A group of female political activists have launched a new advocacy body to help elect women of color (WOC) to New York public offices.
‘Women of Color for Progress’ (WOC4Progress) is led by 10 women involved in city government and community politics. Among the founders are two WOC running for New York City Council: Carlina Rivera and Amanda Farias, and two WOC currently employed by City Hall: Cristina Gonzalez and Radhe Patel.
“Our main objective is to get more WOC engaged politically. Another is to get more WOC elected into political offices and the third is to create more transparency and inclusion in the political system, because the rules as they were created weren’t created with us in mind – actually they were created to keep certain people out,” says 33-year-old Gonzalez, who works in the Mayor’s Office of Appointments.
WOC4Progress grew out of conversations among the founders prior to last year’s presidential contest and gained momentum following Donald Trump’s election.
“November happened and we realized we had to launch now because we saw a lot of people were creating these groups – which was great – but we also saw a lot of these spaces become dominated by a specific type of person with a specific point of view,” says Gonzalez.
“If we were to bring change to the political system the people leading these conversations had to be people that were most subjected to oppression and violence. To us it felt logical that it needed to come from women of color,” she adds.
The group aims to provide engaged women of color with the education and training to challenge for political office and win. But WOC4Progress wants to be more than just another campaigning organisation. It also wants to work with those in office to craft legislation and change procedures that will tear down barriers preventing more WOC from entering public service.
“You can’t change it by saying “if only it were this way”- part of it is understanding how it is this way, why it is this way, how you get in it, manipulate that power and change it structurally from the inside,” says Gonzalez.
The founders say it isn’t enough to simply campaign on issues affecting all women, or those in poverty, as there are types of oppression unique to Latina women, African-American women, and Asian-American women, that cannot be addressed through catch-all programs. Electing WOC to prominent offices throughout city government will ensure these communities have trusted champions to stand up for their issues, they say. The founders also hope to subvert the archetype of a leader, and normalize the emplacement of women of color in these roles.
“Putting WOC in charge of these initiative gives you two benefits. Not only do we need optics and marketing, but then also on a programmatic level, they just know how to reach people that white women don’t. For example they know sometimes domestic violence is not just domestic violence: there is a culture of machismo in certain communities you have to fight at the same time, there are gang histories that feed into that – no program plan or project management tool is going to capture all that,” says Patel, a 24-year-old policy analyst for the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services.
The group will formally launch on March 21. It will then host a panel event on March 24 discussing the unique challenges facing women of color and later in the month a series of house parties – one in each borough – to allow those interested to learn how they can become engaged in the civic and political life of their communities.
“The hardest part is going to be addressing disillusionment and telling [women of color] that what we’re doing is different. We’re making sure we’re not going to tell them what to do, we’re going to let them be leaders within their own communities and lead their own movements,” says Gonzalez.
Photo Credit: Women of Color For Progress