It’s been a couple of months since I made the decision to run for a seat on my city’s Charter Commission, and I have to say that for all the talk in recent years of asking women to run for office—and specifically Black women and other women of color—there is so much that isn’t spoken about. And, frankly, it’s disconcerting.
Make no mistake, I am committed to the race. But it’s a lot. I have three opponents for the seat that I am running for, which means that until election day, I am working a couple full-time jobs as well as parenting and surviving in an ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, I have a small but dedicated team of folks assisting me with the campaign, all of whom are far more knowledgeable than I on the mechanics of running campaigns and “get out the vote” efforts.
That said, there are certain things that my team, which is all white, couldn’t tell me or wouldn’t have thought to. So, I recently found myself in several conversations with women of color who hold political office. I wanted to know if there were things that I needed to specifically be aware of as a Black woman. Not surprisingly, personal safety is the number one thing that came up.
And here in Maine, from the moment you file your nominating papers to run for office, your home address and phone number are publicly available.
I am not going to lie: Between my legal name needing to be on the ballot, along with my home address and phone number being made public, I almost didn’t run. The downside of being an anti-racism writer and speaker is that threats have been a staple in my life for years. So the idea of having all my personal details—which often provide a barrier between me the person and me the writer—was hard to digest. But change requires sacrifice. My sacrifice includes making it easier for unhinged racists to reach out to me. Yay me! All jokes aside. I already know of one candidate in this race, a fellow person of color, who has received harassing calls.
Though the biggest piece of advice I received from a politician, who is a woman of color, is that if at all possible, don’t go door canvassing alone. And if I do, she gave me safety tips—which for my continued safety I won’t share.
Comprehensive ground operations and meeting people to talk with them on the issues is often how races are won, and yet for non-white people, knocking on random doors is inherently risky. Especially trying to win a small local race, where a ground game is what I will need to win—especially given the competition that I have.
Yet as a Black person born and raised in Chicago, and over the age of 40, the idea of knocking on random doors while Black feels like a sequel to Get Out, if I am keeping it real. That said, it’s what’s required, and I will do it, But the process of running for a local municipal office has given me a lot to think about when we talk about how to achieve representation in elected positions.
The very process of what’s required to run for office feels skewed toward a certain demographic. In most cases, campaigns require time, which is a resource that excludes many people in general, and often people of color in particular. We won’t even be launching my ground game until next week, and I can say that this campaign is taking up time. It’s not a “we will work on it on the weekends” deal; it’s now fitting in meetings and calls around my day job at Community Change Inc and running BGIM Media, while making sure that my school-averse teenager hasn’t fallen back to sleep during a Zoom class.
That said, I have an active and equal co-parent, and the teen will soon be heading to her dad’s for the usual parental rotation schedule. Which means I will get a moment to catch my breath and focus on my jobs and campaign without having to be a mom nag. But what about a single parent who doesn’t have a job allowing them the autonomy to work on their own? Or a co-parent to give them a break? My guess is that a single parent is closest to knowing how to solve many of our issues, but the current structure excludes most of them.
Over the years, I have had many people suggest that I run for office. But now that I am doing it, I can say that we need to be cautious in what we suggest others do, and instead look at what we can do—and if we are offering suggestions for others to take on additional work, are we prepared to assist them?
While there are groups such as Emerge that help prepare women to run for office, I do hope they are tackling issues of equity in who can run and preparing a diverse range of women to run—and including the social and emotional aspects of choosing to run for office.
Running for office is an all-consuming endeavor and if we are committed to racial justice, we might want to address the very inequities embedded in how our candidates end up becoming our elected officials. All the inequitable systems are connected and I can assure you that just like other areas of life, the non-white candidates are probably working twice as hard to be taken seriously.
As for me, feel free to learn more about my campaign, or if you feel moved, now would be a great time to financially support BGIM Media—particularly since I am bringing on someone to help me out, given that the current level of help that I have on the back end is no longer enough. Because, y’know, I would like to emerge from the campaign season without suffering from daily panic attacks.
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