Chat with...Caitlin Clarkson Pereira, Fairfield native challenging state Rep. Brenda Kupchick
FAIRFIELD — On the night of President Donald Trump’s election, Fairfield resident Caitlin Clarkson Pereira was in Disneyland.
“Talk about the juxtaposition,” Clarkson Pereira said.
That night in her hotel room, Clarkson Pereira, a Democrat, said she looked down at her then 2-year-old daughter, Parker, as she slept, innocent and unaware, and thought “No.”
“Coming up to the election, I saw a black man in the White House and I was like all right, there’s no place to go but up from here,” said Clarkson Pereira, who works as the coordinator of the Office of Education Services at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. “I really only saw the progress moving forward.”
The election represented a step backwards in Clarkson Pereira’s mind, and so she decided to do something to reverse course.
“While I feel like I do make a difference with the students I have contact with, I’m at a point now — especially with wanting to be a role model for my daughter, where we are politically, and the opportunities for women to speak up and hopefully make a difference for future generations — where I feel like it’s not enough.”
After months of thought, Clarkson Pereira announced her candidacy for the state’s 132nd House District in a Facebook post following Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globes. Clarkson Pereira said she planned to announce her campaign later in January, but was so moved by Winfrey’s speech that she wrote a few paragraphs on Facebook and attached her fundraising link the following day, Jan. 8.
While most candidates roll out their campaigns with a carefully crafted video and website, neither of which Clarkson Pereira had at the time of her post, she said she doesn’t want to follow the traditional playbook of campaigns if she’s moved otherwise.
“After an icon spoke revolutionary words last night, it is evident that ‘a new day is on the horizon.’ We are finally starting to see that time is not only up, but times are changing, and for all of us who were ever told our voices were not loud enough, our ideas would never be valued, and our efforts would fail to make a difference — our time is now,” Clarkson Pereira wrote in that Facebook post.
Although Clarkson Pereira has never held political office, she’s long been active in the Fairfield community.
Born and raised in town, Clarkson Pereira said she grew up riding her bike to Roger Sherman Elementary School, cheerleading and playing violin in the school orchestra.
“I am beyond words grateful for the education I received here,” the 32-year-old said, noting the dedication of teachers who pushed her and helped her go over material after school when she was struggling.
After high school, Clarkson Pereira attended Western Connecticut State University, where she gave it her all: writing a history thesis on the sexual revolution access to birth control in the United States, serving in leadership roles in student government and residence life, and volunteering as a mentor at an after-school program for underprivileged kids.
“I became super involved, and once you get that bug and feel you’re making an impact, especially when it comes to mentoring younger students, it was really addicting,” Clarkson Pereira said.
Clarkson Pereira’s positive college experience informed her decision to work after graduation as a dorm hall director at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic.
“I tell people I had so much fun in college that I never left,” Clarkson Pereira said.
While working at Eastern Connecticut, the Fairfield native earned a master’s degree in counseling from Central Connecticut State University and married her college boyfriend, Matthew Pereira, who works for Otis Elevator Co. Her graduate thesis was on lesbian, gay, and bisexual students who come out in college and the impact coming out has on their academic performance and social interactions, a project Pereira said has influenced her LGBTQ activism.
Activism, coupled with writing, has been a thread throughout Clarkson Pereira’s career. She started the website, PeaceLoveProgress.com, where people can share uplifting stories and tales of compassionate work to spread joy and inspire others, as the site says. Clarkson Pereira also contributes to the Fairfield County Moms Blog, where she’s written about female empowerment, mental health and miscarriage.
While Clarkson Pereira said she’s used to speaking out on behalf of social justice issues, Fairfield’s current representatives are not inclined to stand up, which is part of why Clarkson Pereira said she’s running.
“Donald Trump said these super-outlandish, terrifying things about a variety of people, but especially women. It’s not only about what he’s said. It’s about the ability of the other people in leadership roles and the lack of responsibility they’ve taken to stand up for that,” Clarkson Pereira said.
Clarkson Pereira said the seat’s incumbent, Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-132, only speaks out when it’s convenient for her and writes late-night Facebook posts to hedge her bets against those who may criticize her for not speaking out.
“Well, that post was at 1 a.m., so 17 people saw your Facebook page. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t believe anyone who’d tell me that’s not intentional,” Clarkson Pereira said. “You need to stand up and say, this is not acceptable. No pandering, no buts, use your voice, you have a platform, people are looking to you.”
Clarkson Pereira said she rejects Kupchick’s criticism that she, and other Democrat candidates, are paying too much attention to politics in Washington and not focusing on state issues. The messaging in Washington trickles down to the state and local levels and makes it difficult for people at the local level to speak out if they have aspirations to run for office at the federal level, Clarkson Pereira said.
Even at the state level, Clarkson Pereira said Kupchick is unwilling to speak out on important issues. For example, Clarkson Pereira criticized Kupchick for keeping quiet about the recent homophobic backlash to the nomination of Justice Andrew J. McDonald as chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
“You have an anti-LGBTQ, anti-Jewish, known hate group online who calls this justice a pedophile and you have nothing to say to that?” Clarkson Pereira said.
In office, Clarkson Pereira said she would not only speak out, but also work to create better policy. She wants to legislate paid family leave policies, which she said, aside from being fair, will help bring in more state revenue. If people can take time off to care to care for children or sick parents, they can remain in the workforce and contribute to state income taxes, from which the state derives over half of its revenue, Clarkson Pereira said.
Armed with her experience in higher education, Clarkson Pereira said she also hopes to work on issues of education equity, which she said are often divided along lines of race and class.
In the end, Clarkson Pereira, who already passed the threshold for small dollar donations needed to qualify for the state Citizens Election Program public financing program, said she’s fine losing because she’s in the race because she wants to make a difference, not because she needs a job.
Still, Clarkson Pereira is hopeful.
“I think people are looking for people who are running because it’s time to break away from the traditional narrative of our elected officials, what their backgrounds are, and therefore how they choose to vote and what bills they choose to vote for,” Clarkson Pereira said.
hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1