Increased political engagement from underrepresented communities is necessary to create change, according to panelists at the A Seat at the Political Table panel at the second annual BRAVE Summit in Lohrfink Auditorium on Saturday.
The panel featured political advocacy organization IMPACT Director Nina Smith, Google Public Policy Partner Chanelle Hardy and Maryland Councilwoman Marsha Dixon (COL ’02, LAW ’05). Taylor Griffin (COL ’14), deputy press secretary for Nancy Pelosi, moderated the panel.
According to Smith, it is especially important for minorities to get involved in politics.
“People don’t like politics. They talk about it, but they avoid it,” Smith said. “But it affects you, it touches you and that’s why it’s so important and critical that you pay attention, to know what’s happening. Because we’re talking about being at the table; I had a mentor that used to tell me, ‘If you’re not at the table you’re on the menu.’”
Dixon said having a seat at the policymaking table is the best way for ignored voices to be heard.
“I’m going to have a seat at the table because no one listens to the people back here. They’re not at the table. Attached to a political seat, I have a seat at the table, I am heard,” Dixon said. “If you don’t like something, pick up a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office. Have a seat at the table and have voice.”
Griffin said if people aren’t invited to discussions that concern them, they should fight to be included.
“As the great Shirley Chisholm said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat, bring a folding chair,’” Griffin said.
Dixon said she initially got involved in politics because she wanted to prevent violence, specifically police brutality, toward black men.
“I wanted to make sure that when people saw my little boy, they said, before they put him in handcuffs or thought that he did something wrong, they said, ‘No, that’s Councilwoman Dixon’s son,’ that perhaps with that little smidgeon of knowing who I was, that my power, my network could potentially protect him,” Dixon said.
Smith emphasized the importance of maintaining one’s sense of authenticity even within predominantly white and male spaces.
“I’m always focusing on being as authentic as possible and being present. It’s funny because we talk about that a lot outside of professional spaces, but it’s something that I think has helped me navigate a number of tricky situations,” Smith said. “I can then show up and I won’t worry about what else is going on in the room.”
Dixon said it is important for women to know who they are to convince others that their voice matters.
“Everyone in this room has a brand,” Dixon said. “I have a brand. I decide who I am and even as I’m sitting here, whatever thoughts that you guys are formulating about me, is because I am projecting to you what I believe my brand is and some of you guys may get it and some may not. You control your narrative.”
Hardy said black women must ensure they do not lose their individuality when they are part of a larger movement to create change.
“There is space for all of us and so if your heart says that’s not for you, please, please don’t conform,” Hardy said. “If your heart tells you that you have identified a space where you believe that you can make a difference at that table, and you have to navigate certain things, like having certain credentials or having a certain outfit in order to be there, then do what you need to do to be there and let’s all recognize that each part is absolutely critical.”
Hardy urged the attendees to embody the conference theme and be brave in pursuit of their goals.
“I guess the word would be ‘courage’ or ‘brave’ because I find that the biggest impediment to having a seat at the table is fear,” Hardy said. “Fear of saying something stupid or fear of not being heard or fear of the consequences of your voice and so in order to be powerful, you have to be willing to say, I’m going to be brave I’m going to be bold.”
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