In late October 2017, as Donald Trump made his way to his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, he passed a cyclist who raised her middle finger to the president’s motorcade in an act of defiance. Juli Briskman lost her job with a government contractor for flipping Trump the bird, but she gained a new purpose. Briskman threw herself into politics after getting fired, and on Tuesday, she was elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. She spoke to Intelligencer Wednesday about why she gave Trump the finger and how she turned a viral moment into an opportunity to make real change.
Let’s go back to 2017. Why did you flip off President Trump?
I wasn’t happy with how things were going in the country. Everything bad we thought would happen was happening, and I decided to express how I felt.
I was frustrated over stripping funding from advertising for Obamacare open enrollment. I was frustrated with how he was handling the Puerto Rico hurricane. I was frustrated with the Charlottesville situation. I didn’t appreciate his agenda and I still don’t.
How did you end up losing your job over this?
I tried to do the right thing and I went into work and said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen this picture, but it’s me.” The HR women basically said, “You’re free to do what you want on your own time.” So I thought everything was fine. But I went in the next day and was fired because “they cannot have someone like me on staff.” They’re a federal contractor.
What effect did getting fired have on you?
It inspired me to get involved. The first thing I did when I got home, literally that night, was sign up to work the polls in Virginia. There were statewide elections going on the next week.
I was asked to run but I wasn’t sure, so I got more involved with the Democratic Party. I helped Jennifer Wexton’s campaign knock on doors, and make phone calls to see if it was something I liked doing, if I felt like we were going to make a difference. We made a huge difference, getting Jennifer Wexton elected. And in the midst of that, I said, Yeah, I’m going to run for office.
There was an eight-year Trump-supporting incumbent in this seat so it was the perfect storm. If there was a strong Democrat in this seat, I wouldn’t have run. But it was just the perfect opportunity to make a difference. So I decided to go for it.
What were the important issues in your campaign?
Funding for schools, definitely. Unmet housing needs and affordability. Development in the county. Since I’ve lived here, we’ve grown from 90,000 people to 400,000 people and it was all done without a plan.
Women is a big issue here in Virginia because we want to see the Equal Rights Amendment ratified. In my district, 70 percent of women are part of the labor force, so it’s my strong belief that they deserve equal pay for equal work, affordable child care, affordable health care. And the environment. We have a board of supervisors that didn’t sign on to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and we have an energy plan that hasn’t been updated in ten years. We also have some gun issues in our county that we have to deal with.
Do you think the viral photo helped you win?
Sure. I wouldn’t have gotten so involved if it didn’t happen, but we didn’t talk a lot about it at the doors. People sometimes recognized me. If they started talking about the Trump administration I’d tell them I’m the woman who got fired when that photo went viral. And they were like, “Oh yeah. That’s you.”
But I’ve lived here for 20 years. People know me from PTA, room mom, scout mom, co-founder of the running club. I already had a profile. I think given the climate in the country, it probably helped because they saw someone who had values that matched their values and those aren’t Trump values.
Can you think of anyone else you’ve flipped off?
Nobody famous. In my family we jokingly would do it when playing Monopoly. I actually don’t do it when I’m driving because I’m afraid somebody will have a gun. I’m normally pretty subdued, but he brought it out in me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.