Latinas Takeover Tuesday Elections

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As the 2016 presidential campaign season ramps up, there’s a lot of talk about the “Latino vote” and the Latinas behind the 2016 presidential candidates. This relatively new focus on the Latino vote – together with the inclusion of Latinos in campaigns – is a promising sign that Latinos will be taken into account when public policy is shaped. However, Latinas are already making history as candidates in their own right. In fact, Latinas have won seats across the country, and many made history on Tuesday. Even more, many of these Latinas were advocates and champions for their communities even before they decided to run.

Take Judith García for example. At the age of 24, she serves as a bilingual counselor at Health Care for All, where she advocates for members of her community to gain access to health care services. She also volunteers in several capacities to improve housing and living conditions, sustainable waste disposal, and educational success in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where she was born and raised. García was elected to represent her community as a Chelsea City Councilor for District 5.

In Colorado, Jordan Sauers joined Judith in becoming an elected Latina Millennial. Jordan however, made history by becoming the first Latina to hold her seat. No stranger to forging a path where there isn’t yet one, she is a founding board member of Latino Young Philanthropists and ACCESSO. When interviewed by LatinasRepresent about why she chose to run, Sauers was quoted saying, “I understood if I wanted things to change, I had to do them myself.” Now that she has been elected to Northglenn’s City Council to represent Ward 1, she will be able to do just that.

Lorena González also made history when she was elected to Seattle’s City Council Position 9. As a candidate, she has built her platform around affordable housing and social inequality, grounded in her past experience with these issues – and there’s a lot of it. In fact, González has been recognized by several national organizations for her work with civil rights law. During her time as legal counsel for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, she has also helped draft legislation to overcome institutional inequality. This includes helping to introduce and pass a paid parental leave policy for city employees. There is no doubt that her commitment to upholding civil rights and fighting injustice will serve her well in her new role.

In Yakima, Washington, two Latinas have made history as well in a different way. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union won a case against the City of Yakima because of the suppression of the Latino vote in City Council races. This case, involving the Voting Rights Act, changed the Yakima City Council districts. In the wake of this re-districting, Dulce Gutierrez and Avina Gutierrez ran and won seats on the Yakima City Council. They became the first Latinas elected to Yakima’s City Council – simultaneously. Dulce, only 26 years old, was elected to represent Yakima City Council, District 1. She was raised in Yakima and chose to return home after attending college at the University of Washington. She works at a local business, and has served as State Committeewoman for Yakima County. Avina will represent Yakima City Council, District 2. At the age of 35, Avina runs her own consulting firm, joining the growing ranks of Latina entrepreneurs. On the council, she hopes to improve Yakima’s infrastructure and strengthen neighborhood associations to improve overall public safety.

What do these women have in common? They are all a part of a movement of Latinas getting involved in politics. Moreover, most of these women are the first Latinas to serve in the positions to which they were elected. And consider this: Latinas currently hold a mere 1.7% of the total seats in state legislatures and 1.2% of the total seats in Congress – despite the fact that Latinos make up 17% of the total population. This means that there are 9 Latinas in the 114th Congress, all of which are in the House of Representatives, since the United States has yet to elect a Latina to the Senate. This is not surprising, considering the first Latina congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was first elected in 1989. But as Judith, Jordan, Lorena, Dulce, and Avina have proven, lack of precedent won’t stop Latinas from running for office.

Interview with: Tara Dowdell

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At Georgetown’s OWN IT Summit, I attended a panel on Women in Politics. It was at this panel, that I first heard Tara Dowdell speaking about her passion for leveraging politics to make the world a better place. Tara is the President and Founder of her own marketing and strategic consulting firm- the Tara Dowdell Group. Besides being a young entrepreneur, she has extensive experience in different political arenas. Tara was the first African American, and youngest person to serve as the Director of Appointments in the Office of the New Jersey Governor. She has held senior positions on campaigns at the federal, state and local levels as well as worked on issue-specific advocacy. When she was asked about her recipe for success at the panel, she emphasized work ethic, passion and the cultivating of genuine relationships. Her work ethic has allowed her to forge a path for herself, which she uses to help those who come behind her. After being incredibly inspired by Tara’s story, confidence and humility I asked her about her approach to politics, and her reasons for pursuing it. Here are some of her responses:

What got you interested in politics? 

I was one of those who was interested in politics since I was a child. I was class representative in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 12th grades. It sounds like a bad cliché, but I was drawn to it, and drawn to leadership. At the same time as I was interested in school politics, I would even watch the president’s State of the Union Addresses. I think what prompted that interest was that I had this idea that I could use policy to influence the world and my community. When I was a kid, the people I saw in politics were definitely not diverse, I didn’t see people like me in office. Instead, I think I was drawn to the idea that through politics, I could make things better for people.

How does your story, and who you are, inform your involvement in politics?

Both of my parents were teachers in economically disadvantaged areas. My parents are very civic minded and committed to their students and communities they taught. I think I learned to want to give back from them. I also, recognize that I have been very blessed. My parents will give you the shirt off their back, they are incredibly supportive and have always given me the freedom to do what I wanted to do and take risks. My parents really let me chart my own course, some people aren’t given that freedom, and I understand it’s a luxury. My mother went to college, and she was constantly looking for more and more opportunities to provide me with. I’m also blessed to have an extended family that was there for me whenever I was in anything. It was like having my own little entourage there to support me. They were there to make sure I wouldn’t fail. Although I charted my own course, I knew I could fall back on them. A lot of people don’t have that. Because I am so blessed, I feel like it’s my responsibility to try and reach back and give to other people.

What issue(s) are you currently focusing on?

Lately, I have become really passionate about access to capital for women and minority women. When people look at the high unemployment rates in Latino and African American communities, they come up with a lot of possible reasons. I think that the truth is that people hire people who look like them most of the time. I think it’s important to increase access to jobs, and access to capital for those people and communities. Our networks are segregated. It’s one of those things people want to pretend doesn’t exist. There’s also something to be said about the fact that when women entrepreneurs are given capital, they do better than their male counterparts. It’s even harder for minority women to get capital and minority men have a hard time as well. Currently, there is a focus on employment disparity in tech but not about investors and the closeness of their networks. It might not be a conscious thing, but it’s so much harder for minority women to access capital because the ones with it don’t look like them. This keeps entrepreneurs from being able to grow their businesses and create jobs for people who look like them, for people who live in their own communities- people in their networks.

Lastly, have you considered running for office?

When I was a really really young staffer, I definitely wanted to run. That was a big part of my participation. As I got more involved however, I saw how cut-throat it can be. I wanna have more money and be in a better place in my life before I run for office. I think that’s something women do more than men, but I just want to have to ask less people for money. Most people want something if they give you money, it is a corrupting part of the system. Some people want something that dovetails with something that is right, and some people do not. I will wait until I’m older, have more money, and have developed more influence on my own. I’m a big democrat, but the way the party system works, the party picks people. If you have influence, you will get picked, or you can run without that anointment from the party. The truth is, my business is marketing. For me to run, my business would be hit because people would go after it. It’s funny that you added a question about running, though. I live in Jersey City, New Jersey and it has really been blossoming and flourishing. Recently, a paper asked a woman I know, who is also in marketing, who she thought could be the female Mayor of Jersey City if they ran in the next election. She said that she thought I could be Mayor. I will not be running in 2 years, but I am so flattered. It makes me feel good, and it’s good to know that people recognize that if I run, it would not be out of vanity. It would be because I would think I can really improve things for people.

True Life: I ran for office because I’m a young Latina

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Me, with some of the women who inspired and supported me to go through with the campaign! I am so grateful for their support and the fact that they came out on Election Day!

My name is Regina and I am currently a student, living on American University’s main campus. This campus is in Ward 3 of the District of Columbia, and is represented by Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 3D. This past November, I ran and became the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for ANC 3D single-member district (SMD) 07. As Commissioner of ANC 3D 07 I represent constituents that live in Anderson, Centennial, Hughes, Cassell, Leonard, McDowell and (part of) Letts Halls on American University’s campus. In order to run, I had to file as a write-in candidate at the Board of Elections. Rory, who was the incumbent was graduating, and decided not to run. In fact, he invited any and all questions I had about being a commissioner, and what running entailed. My race was uncontested, I just had to have enough votes for the Board of Elections to consider my election legitimate. It was, and I was sworn-in to office in January, on the same day that the Mayor, Shadow Representatives and Council Members were sworn in. Standing on stage, being sworn in, and smiling at my mom who was taking pictures honor-roll style has been one of my proudest moments.

My campaign was unimpressive. I spent a grand total of $58 on campaign materials, which covered printing fliers at Staples. I spent about 30 hours handing out flyers, calling my friends which were registered to vote in DC, explaining that DC allows same-day voter’s registration to those interested, and standing at the voting sites explaining that I was running as a write-in candidate. A big part of campaigning, in my case, was explaining to students (who come from across the country), what an ANC was. As someone who has volunteered on several campaigns, I know how unremarkable my campaign sounds in the post Citizen’s United political climate. In my case, becoming a Commissioner was not difficult. Yet, it felt terrifying to decide to run, announce it, and call on my peers to vote for me. The fact that I had so many friends and mentors support me and campaign with me on election day made it easier. The truth is, it was a BIG DEAL.

The idea of announcing that I wanted to run for office, even one with a primarily advisory role, felt arrogant. It was uncomfortable for me to bring it up, or post it on social media without feeling like I had to prove that I was qualified, was running for the right reasons and knew exactly what holding the office would entail. The truth is, I met all the legal qualifications for running. I tried to learn as much as possible about the roles of ANCs and how they fit into the history of DC. I learned as much as possible about the office, the people serving on the commission and the commitments I would have to make if elected. The reasons why I wanted to run were a little harder for me to articulate. As someone who likes to study identity politics and the politics of representation, I wanted to run, because of who I am. I wanted to run because I am a young, Latina, student. People who share my identities are underrepresented in almost all forms of government across the United States. My ANC is part in the wealthiest ward, in one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. People of color, young people, and students are underrepresented at a local level, in MY neighborhood. I saw running as an opportunity to get involved in my community, to sit at the table with representatives from neighborhoods immediately adjacent to mine, and discuss issues that affect us all. I could never speak on behalf of everyone who lives in my SMD, but I believe that as a Commissioner, I am able to represent the student perspective which often gets ignored by DC local government. Students come and go, few register as voters in DC or make DC their place of permanent residence. However, there are over 16 colleges and universities in DC and many students reside in the district. Students often live, intern, work, spend money, babysit, park and pay taxes in the District just like non-student neighbors. The ANC seat I was running for was going to be left open, unless someone ran. After asking around to see if anyone had made arrangements to run, I realized no one had made concrete plans to. I decided to run, because I saw it as stepping up to the responsibility and privilege of representing the interests of students like me, who have made homes for themselves in DC.

On a more personal level, I ran because I kept catching myself trying to find others to run for the seat so I wouldn’t feel the need to. I ran because I have studied the effects of the gendered political ambition gap. I ran because as Girls Just Wanna Not Run points out, “young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office”. Asking people to vote for me was uncomfortable. I know that part of that was the fact that I did not have experience asking people to vote for me, but I couldn’t ignore the gendered nature of that discomfort. I felt arrogant asking for the support of people who knew me, didn’t question my intentions and were excited for me. I felt like I had to justify my desire to run even though I was not being challenged. On a cognitive level, it is easy to understand that the way women are socialized works against them being self-promoting (being confident asserting their expertise), getting involved in politics (which is male dominated) and demanding credit for serving others (which women are expected to do). It was harder for me to understand how these forces played out in my own life, despite the fact that I could understand them abstractly.

Girls Run DC Scholarship Fund: A project for representation!

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Hello everyone,

I just wanted to introduce a new project I am working on! As some of you may know, last semester was an eventful one! Last semester, I interned on the Hill, interned at Running Start (a non-profit that trains young women to run for office) and was elected as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. All of which was happening as I started researching gender dynamics in politics for a paper I am still working on. More than anything, I developed a passion for politics, particularly the politics of representation.

This includes thinking about who is being represented by our governing bodies, who is not, and what can be done to ensure that our democracy is as representative of “we the people” as possible. Studying and thinking about the politics of representation made me particularly interested in the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that serve DC residents. Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are designed to help DC residents’ access public services and advise city officials and agencies on how to best serve their neighborhoods. The hyperlocal nature of these commissions make DC government more accountable to constituents and representative of them. In order to learn more about commissions, I suggest reading District Wire’s article: Get to Know DC government: Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.

Learning more about ANCs, paired well with my belief that women can and should hold elective office in order to advocate for their own needs, along with the needs of their respective communities. That is why, as part of my current project, I will continue to blog about the politics of representation, focusing on women of color in politics. In addition to this, I will be working with Running Start, to create a scholarship. Running Start is the only organization that trains young women to run for office. Through trainings such as the Young Women’s Political Leadership program, Running Start aims at teaching young women on how to run so that they will do so at a younger age, building a pipeline for more women to follow. My goal is to fundraise $1,800 in order to pay for a young woman of color, planning to run for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat to attend the Young Women’s Political Leadership program. ANC’s provide great platforms for change by allowing elected officials to work alongside their communities to improve the wellbeing of their neighborhoods. This scholarship would help train a young woman to run for office, and would allow for about a year between the training and the election next ANC election cycle. Not only would donating to this scholarship be an investment in the scholarship recipient, but and investment in her local community as well.

Thanks,

Regina

In order to donate to the scholarship fund, click here!

The Importance of having Women, like Columbia, on Top!

The Statue of Freedom

Who is Freedom? Freedom is the statue of a woman who stands atop the U.S. Capitol building.

Why does it matter that she’s on top?

Freedom, who is prominently located in the heart of DC, is one of the few statues of women. In fact, according to “America Needs More Stone-faced Women,” less than 8% of public statues honor women! There are many statues in DC, but  few of them depict women!

According to Bill O’Leary’s “Gender inequality, in form:

9 out of the 100 statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection are of women.

Our nation’s Capitol, a symbol of American, democratic, values has a woman standing on top of it, but contains few other representations of women within it. The Statue of Freedom is a rendering of the Goddess of Columbia, which is usually seen as the personification of the United States of America. I am baffled at the fact that women are given that much symbolic significance, yet they are not equally represented in statue form, or in our legislative bodies.

As Barry Schwartz points out in his article “Iconography and Collective Memory: Lincoln’s Image in the American Mind.”  “Arguments about statues often turn out to be arguments about the past and its legacy.” Statues are made to commemorate prominent historical figures, so that they will be remembered and so that a collective memory of them will be established. The fact that we have so few commemorative statues of women in the Capitol makes me question a couple of things:

  • Were women throughout history just not relevant enough to commemorate?
  • Do the lack of statues depicting women of achievement add to the inequality women face today?

In response to the first bullet, here’s a crash course on influential American Women from US history, explaining that there is MUCH to be sculpted in honor of women:

It’s nothing new, but people in the U.S. are FINALLY starting to pay more attention to the fact that women are vastly underrepresented in American legislative bodies. As per the Center for American Women and  Politics, in their Women in the U.S. Congress Fact Sheet: “Women currently hold 99, or 18.5%, of the 535 seats in the 113th U.S. Congress.”

What do statues have to do with power and the amount of women in Congress?

EVERYTHING. Culture reflects what society values, if our Capitol building primarily reflects the value of men, and the accomplishments of men throughout history, it will be less welcoming of women leaders. Women have less power in the United States, and the lack of statues reflects that.  After all, the lack of statues speaks loud and clear:  the accomplishments of women aren’t as celebrated as the accomplishments of men.

We need to commemorate the women who have shaped America, so that more women will run for office, take their power and change it for the better!