My name is Regina, and I am currently a student living on American University’s main campus. I serve constituents living in seven residence halls as the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for Single-member District 07 in DC’s Ward 3.
This past November, after the incumbent decided not to, I ran and won my seat. Rory, the incumbent, invited any and all questions I had about being a commissioner, and what running entailed, which helped demystify the process. My race was uncontested, and in January I was sworn into office on the same day as the mayor, shadow representatives, and council members. Standing on that stage (and smiling at my mom, who was taking pictures “honor-roll” style) is one of my proudest moments.
My campaign was unimpressive. I spent a grand total of $58 on campaign materials, which covered printing fliers at Staples. I spent about 30 hours handing out flyers, calling friends registered to vote in DC, explaining to others that DC allows same-day voter registration, and standing at voting sites telling people that I was a write-in candidate. A big part of campaigning for me was just explaining to students (who come from across the country) what an ANC does.
As someone who has volunteered on several campaigns, I know how unremarkable mine sounds in the post-Citizen’s United political climate. In my case, becoming a Commissioner was not difficult. Yet it felt terrifying to run, to announce it, and to call on my peers to vote for me. The fact that I had so many friends and mentors support me and campaign with me on Election Day made it easier. The truth is, it was a big deal.
The idea of announcing that I wanted to run for office felt arrogant. I was uncomfortable bringing it up or posting on social media; I felt I had to prove that I was qualified, was running for the right reasons, and knew exactly what holding office would entail. I met all the legal qualifications for running. I pored over information about the roles of ANCs and how they fit into the history of DC. I learned as much as possible about the office, the people already serving on the commission, and the commitments I would have to make if elected.
The reasons I wanted to run were a little harder for me to articulate. As someone passionate about studying identity politics and political representation, I wanted to run because of who I am. I wanted to run because I am a young, Latina student. People who share my identities are underrepresented in almost all forms of government across the United States. My ANC falls partly in the wealthiest ward of one of the most expensive places to live in the country. People of color, young people, and students are underrepresented at the local level in my neighborhood. I saw running as an opportunity to get involved in my community, to sit at the table with representatives from neighborhoods immediately adjacent to mine, and discuss issues that affect us all.
I could never speak on behalf of everyone who lives in my community, but I believe that as a Commissioner, I can represent the student perspective, often ignored by DC local government. Students come and go, and few register as voters in DC or make the city their permanent residence, but there are still more than 16 colleges and universities in the District. Their students often live, intern, work, spend money, babysit, park, and pay taxes, just like their non-student neighbors. The ANC seat I was running for was going to be left open unless someone ran. After asking around, I realized no one had made concrete plans to try for it. I decided to run because I saw it as stepping up to the responsibility and privilege of representing the interests of students like me, who have made homes for themselves in DC.
I also ran because I kept catching myself trying to find others to run for the seat so I wouldn’t have to. I ran because I have studied the effects of the gendered political ambition gap. I ran because as Girls Just Wanna Not Run points out, “young women are less likely than young men to think they will be qualified to run for office.” Asking people to vote for me was uncomfortable. Part of that was the fact that I didn’t have any prior experience, but I couldn’t ignore the gendered nature of my discomfort. I felt arrogant asking for the support of my friends, people who didn’t question my intentions and were excited for me. I felt I had to justify my desire to run even though I wasn’t being challenged.
It’s easy to understand that the way women are socialized works against them self-promoting (being confident asserting their expertise), getting involved in politics (a male-dominated field), and demanding credit for serving others (which women are expected to do). It was a hard lesson for me to see these forces play out in my own life, but serving in public office is rewarding, and there is great opportunity for Latinas to make a difference in government.