On this episode
For far too long, women of color have been overlooked and underrepresented in U.S. politics. In this episode, we talk to two women fighting tirelessly to change that—for the 2020 election and beyond. First, you’ll hear from Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, about how she is building one of the country’s most influential political networks for women of color. Then, you’ll hear from Lorella Praeli, who leads the political advocacy group Community Change. Lorella first jumped into politics to fight for the rights of undocumented students like herself, and then mobilized the Latinx vote for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Both of these women are courageous leaders challenging the status quo to build a much fairer, more equal political system for all of us. Tune in and find out how you can, too.
More about our guests:
- Aimee Allison is founder and president of She the People, a national network elevating the voice and power of women of color. A democratic innovator and visionary, Aimee leads national efforts to build inclusive, multiracial coalitions led by women of color. In April 2019, she convened the first presidential forum for women of color, reaching a quarter of the American population.
- Lorella Praeli is the co-president of Community Change, a national organization focused on building the political power of those most marginalized by injustice, especially low-income people of color. She moved to the U.S. from Peru when she was 10 years old. Lorella started advocating for undocumented immigrants and other marginalized communities as a college activist, and ever since, she’s been fighting to expand the rights and raise the voices of people too often excluded or exploited by those in power.
Cast your vote by Nov. 3
Many of us have a chance to contribute to fighting for a fairer, stronger America in this election, by doing a simple and sacred thing: voting. If you can vote, make sure you cast your ballot by November 3rd.
Rachel Thomas (00:02):
Welcome to Tilted: A Lean In Podcast. Tilted brings you conversations at the intersection of gender and culture. We dig into topics we’re curious about, highlight people in stories that inspire us and we hope inspire you too, and share expert advice to help you make the playing field a little less tilted. I’m your host, Rachel Thomas, co-founder and CEO of Lean In.
Rachel Thomas (00:27):
For too long, women of color have been overlooked and underrepresented in U.S. politics. Today, we talk to two women fighting like hell to change that. First, I talk to Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, about how she’s building one of the country’s most influential political networks for women of color. Then, you’ll hear from movement builder Lorella Praeli, who jumped into politics to fight for the rights of undocumented students like herself, mobilize the Latinx vote on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and now leads the political advocacy group Community Change. Both of these women are courageous leaders challenging the status quo to build a more equal political system for all of us. Aimee, thank you so much for being here and for all that you’re doing to help elevate women of color in politics.
Thank you for having me on. I’m excited to be here.
Rachel Thomas (01:22):
Aimee, your journey as an activist began pretty early, all the way back in high school. Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how you got started?
Aimee Allison (01:31):
I went to high school in Antioch, California, which is about 45 minutes [east of] San Francisco. People think of California as this big blue area, but the truth of it is that the Antioch of my high school years and middle school years was overwhelmingly white [and] very, very conservative. You could think of it as a red community, where it was agricultural. I grew up in that. I wouldn’t say I had a sense of evolved social consciousness, but around high school I started recognizing that, myself as a biracial woman—half my family’s Black, half my family’s white—I never felt a sense of belonging, not once.
There was just a small handful of other Black students. Because I was in speech and debate, I’d learned about Black student unions, so I decided to start one on our campus. There were just five, maybe six students, and we read Martin Luther King and we went on outings and we started a Black student union and it exists to this day.
Aimee Allison (02:38):
Now, Antioch, because it’s considered an exurb, went from being a majority white community to a majority Black community. But the fact that we need a Black student union still to celebrate who we are, to create a sense of belonging, and to understand and practice racial justice, advocate for racial justice—that was my first, and I think very foundational, work in racial justice that I did. Even if I didn’t read all the things and know all the things, I knew that we had to come together for the things that we had in common. So, I’m really proud of that.
Rachel Thomas (03:14):
You should be. You were in the Armed Forces for years—I’ve watched your TED Talk on this; others should find it and watch it. You had an awakening while you were in the military and you actually went through the very arduous process of getting an honorable discharge. Could you walk us through that? I think that’s another form of activism, and an important one.
Aimee Allison (03:35):
I was recruited out of my high school at 17. At that time, I wanted to be a doctor, and the recruiter told me, “Hey, we have a great idea for you and your future. If you enlist in the Army Reserves, you sign a contract, become a 91 Alpha Combat medic, it’s going to be great practice for med school. I know you’re going off to college, but it’ll help you pay for college. It’s going to be great.” I did not think about what it was for me as a teenager to sign an eight-year contract. Those are formative years... you don’t know who you are.
There’s a reason... that age is such a transformative [period], because you get exposed to new ideas and new people. Listen, the training I went through and, more importantly, what I was taught to learn and unlearn, created both a secret and growing internal conflict. I mean, think of the things that we’re taught when we’re kids: work out your conflicts without violence, and if someone’s hurt or needs a hand, that’s what I was taught. Love your brother; love your sister. I was taught that in church, and yet the military training challenged the very core of me. But it’s not like I spoke up about it.
Aimee Allison (04:49):
I was a really good soldier. Despite the things I’d seen and heard, things as a really young woman, really a girl, things as a Black person, chance, just all of that, I really buried that deep inside and internalized that for me to do well, I needed to be quiet. So for me, I would be on Stanford campus at [student dormitories] Loro or Ujamaa. I was being exposed to Gandhi and Martin Luther King and W. E. B. Du Bois and the greats. I was reading, I was thinking, I was learning about Black feminism, I was learning about a history of non-violent activism.
At the same time, I would wake up at 3:30 AM every fourth Saturday, put on my battle dress fatigues that were green at the time and boots and jacket and dog tags, and I would slip out in the early morning hours and train. I think it all came to a head, me both learning who I was and what my values were, at the same time being in an institution whose inner workings... and goal was starting to create a deep conflict.
Aimee Allison (06:04):
People don’t understand because not a lot of people are in the military. About 2 percent of the American population has ever been in the military. They have an idea of who’s in the military. They have an idea—“Oh, thank you for your service,” or [they] put yellow ribbons on trees, which was popular a few decades ago—about who military people are. But in my unit of 200 women, a third were Black. In my unit, most of the people of different races were from poor families, poor neighborhoods.
And there were people like me. I’m one of six kids; there was no money for college. I wanted to put myself through. I was told that this is my way to have a choice in life, to have an education. So, I didn’t want to say anything until… my unit was being deployed to the Persian Gulf, [then] I had to make a decision. The decision was, “Hey, can I live with myself being part of this, or do I need to have the courage to speak my truth?” I was terrified.
Because people don’t understand about the military, they don’t know that we have regulations and the uniform code of military justice that allow people who have volunteered to be in the military to follow a very arduous process, to prove to the chain of command that they’ve had a sincere change of heart based on moral, ethical, or religious views. It took four years, but I did it. The whole time I wore a uniform, but I was… as far as I know, maybe one of the first women of color to earn an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector.
What happened for me as a young woman was that I took a stand—I took a public stand for peace and justice, I spoke my truth out loud, and I got incredible support from the people in my own unit.
Rachel Thomas (08:04):
That’s a really moving story, and I can tell why it would be such a seminal moment for you. Where did you go next?
Aimee Allison (08:11):
I was a teacher for a few years. You know, most of my kids came under very difficult circumstances. Some of them had refugee status, some were undocumented, some came alone over the border, some were staying with families, some were working 40 hours a week, and those were my students. There was a statewide measure called 187 that people will remember all those years ago [that] attempted to strip public benefits like education from undocumented people. I started doing what I do, which is, “This is not going to happen to my students.” I started working with the students’ families. We were organizing. I had a “No on 187” poster. I was like, “I believe in your basic humanity. I believe this country should provide a good public school education to all of our kids. And I’m with you to show solidarity and to show support as a teacher.”
Of course, when you show that kind of courage, there [are] often consequences. In my case, the principal [and] the vice principal, they tried to fire me. As a young teacher, you don’t have a lot of power. That experience made me sure that I needed to take a stand for people, even if I wasn’t for other communities, and for people’s basic civil and human rights. From there, I left teaching shortly after that—I just didn’t have it in me to fight in that context. So, for a few years, I went into a number of corporate jobs and worked in tech until a friend of mine that was in the Marines called me one morning, years later. He said, “Aimee, did you read about your city councilperson? He just stepped down mid-term. There’s a special election. I think you should run.”
Aimee Allison (10:12):
Without a lot of practice and training, I ran for office. The wonderful and beautiful thing about that is for the next two years, I got entrenched in local politics and really set up a long trajectory of, even though I didn’t get that seat and I lost by a few hundred votes, I started talking about politics, I started working at KPFA Radio in the morning, I started being a political advisor, [and] I started working with women of color. Eventually, I found myself working with an old friend of mine from Stanford, Steve Phillips.
Together we started Democracy in Color, and that focused on national politics. I just have about a decade of working from local, state, federal, national [politics]. When I was president of Democracy in Color, that’s when 2016 happened. I had a podcast called Democracy in Color and my last guest before the election that year was Senator Cory Booker.
He, Steve, and I recorded this podcast that was like, this is going to be amazing, this is historic, but listening to it now is completely depressing because nobody… [not] the political parties, the people who analyze politics, journalists, donors, parties, no one predicted what has been the last four years. Because I had been working on elevating the political voice of people of color and focusing on how critically important it is to assemble a multiracial coalition on issues of racial justice, economic justice, and gender justice, I was very well-positioned, looking back, to think about the ways that we can have [the] most impact.
Rachel Thomas: (11:59)
What did you do next? Because it must’ve been a body blow, given all the work that you had done leading up to that election. And how does that take you into this big election that’s right in front of us?
Aimee Allison (12:10):
But it wasn’t a body blow in the same way. You have to understand, when you talk about party politics for a minute... what’s happened is bigger than political party. It’s bigger.
Rachel Thomas (12:21):
Aimee Allison (12:22):
Let me just talk about the Democrats for a moment. It was not widely acknowledged in 2016 that women of color were more likely to vote for a Democrat white woman than white women were. It wasn’t widely acknowledged that a woman of color is six times more likely to be a Democrat than a white guy, and that the majority of white women had been Republican and conservative for decades. There was a story that was being told about the women’s movement or what the women’s agenda was. And that myth contributed to practical mistakes, actual mistakes, that were made that led to Hillary Clinton’s loss.
There were a lot of factors, but I would say women, Black women in particular, were not spoken to [or] invested in; they were looked at as part of what they call a GOTV universe, like a “get out the vote” universe. So, you go to Black people, Black voters, the last four weeks before the election; you don’t have a real robust operation in a place like Michigan; you make some assumptions about younger people of color, Latinos, they’re not going to vote. You know, there’s no real thought about Asian-American men or women.
Aimee Allison (13:43):
Because of that blindness, it meant in a practical way that our issues are candidates that could have an all-white ticket. In 2016, when Tim Kaine was named as VP, it was an all-white ticket for a party that’s half people of color and a quarter Black. And Black women are the highest voter turnout group of any race and gender. None of that stuff was common knowledge, but at that time, I knew these things about Black and Brown women—but people who were running presidential campaigns didn’t seem to know that.
So, when we pulled the numbers about the amount that was being spent on outreach, staffing, ads, [and] on-the-ground voter engagement, for Black voters in particular, [it was] almost zero until August before the election. You know how crazy that is, that you would have a campaign to try to elect a woman president, a white woman president, without understanding that the very first woman to run in ’72 was Shirley Chisholm, a Black woman, that it was more likely for Hillary Clinton and a strategy to focus on that really deep and very interesting multiracial and Black-led feminism that could translate to political power—but that’s not what happened. Instead, a billion and a half dollars were raised and spent in 2016, and the vast majority went to wooing white conservative voters.
Aimee Allison (15:23):
I have spent the last four years changing the story, changing the political story. I said, “If these basic facts aren’t even known to white women who are telling a story... as political players, or these basic facts aren’t known to journalists and to donors and to political parties, then I can help tell the story.” And I know from the Women’s March, I went to D.C. in January, remember? Right after the inauguration, when Trump was inaugurated?
Rachel Thomas (12:22):
I do remember.
Aimee Allison (15:58):
I saw we Black and brown women were very distinct. There was a very, very distinct tradition that we were calling on. From that moment, we needed to be distinguished from a women’s movement. We’re women of color. And the story of women of color, from its very beginnings, it was always, it’s not a racial term, it’s a term of political solidarity born in Houston during the National Women’s Conference, where a group of Black women had their full-on justice agenda, [their] racial, economic, and gender justice agenda; they wanted to replace what was recommended as a minority women’s plank.
If you think about language, how powerful that is, from ’77 when these Black women came and they proposed in this conference that their justice agenda be adopted, and the indigenous, Asian-Americans, and Latinas who were there all said, “We want that to be ours, too,” and they came up with the name “women of color.” We’ve been an invisible voting block, we have been drivers, we’ve been the reason that Democrats can win locally as well as [the presidency]. We are the most progressive players, we’re effective organizers, and we are the closest to the pain of this country. So, it’s been about telling that story.
Rachel Thomas (17:22):
It’s working, obviously, because I think people are so much more aware of how powerful women of color are broadly, but in politics specifically. But how are you doing it? What does this look like day-to-day?
Aimee Allison (17:33):
We started compiling data and sharing that data. All along the way, we started building momentum. I have probably talked to most political reporters in this country. I’m quoted on a regular basis. Yesterday was USA Today, the day before, Political... Why? Because understanding our politics from a perspective of women of color is powerful. It helps to complete our story and it also helps [to] understand what is happening and not happening in the country.
So, the way that we did it and are continuing to do it is by working [and] having good relationships. By the way, a lot of the reporters who started talking about women of color, writing about it, were young women of different races who were interested in understanding American society differently and started writing about it. There’s a group called How Women Lead, which is... a network of really amazing women in the San Francisco Bay Area. I did this kind of global leadership week or training about a week after the San Francisco event.
We were given a task for that week, [which was] to have this super exceptional stretch goal for ourselves for the next year—something we’re almost afraid to say, because it’s so big. Mine was, I’m going to hold the first presidential forum focused on women of color. It had never been done. It’s not like I did it before. I don’t know how to do that. I just said it. And it was so powerful. I knew I was going to do everything I could to make this thing happen, because if something could shift the perception of women of color, introduce women of color in the national scene, it could be that. At the end of the day, we held, very early in the presidential primary last April, an event with 2,000 women of color, eight presidential candidates onstage with myself and Joy-Ann Reid, who has a show on MSNBC, [and] hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of political reporters.
We asked candidates a question they had never been asked in front of an audience they had never been in front of: Why should women of color support you? We asked about Black maternal health and mortality. We asked about the fact that women of color are in jobs like servers, restaurant servers, making $2.15 an hour, dependent on tips, being in a situation where they’re sexually harassed on the job because of that. We asked about the rise of white nationalism in the country. We asked about a lot of things that hadn’t been talked about.
Rachel Thomas (20:11):
These are all questions that matter so deeply. You did it. One of the things that you talk about a lot as you’re sharing your journey, which is really compelling by the way, is courage. How do you find it? Is it [that] you get so angry that caution be damned? Are there people in your life you lean on to help you be your most courageous self?
Aimee Allison (20:33):
I was very, very afraid to say out loud that I was a conscientious objector. I was afraid, but courage isn’t not being afraid—courage is being in alignment and living out loud your truth. It was funny when you talked about that TED Talk. I actually was afraid on stage. I was afraid. I figured most people don’t care about people in the military, anyway. Remember Vanessa Guillen? Vanessa Guillen, the woman who was murdered and her body was hidden. She was murdered by a fellow soldier after being harassed. You know how common that experience is? You know that women in the military... it’s very hard for us and there are no protections for us.
So, courage isn’t about... not being afraid. I think it’s available to everybody, though, this... ability to be courageous, to know what you believe is right and wrong, and to be true to that, and to, in your way... listen to the voice within yourself and to act on your beliefs. Just because you act on your courage doesn’t mean there’s no consequence. That’s the thing we have to be okay with.
But if there was ever a time to act on your values, [to] act out loud, to deeply connect with who you want to be in the world, it’s now. Because every single person right now, we are confronted with the way that police are treating Black people and Brown people with impunity, violence, and murder. The way that people are homeless and denied their rights of education. And just the way that we see institutions rob people of their humanity, there are a lot of opportunities right now for us to stand up and be strong. I guess I see the people that I admire most who stood up for themselves at that time, they might have been vilified or misunderstood, they might have felt a lot of fear, but in the end, the way that we live, the way that we live our life and then be able to live with courage out loud, makes life worthwhile.
Aimee Allison (22:56):
In the case of, say, Angela Davis, now we understand her as being a voice of Black liberation, but she was vilified in her day. Or we think of people that we love and admire in history books, [they] are living right now. So, it’s less about having people like you, which is something that women are burdened with. It’s more about, how can I live with the decisions and the words and my actions at the end of the day? I just think now more than ever, it’s calling for women to be courageous. It’s not comfortable, but if we look around and we’re comfortable, it means we have blinders on. Those blinders mean that we’re unable to be fully expressed and be part of a long line of women who have dedicated themselves to making this world better, to improving humanity, to making a contribution, to serving. I think ultimately the whole goal of this whole thing is for us to be part of that, to do our part. And the only way that we can do that is by exhibiting courage.
Rachel Thomas (24:09):
So I am so moved by that. Thank you so much.
Aimee Allison (24:12):
I spent the last two years helping to change the national story about whose vote and whose voice mattered. In fact, the fact that people are using the term “women of color” now is a testament to how deep our culture has shifted—but women of color, we didn’t just want to be seen, we don’t just want to be heard; we want to govern leading up to the election. There are some things that are happening that we have to have open, clear eyes about and have a lot of courage to face.
One is that women of color are the most targeted group for voter suppression—taking us off voter rolls, minimizing the number of voting machines, losing voter registrations, and not speaking to us at all. That’s not just a Republican thing, it’s Republicans and Democrats and everyone in between.
Then, we have the pandemic, and the pandemic is not going away anytime soon. The very states I mentioned earlier that will decide who gets the most Electoral College votes and who is able to claim the White House are the very same states with Republican governors that... have opened up very early. Those are the very same communities that need to turn out women of color whose lives are at risk, so... I feel like crying, I’m sorry.
Rachel Thomas (25:39):
You should. It’s totally natural to cry. I mean, the data around this and the stories around this are devastating. It is so bad for women and so particularly bad for women of color, and then even worse again for Black women, as you know. So, it is so natural to be crying.
Aimee Allison (26:00):
Because I traveled so much, and I mentioned that, if I let myself sit still and feel, it’s overwhelming. So, here’s the situation. We have voter suppression in lines, we have the pandemic, [and] we have incredible unemployment. In some states like Florida, people are not even getting the original unemployment claims paid. People’s rent is due; people are starting to be hungry. And we have police, we have this pseudo military force that is in places like Portland, that’s showing up. You have the RNC, who has dedicated $20 million to pay private citizens to poll watch.
We will do everything that we can. You saw in places like Georgia, in places like Kentucky, Black women will stand in line [for] eight hours to make sure that their vote is counted. The pressure of the work that we’re doing now, which is to identify, speak to engage, and turn out a million women of color across those states, is intense. So, we’re doing it all online, all of that costs, and we don’t have that much time.
I just want to say, if this country is to be saved, women of color will do it, but not in a selfish way and not saving it for other people for the same system. When I say we’re ready to govern, it means we want our vision of racial justice, economic justice, and gender justice. We want a transformation of our democracy. We want a multiracial democracy. We want a way, because it wasn’t that great before Trump and we don’t want to go back to anything. I think that’s what the moment, both the potential of the moment [and] the danger of the moment, exists for our country. So we have been building and inviting in women of color and those who support women of color’s leadership to join with us at She the People because we have work to do, but we also have work to do that’s bigger and deeper.
It’s like at local governments, the whole defund police [movement], those are local government fights at the state level. So it feels like... our fierce and loving power is coming into view for ourselves and the country. I think that’s where I have the most hope, given all the bad news.
Rachel Thomas (28:44):
What do you want listeners, particularly those who are not women of color, what do you want us to do?
Aimee Allison (28:51):
I think the first thing people can do is go to shethepeople.org and join our political home. We’re building an inclusive multiracial coalition, and you’re invited. The second thing I think would be, if you have resources to support the movement, do that. The third thing I would say is, take a look at your workplace or at the movements; if it’s not being led by a woman of color, you’re in the wrong place. And to demand racial justice. I often say because my mom is white and half of my family is white, I’m an expert on being white. People don’t look at me as white... but my family is white. There are very few women, white women, who are racial justice advocates. Become that. Be that.
Jennifer Palmieri has this really great video that came out that was white woman to white woman about how to be a racial justice advocate. We need white people. I was full of hope after the multiracial groups of people that were out demanding racial justice in the streets last month, but we can’t be satisfied. We have to actually have a change in policy and leadership, because different leaders will lead differently. That’s what we need at this moment. And that’s where I’d like to see people who don’t identify as women of color really deeply lean in.
Rachel Thomas (30:19):
Everything Aimee said rang so true for me, but especially this: we need leaders with different perspectives to drive meaningful change. Next, we’ll hear from one of those leaders, Lorella Praeli. And wow, her story and work will inspire you. Lorella, in college you came out as undocumented and unafraid. When you look back, how big a deal is that for you?
Lorella Praeli (30:44):
It’s such a big part of my story, but the truth is that I was very much undocumented and very afraid. I wasn’t just afraid; I was ashamed. I was born in Peru. I had a car accident when I was two and a half, and that resulted in the amputation of my right leg. That really was the impetus for our move and this journey with the United States.
First, we came here, then we ended up moving here because I was going to Shriners Hospital for my prosthetic leg. I found out that I was undocumented when I was toward the end of high school. But movement work didn’t really start for me until halfway through college, because I lived afraid and because I didn’t know where and how to plug in, but when I did...
Lorella Praeli (31:31):
I always tell this story, Rachel. I was invited to this field planning meeting in Kentucky and I rode in this van; it was one of those large vans. I took the train to New York and got in this van with young people I had not really met before. They were coming in from Boston and Connecticut. We were going to head down to Kentucky together. I walked into this room, and there were about 200 young people, extremely happy that they were together. They were wearing these shirts that said “Undocumented and Unafraid and Unapologetic,” and I was just like, “What? What is happening here? Why is everyone so excited?”
I would say I walked out of this convening feeling the same way, but it’s one of those experiences in your life where you walk into a room feeling a particular way and you think that there’s this one direction for your life. Then, you walk into this room, and everything that you had planned or thought was possible is disrupted and new notions of what is possible are constructed. That’s what that moment was for me.
Rachel Thomas (32:36):
That was so inspiring. Thank you for sharing. Would you say that that was the moment that really turned you into an activist?
Lorella Praeli (32:42):
I would say it was probably the moment, because there was no turning back. It’s like, once you have awareness, what happens between awareness [and] action? So, once you know that there are young people coming together to take charge of their future, of their present, you have a choice in that moment, right? In organizing, we think about this as moments of choice. You can make a choice in that moment to commit to this, to the fight, to move from the sidelines to the center, to own and trust your agency. That was a moment of choice for me. I never thought about going back into the shadows, but I would say the moment I actually came out of the shadows was a few months later, in Connecticut.
Connecticut was working on an in-state tuition bill… It didn’t feel like a choice in that moment; I was at this press conference and they were announcing a program. I got there and they were like, "Okay and now you speak." I was like, “What! I’ve not talked to anyone about coming out,” and all of a sudden I was all over the news that evening as this young, undocumented woman in Connecticut. There’s really no going back after that.
My work today and my work in the last 10 years has been to focus on building movements. Movements have the ability to turn individual grievance into collective grievance, and it is so often where people find their voice, their agency, [and] their power. So, I always start there, because I was very afraid and I was very ashamed, but it was in finding movement and finding the immigrant youth movement and then committing to build it with my comrades that I found a sense of purpose.
Lorella Praeli (34:36):
Then, I transitioned from the state of fear into one of pride and power. For me, it started as a personal fight. It started because I was undocumented and I wanted to think about, where do I go next? What does this mean that I now have an educational degree? What does it mean that I’ve graduated from college if I can’t work? Well, really that fight expanded beyond that, because once you start to become aware, once you have knowledge, these are the things that people cannot take away from you.
Once you know that there are deep inequities, that it isn’t solely about legal status, that when you look at the fact that young Brown and Black children have a much higher poverty rate or have experienced a much higher level of food insecurity or are homeless or are evicted, then there is no turning back.
Rachel Thomas (35:36):
After all these years of activism, I’m curious—what are the stories that stand out for you? They could be big or small, but moments where you really felt like you were making a difference.
Lorella Praeli (35:46):
The small moments were going into auditoriums or church basements and seeing that transformation in action, or helping a young person fill out their DACA application and now seeing them leading movements. I think some of the big moments were being in a room with President Obama and challenging him respectfully, calling on him to actually use his full executive authority to deliver on the change that we believed he could deliver on.
My mom is really a special person in my life. Her name is Chela. She’s a domestic worker. She sacrificed a lot for my sister and I to be here and to live the lives that we live. Chela is always such a good grounding source for me, because ultimately it isn’t about the fancy titles or the fancy meetings. My proudest accomplishment is knowing that I’m changing the lives of women like her.
Rachel Thomas (36:56):
Is this what led you to work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and continue to fight for policies that impact immigrants?
Lorella Praeli: (37:03)
What led me there in that moment was that we had organized and won a campaign that led to a major policy change. That program would have changed the lives of people like my mother, who was then undocumented, but that program was brought to a halt by Republican governors and attorneys general around the country. They brought it to the court. We had a nationwide injunction.
In that moment, it was heading into an election year or primary season, and it was so clear to me that it was black and white—that even though I believe at my core that our job as activists and as a movement is to hold power accountable or to hold elected officials [accountable] regardless of what letter’s next to your name, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, our role in the relationship is at times one of partnership and at times one of deep tension and accountability. So, that was the reason why I decided to join the Hillary Clinton campaign. The stakes could not have been more clear or higher for me, and because I believed in her, I believed in her ability to take us to a different place.
Rachel Thomas (38:22):
Today, the stakes are even higher and the work you do at Community Change is even more important. Can you share a little bit about what you and your team are doing right now?
Lorella Praeli (38:31):
Our electoral strategy at Community Change Action is founded on the idea that we can change our politics by expanding the electorate and mobilizing voters who fall outside of traditional campaign electoral targeting. So, we focus on—and we’ve made a commitment to—high-potential voters of color, which include Black voters, Latinx voters, immigrant voters, [and] young voters. What I think is often true about the traditional electoral landscape and candidate campaigns is that voters of color who don’t have a strong record of turnout or a high score are discarded or ignored. The work that we do at Community Change Action is to go after those people that traditional targeting would never lead you to.
If you believe in democratizing the ballot, if you believe that low-income people of color deserve to have their voices heard, then you design an electoral program that targets those people. The work that we do at Community Change Action is we partner with state and local organizations that are there year-round. They do not parachute in for an election cycle, they do not pack up their bags the day after election day; they are there year-round, taking people and organizing people through an election cycle and into the state-led campaigns. They are the trusted messengers on the ground.
We believe that turning out Latino voters is more important than ever, not just for a powerful electoral outcome, but because these are the people that then also need to be driving the fights, the policy fights, the national fights, the state fights, and we are not giving up on them.
Rachel Thomas (40:25):
Lorella, we’re just a couple of weeks out from a really big election. How can listeners support what you’re doing at Community Change and what else can we do to make a difference right now?
Lorella Praeli (40:35):
The number one thing that people need to do is to make a plan to vote. The other thing I would ask people to do is to text 40649. They just need to text “Vote” to that number: 40649. If you are looking for ways to get involved, that is one way—by texting. You can also go to communitychangeaction.org/2020power, but really just text “Vote” to that number.
Rachel Thomas (41:02):
Is there anything else you want to cover?
Lorella Praeli (41:04):
I want to leave you with one quick story, which is...
Rachel Thomas (41:07):
Yeah, I love stories.
Lorella Praeli (41:08):
You know, because I grew up with one leg, either with crutches or with a prosthetic leg, I spent a lot of my life on the floor. By that, I mean I spent a lot of time falling. I want to share with you what my father taught me early on when I was a kid. You know, I would fall and people would rush in a panic to try to help me up. My father would stop people. Then, he’d look at me and he’d say, “You can do this.”
I always think about that story because it wasn’t only that he was teaching me in that moment that I could get up. I would fall and I could get up on my own, and I could ask for help if I needed it. It was a lesson that in life, we are going to fall and we’re going to get up and we’re going to fall again—and we have it in us to get back up again.
When I think about what happened in 2016 and how hard it’s been for people, not just for people, how hard it has been for people of color, how hard it’s been for immigrants, how hard it’s been on our democracy—we have to keep on remembering that we can get back up, get up every day, to make sure that we’re doing everything that we’ve got to ensure that the outcome after that day is the one that puts us closer, or that gets us into that terrain, or we can wage the fights that we need to actually tackle the structural reforms that are needed to root out racism from our country, to ensure that our democracy is more accessible to all, to make sure that low-income people of color aren’t merely surviving, but thriving, and to make sure that that kind of promise, that the promise of America and the potential of America, is realized.
No one is going to deliver that outcome except for ourselves. It is our job, for all the listeners, to reject cynicism, to reject despair, and to remind, to ground in the truth that... we have the power and the ability to create a different kind of future.
Rachel Thomas (43:22):
Whether we know it or not, all Americans owe a huge debt to leaders like Aimee and Lorella. They represent the best of our democracy because they’re fighting relentlessly to make it fairer, more inclusive, and ultimately stronger. We have a chance to contribute to that better America in this election by doing a simple and sacred thing: voting. If you can vote, make sure you cast your ballot by November 3rd.
That’s it for today’s episode of Tilted. You can subscribe to Tilted on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. Our executive producer is Sandy Smallens. And special thanks to Ali Bohrer, Chelsea Paul, Kate Urban, Madison Long, and Nicole Roman from the Lean In team and Katelyn Thompson, Ireland Meacham, Jacob Kramer-Duffield, and Matt Noble at Audiation. I’m your host, Rachel Thomas, and I’ll join you next time on Tilted.