Year of the Woman

By Em Quiles

The inauguration of the 46th President of the United States was captivating. It was dressed with tones of healing and reconciliation. However, while Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. may have been sworn in as our new President, it was the women who really gave us hope for a brighter future. From Stacey Abrams to Kamala Harris; from Amanda Gorman and Dr. Jill Biden to Sonia Sotomayor, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. Women are undeniably the leaders and torch bearers of the times. 

As we move on from the Presidential election with a sense of purpose, we shift our focus to the elections that arguably have a greater impact on our everyday lives: Worcester Municipal Elections. 

First, let me briefly explain how we elect our local government. Worcester’s City Council is composed of eleven members. Five of those council members are elected by districts (one for each district), meaning you vote for the one who is running in the district in which you live in and in turn, they legislatively represent your district once elected. Another five are elected at-large, meaning no matter what part of Worcester you live in, you are able to vote to elect them, and they then collectively represent everyone throughout the City once elected. The eleventh council member is the Mayor, who is also an at-large councilor. So on election night, you vote for your District City Councilor, At-Large Councilors, and the Mayor, then we rinse and repeat every two years. Theoretically, this legislative body is supposed to keep our City Manager, Edward Augustus, Jr, in check, as well as the Chief of Police. 

Worcester School Committee, on the other hand, is elected solely by an at-large system, meaning anyone who lives in Worcester elects them and once elected they represent every single student in the Worcester Public Schools. Electing Worcester School Committee members by an at-large system has historically resulted in all-white committees elected to represent a school district that is majority Black and Brown children. A collective of activists and leadership groups have recently filed a lawsuit to challenge this system, but until that is resolved, we remain with this at-large election system. The School Committee is, in theory, supposed to hold the Superintendent in check.

Who is running?

As of the writing of this piece, six women and one non-binary candidate have already launched their campaigns; and not just any candidates. A serious pack of badass, educated, and fearless advocates have thrown their names into the ring hoping to snatch up seats in our elected government and serve the communities they care about, because when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Current newcomer candidates for various government seats include: Deb Hall, Dr. Shirley Diama Konneh, Etel Haxhiaj, Yenni Desroches, Johanna Hampton-Dance, Jermoh Kamara, and, Worcester’s first non-binary candidate, Thu Nguyen.

Deb Hall, Dr. Shirley Diama Konneh, and Thu Nguyen are running for City Council At-Large.

Deb is the Director of Domestic Violence Services at YWCA Central Massachusetts. She holds a Master’s Degree in Non-Profit Management from Worcester State University and Founded the Worcester Black History Project. She has been a leader in our communities for over thirty years. Dr. Konneh is the Assistant Director at the Center for Career Development at the College of the Holy Cross. She holds a PhD in Public Policy and a Master’s in Business Administration. Shirley is very active in the Kid’s Life ministry of her church and is a first generation immigrant. Although this piece is about women, we would be remiss not to acknowledge Thu Nguyen. Thu is a proud Vietnamese refugee, an artist, and youth worker. They hold a Bachelor’s of Arts in Studio Art and Sociology from Clark University and currently works at the Southeast Asian Coalition. During this pandemic, Thu was a vital part in building Mutual Aid Worcester, which has raised nearly $75k to support Worcester families.

Etel Haxhiaj (pronounced HA-Jee-eye, get it right) and Yenni Desroches are running for City Council District 5. One of the hot topic issues in District 5 is the discussion surrounding the eminent closure of Coes Pond. Etel ran for City Council At-Large in 2019 and was unable to secure enough votes to win, although it was very close. But if the 90s taught us anything, is that if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again, try again. And that’s what badasses do. Etel is the Public Education & Advocacy Director at Central MA Housing Alliance. She is an Albanian refugee and has been a fierce advocate to end homelessness, a bold advocate in support of the LGBTQ+ community, an environmental activist, and supportive of the Puerto Rican community in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Etel has also expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Yenni is a business owner and homeowner, which is an important perspective to have on the council, especially when the topic on the agenda is “do we raise taxes for business owners or homeowners?”

Johanna Hampton-Dance is challenging the current City Council member for District 2. Johanna has lived in Worcester her whole life and has dedicated a large part of that to activism and giving back to the community. During this whole pandemic, she has been working tirelessly by handing out food and PPE to families in need. A lifelong Worcester resident, she draws from her real life experiences, from racial disparities to dealing with increased cost of living, to be an advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. Who better to represent their community than someone who is actually in tune with the everyday people of that community as well as the challenges and triumphs they face on a regular basis.

Last but not least, Jermoh Kamara is also dusting herself off and trying again, running for School Committee after running in 2019 and not securing enough votes to win. Jermoh is from Liberia. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Health from New York Medical College and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. She was a student in the Worcester Public Schools and understands from experience why there needs to be a change in leadership at the top of our schools.

Women are winning this year and we must keep the momentum going by supporting those running in our local elections. You can get involved by liking their pages, donating money and volunteering to their campaigns. To find out more about what district you are in, if you are even registered to vote, and anything else voting related, be sure to check the Secretary of State’s website.