Former debater Zoey Salsbury grabs national spotlight

By Aria Garrett, Copy Editor


Armed with cardboard signs and a fiery spirit, Zoey Salsbury attended her first march around the state capitol to protest education funding with her father. She was all of six years old. That spirit of service and activism never left her, and more recently Salsbury has been recognized nationally for her nonprofit work and actions against the American Health Care Act (ACHA).


A former VHS student, now studying as a junior at American University, Salsbury is majoring in public relations and strategic communications and minoring in political science. She currently works as a production assistant at a political digital strategy firm called New Blue Interactive.


She was an avid debater in high school, and she believes that it is one of the reasons she ended up doing what she’s doing.


“That’s part of why I ended up in D.C. for school,” Salsbury said. “That’s why I got involved in politics. That’s why I have my job now, and so it was a huge influence for me … not just by realizing I like getting involved in politics, but also because the community of debate was so supportive of academia.”


Another large influence on Salsbury’s life was her involvement in Girl Scouts, where she still holds a lifetime membership. It was there that she first started volunteering at local food banks — something that she has continued to do throughout college.


Salsbury volunteers at the nonprofit MEANS Database as their communications director. Database functions as a food-rescue platform, connecting locations that have overproduced food, such as restaurants and grocery stores, to nearby food banks.


“No one should be hungry in the United States, especially when we make enough to feed everyone, but it’s just not distributed properly,” Salsbury said.


In 2016, Salsbury received the Gold Award from then-President Obama after being nominated by Database for completing over 250 service hours that year.


“It was just a real honor,” Salsbury said. “You get a letter from the president … so I cried a little bit. But … I started working for them not because I expected any recognition for it. I started working for them, and I’m still working for them, because … I think that it is still something that is a really important issue for our society to tackle.”


Salsbury has also recently extended her volunteerism to activist work. On May 4, during her finals week, she created the website in response to the ACHA passing the House.


“Watching [the possibility develop that] … states would be allowed to charge people, like myself and like my friends, with pre-existing conditions whatever they want was like watching them send us off to death,” Salsbury said, “because they wanted to cut taxes for the wealthy, and they were more worried about the tax cuts from that bill than they were about their constituents’ lives.”


“I have been pretty vocal about the fact that I’ve had depression and anxiety … which are pre-existing conditions. I take medicine for both of those, which is expensive, and then also, since I’ve started college … I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain disorder — not inherently deadly by itself, but if you have depression along with chronic pain, it can be pretty miserable. I had to get a diagnosis, [and] I’ve had MRIs, so my health care is incredibly expensive.”


Should this health-care bill pass, the website would send out information to help those signed up mail their ashes to Republican leaders if they die as a result. It went viral so quickly that the website initially crashed.


Salsbury further plans to give information about meeting senators, townhalls and other activist opportunities in the hopes that the bill can be blocked from passage. The website is also used to help people share personal stories to explain why the proposed bill endangers them. This optional feature has accumulated over 1,000 posts.


“Those are hard stories to read,” Salsbury said. “They touch you, and they make you cry a little bit sometimes, but those are important stories to hear because it’s easy when you talk about something like health care … to get caught up in the bureaucracy of all that and forget that these people are your neighbors or your classmates.” quickly gained coverage on the Huffington Post, Washington Post, Blaze and many other news organizations and blogs, thrusting Salsbury into the public eye. Due to the contentions nature of health care, she found herself facing both a lot of support and a lot of backlash — the worst of which had very little to do with her website at all.


“When it really went to heck was when I did a video interview with NowThis,” Salsbury said. “They could see my face, they could see my body, and they could tell that I was fat. Everybody when you’re fat seems to have a personal opinion about how you should fix your health — none of them had read any of the stories that talked about how the conditions that I have are not caused by weight.”


“They can have different opinions about how to fix the health-care system, but it sucks when random people are just attacking you for how you look and not on the merits of your argument,” Salsbury said. “I’ve had amazing friends who have stood up for me, and that’s helping me get through [it]. … But, you know, I figure if neo-Nazis are mad at you, then you’re doing something right.”


Salsbury hopes her website will inspire other youth to share their views and concerns about how policies will affect them.


“It’s easy with politics for stuff to feel impersonal,” Salsbury said. “[But] if you tell your story, and you tell your truth, then you can make a huge difference.”   

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