Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford has spent time as an entrepreneur and a comedian during her time in Madison, and now she is campaigning to represent District 15 as alder on Madison’s east side. Martinez-Rutherford’s support for inclusivity and diversity in the Madison comedy scene has also led her to encourage the same when it comes to supporting people running for public office. After the anti-LGBTQIA+ acts of terror that were carried out at Club Q in Colorado Springs and Pulse in Orlando, Martinez-Rutherford felt it was time to run for office herself.
“I think it’s always been in the back of my mind as somebody who’s trans, that it’s glaringly obvious that trans representation is not a priority for us,” said Martinez-Rutherford. “I was like, ‘It’s time.’ I’m reading the room. As a comic, I have to read the room, and the room around the whole country has turned against us. It’s like being a comedian on stage, and the whole audience is like, ‘Yeah, we’re done with you.’ Seeing how kids are being targeted, marginalized, and treated so poorly, just for trying to be who they are. Just trying to find their own comfort in their skin.”
While strides have been made in LGBTQIA+ representation and social recognition, public backlash is a usual result of such progress. This has resulted in transphobic and homophobic sentiments that are visible and vocal throughout levels of society. Seeing the shifts in public opinion and experiencing such a shift personally in Madison served as fuel for Martinez-Rutherford to stand up to those derogatory voices.
“There still is all this pushback,” Martinez-Rutherford expressed. “Our pride signs in our neighborhoods are being vandalized, and our Black Lives Matter signs have been vandalized. It comes down to decency. We’re all human, and flesh and blood…When we spend so much time demonizing people, it’s harder to realize that we’re all just in this together. We’re just all trying to figure out how to make our lives better. When it comes down to it, that’s what we need to be about. I want to make my life better and I want to make your life better.”
Martinez-Rutherford found that people in her district were especially connected in the ways that many residents of Madison are connected when it comes to affordable housing and resources. The rising cost of living is especially important when it comes to issues like food insecurity. People who have the potential to bring life, culture, and stories with them may be the ones unable to access the housing necessary to move or stay in Madison, and Martinez-Rutherford is that including the voices of those going through these struggles can have an impact.
“The people of our district are just like everyone,’ assured Martinez-Rutherford. “Our concerns are feeding our families and paying our bills. We are all just one accident away from financial ruin right now. The people in this district want to be able to take care of their families, they want to have safe drinking water, and they want to have affordable housing. That’s what we all want. I keep seeing it over and over again, the artists who built the city and made it what it is, are being priced out of our neighborhoods. Younger people who are starting their careers are being priced out of our neighborhoods. That just feels gross.”
Questions on Madison’s trajectory in terms of how it will grow and if it will prioritize issues of expansion such as housing, public transportation, and cultivating interest in what the city has to offer are at the forefront of conversation. While Martinez-Rutherford is sure that progress takes time and not everything can happen immediately over two years, there is still value in building towards a better future.
“The more we diversify our neighborhoods, the more we find ideas and visions for what can happen. I want to see more urban agriculture. I want to see us making our food or growing our food together as a community. Having the citizens of our city be excited to invest in the community. When we put urban agriculture in, we’re also making food because we all know that there’s a food crisis coming,” Martinez-Rutherford said, considering the importance of sustained resources.
“We can look further out and make incremental change toward a city that will be ready for climate change refugees,” Martinez-Rutherford added. “We can look forward and prepare for a city that’s going to need water as a resource, and need to clean that water out to make sure it’s healthy. We can build enough housing that is sustainable and affordable. We have to look at all of that. There’s a lot coming, and I’m not trying to be doom and gloom, but it’s a scenario that could happen.”
Martinez-Rutherford made a point to consider how it will take the voices of those who often fall victim to lack of access and lack of resources to truly make progress in combating those inequalities. Above all else, Martinez-Rutherford was sure that the solution to improving conditions for everyone was prioritizing caring for each other, even if it is simply interacting with your community.
“I’ve created a community as an entrepreneur. As a small business owner in Madison, I’ve spent a lot of time building community around women and queer people in comedy. That has been so rewarding and so valuable, and within that system, I’m able to see what we’re able to achieve. Within this political realm, it’s about being engaged in community and being engaged with your neighborhood. Helping with urban agriculture, walking through and saying ‘Hi’, and delivering groceries to somebody in your neighborhood who is not able to get out and go to the grocery store. Because we’re so busy, we don’t have time to think about the basic human kindness aspect. It’s time to start rethinking it. It’s time to start rethinking about how we interact with our neighbors.”
Dina Nina Martinez-Rutherford is hoping that the message of kindness and human respect will compel people to get active and engaged with how they can shape their communities and neighborhoods in Madison. To find out more about Martinez-Rutherford and her campaign for alder, check out her website here.
Primary elections are Tuesday, Feb. 21, and general elections are April 4.