By Ambar Cristina Hanson, M.P.A., Chief External Relations Officer at Hiawatha Academies and a Steering Committee member of the Voices and Choices for Children Coalition.
Over the past several years, I have become more involved in local politics as a way to contribute to my community. Through my work in education, I have been privileged to focus on several issues and advocate for policies that are rooted in equity. Together with fellow leaders on the Voices and Choices for Children Coalition Steering Committee, we have created a policy agenda that is by and for communities of color and indigenous heritage that results in more equitable outcomes for our children. In spite of all of this work, like so many others, I jumped into the democratic process blindly (because policy and politics are related but not the same), but eager to learn and to do whatever it takes to make sure that some of the most prominent issues in my community were heard.
This year, I became a delegate for my district, county, and an alternate for the state. I have gone out door knocking, phone banking, and participated in several marches, protests, and rallies for causes I care about. It has been incredibly rewarding and eye-opening.
What I have learned: we have been leaning in and yet we are thinking too narrowly about how to influence candidates and participate in the political process. Here are just a few of my learnings which I share from a place of deep humility in the hopes that you don’t give up.
Reflections on the 2018 Election Cycle
During this election cycle the focus of many of our people of color and indigenous heritage communities (POCI) has been running for office or voting. This is wonderful, but we can do more. Here are a few things to consider:
- More than one person of color can run in the same race. This year POCI folks ran for a variety of offices, and many of them won. That’s great! Let’s not stop there. We have plenty of well-positioned leaders in our communities, and we should encourage more POCI folks to run and support their leadership in ways that uphold everyone’s humanity. Let’s not settle for a few token POCI representatives, but strive for true representation.
- Delegates have power. Delegates are elected during caucus for each political party to serve as a representative of the party. They are tasked with voting for the primary candidate for each party at the state convention ahead of the primary election where all voters participate. Candidates have to do whatever they can to earn the vote of a few people before even getting to the general public. They have more time to spend with delegates because winning these few individuals over is their first goal. Thus, as a delegate you have power to build relationships with candidates and shape their agendas, especially if you remain undecided about your choice until late in the process.
- Constituents have power. Make candidates work to earn your vote. Ask them to share their agenda and share yours. Demand their attention around issues you care about. They need to know what you care about and listen to you in order to win your vote.
Whether or not you got the outcomes you were hoping for in November, this is not the end. In fact, it is just the beginning. As we enter the new year and a new phase in the policy process, I encourage you to keep these ideas in mind.
- Pay attention to the legislative process beginning in January. The next legislative session will focus on our state’s budget. We have a long way to go before true equity and equality exist in this country, and we need to keep informed of legislation and how it impacts our children and our children’s families. We need to participate actively to ensure that we are holding elected officials accountable. Further, if you don’t demand that our government invests in improving outcomes for children of color and American Indians, this will have devastating consequences for ALL communities.
One way to ensure the policies you are supporting are beneficial to ALL children, especially those who have been historically underserved, is to evaluate the policy against the seven policy components in the Equity Index to help boost equitable early education outcomes. According to the Equity Index, elements of equitable public policy should:
- Prioritize the needs of low-income children, children of color and American Indian children
- Ensure services and programs are provided in a holistic and high quality manner
- Address the full needs of a family
- Invest in families and communities over time
- Allow for flexibility, portability
- Build on family and community assets
- Hold cultural relevance and specificity as central to how services are provided
- Our children need to be healthy, educated, and safe to build the Minnesota we all want to thrive in. So, don’t ignore the emails you receive asking you to call your legislators. Don’t ignore the headlines. Make it a point to let your legislators know you are holding them accountable to your community. Call them, visit them, email them. They should respond and if they don’t, they are usually counting the number of constituents contacting them on any particular issue.
- Don’t give up. I’m guilty of getting burned out. These seasons and cycles are exhausting and the needle on progress moves slowly. Please take care of yourself. Hide. Take a break. Check out briefly…and then lean back into the process. Our children are depending on your ability to advocate for them and their communities. This work is hard and it is necessary. We need you to be active, present, loud and proud. Do as much as you can with a great deal of focus and conviction. Remember you can do anything but you can’t do everything. Pick your issues, rally your community and keep going. Another world is possible.