That night, there was a special electricity in the air.
I felt the push of bony shoulders, similar to a crowded concert. In spite of such a packed house, there was a low murmur of anticipation as we waited for the final results to come in, ward by ward, one by one. While we gathered, I picked at my manicure as I exchanged eye contact with some fellow Town Committee members around the room. That Election Night, my city’s Democratic Headquarters was spilling over with what looked like 100 people.
I remember the faint smell of pizza and the noisy crackling of potato chip bags across the room. I also remember trying to gauge the results from our party chair’s face, and those of the members of our state legislative body who were hunched over in a distant room, door ajar, counting and counting. I was trying to read what wasn’t written yet.
It was like church on Christmas and Easter, when the room is full but more often than not has been pretty vacant throughout the year. Nonetheless, I stood proud and tall, no matter the outcome, surrounded by my group of trusty friends and local community leaders who committed months of fundraising, phone-calling and door-knocking to this race. Our party was up against an 18-year incumbent mayor, who has failed our overcrowded and underfunded schools, our crumbling roads and infrastructure, and a desolate downtown.
Present were union leaders, members of the Working Families Party, young candidates who ran for the very first time, and the strongest wave of Latino leadership in our city’s history. For many of us, this was a new experience, and for all of us, there was a lot at stake. That night, as I looked around, my perspective was changed forever.
This abundant and overflowing Democratic Headquarters looked completely different just two years ago during the last municipal election. Now, we had leaders from the larger Dominican, Brazilian and Ecuadorian communities run for City Council. We had diverse representation from other broad racial, LGBTQ and ability backgrounds push for more. We had young newcomers run for the Zoning Commission and the Board of Education. We had fierce mothers running at the top of the ticket for Town Clerk and Treasurer. This year’s “church” was at full capacity.
Our new slate of candidates looked exactly like the city I grew up in: the diverse, holistic cornerstone of all our communities.
And as our slogan rang loud, “Change is here. Change is now,” I knew that couldn’t be any truer. Even though our mayoral candidate may not have pulled through, the rest of our ticket surely did. As I stood side-by-side with my fellow young people, my working moms, my union representatives, and my state senators and representatives, I felt our unity and strength permeate the room. Somewhere along the way, we had become a family.
So why should you bother getting involved in your local political space? Well, I’ll tell you why it’s so important to me. I am now an informed voter of the issues impacting our city on a local level. I now think independently and ask critical and necessary questions to our local leadership. I’ve also come to learn about our state-level issues, have personally met my U.S. Congresswoman, Attorney General, my State, and U.S. Senators and the Lieutenant Governor on several occasions. I’ve made countless lifelong friends who, when I asked them to consider running for the first time, took the leap and actually did, winning with flying colors. I’ve met brave parents who’ve recently lost children to the opioid crisis and still hold it together while bringing themselves to run for office.
I’ve met passionate restaurant owners, community center directors, gun safety advocates and non-profit organization members along the way, and we all share one thing in common: we have a say in the decisions made for our city and want to fairly represent all our communities. We love where we live and want to see everyone succeed. I’ve built relationships with so many special people during this time.
And we are the new generation of our city’s leadership.
Why bother involving yourself in the local community? It can be asked best in the words of notorious minimalist poet Rupi Kaur, “What can I do to make this mountain taller so that the [women] after me can see farther?”
So everyone after us, can see farther.
Featured Artwork: Francesco Ciccolella