated the distinction.
On one level, she explained, simply making a serious run as a newcomer neophyte with few dollars and zero name recognition—she garnered 26 percent of the vote—represented a grand success two years ago.
“I have good friends who reminded that the moment I stood up and ran that I was a winner every single day.”
But more to her point, though, Joyce sees success in the process.
“It’s not about the winning. It’s about the doing, and the influence I have, and the opportunity I have to go out there. And,” she added, “I can look people in the eye and see them change simply because they feel seen and recognized.”
Note to myself: Feeling seen and recognized?
Providing voters or constituents with personal recognition is not a motive I’ve heard from candidates on the stump or even during interviews.
Joyce recalled becoming aware of the power of that simple gift one day during her 20 years in the medical billing business in Florida. Leaving a doctor’s office, her gaze was drawn to a “genteel” old black man sitting by the exit door wearing a suit, tie and a hat.
“He was just closed in on himself, in pain, his body curled up,” she said. I looked down as I started out the door and our eyes met. I have no idea if it was for five seconds or thirty seconds, but I could feel something happening between us. He began to straighten up, his eyes got brighter and his shoulders lifted and everything changed. We smiled at each other, and as soon as I walked out the door, I started crying because I realized that most people feel invisible. I saw him and he saw me and he changed.”
It was the beginning of her consciousness of the “effect we have on each other.” That awareness, she said, is reinforced, and sometimes mightily tested, on the campaign trail. As an example, Joyce cited an experience she had while soliciting signatures to put her name on the ballot.
“A man with piercing blue eyes and white hair asked me, ‘Who the hell do you think you are, and why do you think you’re any different? If you win, first they’re going to bribe you and they they’re going to threaten you, and what the hell are you going to do about it?’
“While he’s doing this, his wife is crying and begging him to stop,” Joyce says. “All I did was look up at him and say, ‘I’ve been through it all. What more are they going to do to me?’
“And he looked into my eyes and I looked into his. He saw me and he pulled back. The next day he sent me a check for a hundred bucks. It was the most awesome moment in my life.”
Primarily what Joyce referred to, what she had “been through” was the suicide of her husband David of 30 years, a Korean War Army veteran who suffered from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The eight years since then have found her engaged in a profound and successful struggle to stand up, and stand strong, for herself and for others, while engaging the world with a joyful wonderment that renews itself with every waking breath. It’s a success she ranks as miraculous, positing her campaigns as nothing less than palpable proof.
To help me appreciate the depth of her victory, Joyce described a childhood as fearful young girl growing up with Jewish Polish-immigrant parents in New York’s crumbling South Bronx neighborhood. She recalled being so emotionally uncomfortable in social situations that she would go to parties and come home physically ill. At age 24, she married David, 18 years her senior.
“So,” she said, “from nearly my cradle to his grave, I was never alone.” With his sudden death, her world collapsed.
“When that happens you don’t ever think that you’re going to be okay, or okay by yourself,” she said.
In her mid-50s then—she’s 62 now—Joyce, who had never truly traveled on her own, was determined to push past her comfort zone and begin her “journey outward.” Inspired by the works of Joseph, she traveled solo to a Mythic Imagination conference in Atlanta. “I was drawn to finding any possibility of healing for myself and or my son,” she said.
“Two things happened in Atlanta. People saw me in a way I never saw myself.” And, by standing up and speaking in front of groups of people, “I found out I wasn’t afraid.”
Years later, in the fall of 2009, a month after moving to Ashland to continue her own “mythic journey,” Joyce attended a women’s leadership conference in Clear Lake, Calif. During the conference, attendants faced their fears with such exercises as climbing telephone poles and hanging off cliffs.
On the last day, the leader of the group challenged the women by asking who, among them, would agree to run for federal office. “‘Who’s going to stand up?’ she said.
Joyce surprised herself by rising to her feet. A week later, back in Ashland, she set her sights on a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her confidence was bolstered by her familiarity with the process, having worked in Florida for the John Kerry presidential campaign, and her extensive insider’s understanding of the health care industry at a time when the issue held keen interest for voters.
Still, she said, “I had to learn so much, so quickly.”
Nearly overnight, Joyce organized a low-budget, high-energy all-retail campaign that carried her 17,000 miles around the vast district.
Now, more politically savvy and sophisticated, with enhanced name recognition and serious support from the Democrat Party, Joyce is at it again. How does she think the election will go?
“I might win this time,” she said. “But I will never lose.”
(Alan “Rosey” Rosenberg is a Realtor with Real Estate Depot in Ashland. You can reach him at 541-778-8949 or at firstname.lastname@example.org)