WASHINGTON, D.C.—Young, elected women of color joined People For the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund for a July 11 Netroots Nation 2019 panel on overcoming racism and sexism while winning elected office.
“This is what winners look like,” PFAW National Political Director Lizet Ocampo said. “People For the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund helps young progressive candidates just like these win elections. They are in battleground states, in the south, in flippable seats, in red leaning districts and blue leaning districts, up and down the ballot, and they are winning because they are progressive and authentically themselves, and we need to all work together to help them win.”
Ocampo discussed with panelists the challenges faced by young women of color and how activists can help candidates win their first elections. Participants included:
- West Virginia Rep. Sammi Brown;
- Phoenix, Arizona School Board Member Elora Diaz;
- Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani; and
- Pennsylvania State Rep. Summer Lee.
“We’re not supposed to be here! People say, ‘We need someone who fits the district,’ and that’s never us,” Pennsylvania State Rep. Summer Lee said. “But we always seem to fit the vote! That’s a kind of racism we face–that coddles us and hugs us, but tell us we should do something else.”
“If you have a dream you should go for it,” Phoenix School Board Member Elora Diaz said. “My opponent had been on the board for 16 years. I was told that I needed to wait my turn. But what kind of example do I want to leave for my son? I want him to know, no matter what, you don’t quit.”
“It’s about telling your own story before other people tell it for you,” Florida State Rep. Anna Eskamani said. “It’s about taking up as much damn space as you want. It’s about trying to have empathy. If we lead with that, we can build some bridge while also holding one another accountable.”
“In general—no, the Democratic Party in West Virginia doesn’t look or sound like me,” West Virginia State Rep. Sammi Brown said. “A man that claimed to be their chosen candidate had sat directly across from me and told me that I wouldn’t raise the money he would, that I wouldn’t get the support he could, and that I should wait my turn— He said ‘he wasn’t ready to retire just yet.’
“But I was raised here,” Brown continued. “I know my community. And because I refused to back down? I’m here. And that gentleman? Never filed.”
About the Panelists
Lizet Ocampo, Political Director of People For the American Way (Moderator)
Lizet Ocampo serves as Political Director at People For the American Way where she leads work on federal, state, and local elections. Lizet has moderated panels with elected officials and provided political commentary in both English and Spanish. She has been cited as an expert in national publications ranging from The Hill to Latina Magazine, and has appeared on national broadcasts including Univision, Telemundo, and CNN en Espanol. Lizet is a proud daughter of Mexican immigrants.
Sammi Brown represents West Virginia State House District 65
After the 2017 tragedy in Charlottesville, Sammi Brown, age 33, attended a hearing in her hometown in West Virginian and testified in favor of removing a local Confederate plaque. She was met with hatred, and threats followed within the hour.
In 2018, Sammi ran for the state house in a district Trump won by 12 points. She beat the incumbent Republican— who was the chair of a SuperPAC called “Black Americans for the President’s Agenda;” an Organization that was condemned by the NAACP for racist political ads.
The flip – a 20 point gain – was deemed the largest comeback in a single cycle for a West Virginia race. She also outperformed Senator Joe Manchin in her district and is the youngest member in the West Virginia state legislature by at least a decade.
And that plaque? It came down— just a month after victory.
Elora Diaz, Phoenix Elementary School Board
Elora Diaz, age 28, was elected to the Phoenix Elementary Governing Board in 2018, unseating a long-time incumbent.
When Elora Diaz ran, there were no people of color serving on the board – in a district with 90% students of color and over 80% Latino students.
Elora was elected alongside another Latina woman – together they became the only people of color on the board and first people of color to serve on the board in several decades.
Diaz, a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of a single, teenage mom, ran her campaign while pregnant with her first child and gave birth two weeks before the election.
Anna Eskamani, Florida State House District 47
At just 27 years old, Anna Eskamani became the first Iranian-American elected to Florida state legislature, and the first Iranian-American woman elected to any state legislature in the country – by flipping a state house seat these past midterm elections.
Throughout what was noted as one of the most contentious legislative races in the state and maybe the country, Eskamani was repeatedly attacked with sexist tactics. In some cases, these tactics backfired leading one news outlet to say that the GOP was making Eskamani “look cool as hell.”
Summer Lee, Pennsylvania State House District 34
In 2018, Summer Lee became the first black woman elected to the State House from Western Pennsylvania.
Lee, age 31, made headlines when she primaried a Democrat for the seat.
This followed Lee’s successful leadership with 2017 write-in campaigns for Woodland Hills School Board after recognizing repeated acts of violence against students by administrators and police officers.
About Next Up
People For the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund helps young progressive candidates age 40 and under win races for state and local offices across the country. The goal of Next Up is to build a deep bench of progressive candidates well positioned to control state legislatures, win statewide and run for federal offices in the years and decades to come. We’re committed to winning the elections that will lead to progressive outcomes that reflect our true American values and the American Way.
About People For the American Way
People For the American Way Action Fund is a political organization connected to People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.