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.

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!

Be Angry. Be gentle. Fight with Love!

I had the privilege of attending the #WeAreBrave: Women of Color and Reproductive Justice Workshop at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference (#NYFLC2014) today.

Women of color face disparities that are unique and different from those of other members of the women’s movement. This discussion explored the specific ways in which approaching the intersection of being a woman of color and working in the field of reproductive justice.

Main points addressed:
– Accepting anger that results from injustice as valid.
– Being gentle with those who may not be as inclusive so that they will be more receptive to changing.
– Fighting as necessary for progress.
– Loving as vital, as one of the most important ways to approach those who have room to grow in our movement (everyone).

Moderator:
Edwith Theogene

Panelists:
Samantha Griffin
Shivana Jorawar
Donya Nasser
Amber Phillips

When we talk about RJ, why do we need to focus on the intersection of being a Woman of Color and Reproductive Justice?

Samantha have a brief history of the terms “reproductive justice” and “intersectionality” and the fact that they were created by women of color who began claiming their space in the women’s movement. She made t clear that we must not “allow ourselves to be an afterthought of solidarity”. Amber echoed her thoughts when she said: “I can’t hae a conversation about feminism, without addressing I’m a black woman, or that I grew up poor, because we don’t exist in boxes.” Shivana adds another dimension to the conversation from her perspective as a program director at the National Asian Pacific American Women Forum by discussing the intersection of being a model minority and being excluded from conversations about women of color. Evexplains that “the model minority myth and stereotype and the percieve smallness of our community makes us invisible” and that that makes it vital to discuss our community’s involvement in the reproductive justice movement.

What does bravery in our movement mean?

“Flying in the face of stereotypes” and taking your place [in the conversation of reproductive justice]. -Shivana

“Standing up and saying ‘I matter’ whether I wear a hijab or not” [on standing up for middle eastern women and Muslim women in the face of patriarchal and sometimes, islamophobic people]

“Bravery is talking about things that people are tired of hearing”, it’s important to remember that “the issues for the least of us, whether it’s black women or trans women, is that we can’t start at the basic level of rights”. With these words, Samantha emphasized being brave, ambitious and persistent in our activism.

Advice for Campus Activists

“Find allies” and always remember “our struggles are different, but we all struggle” was the advice of Danya, a student at St. John’s University.

Amber Phillips, who works for Advocates for Youth had an array of advice:
“Apply to leadership development programs”
“Make yor space. Say what needs to be said, even if it’s unpopular.”
“Critique what you love, be critical of yourself, make sure to be inclusive and work on your inclusivity.”

Again, Samantha inspired ambitious activism with the following words:
“Push for what you think you deserve”
“it’s okay to be an agitator”
“Believe you can be the next thig, and bring it!”

Shivana emphasized the need to “call people in, not out” which changed the conversation in the room. Her point about making your feminism inclusive, was that in order to create solidarity among sister in the struggle and all others involved in the reproductive justice movement, was to call people to the cause not call people out for their stigmatizing words and behaviors.

Those words led to a discussion about not assuming people will or will not be supportive of your cause, and the need to acknowledge our allies within the movement, our religious allies, our male allies, allies across generational gaps.