Tales from the trail: Smith Democrats to co-host panel on women and politics this Sunday

  • The flyer for Sunday’s event.

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2018 11:09:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Smith Democrats and Divest Smith College will be hosting an event for the public spotlighting women and the 2018 election; it will feature three local Democratic women candidates for office as speakers.

Dana Chen, a junior at Smith College and president of the Smith Democrats, said that Divest Smith College was originally approached by a local community organizer to do an event focused on taking back the U.S. House of Representatives for the Democratic Party. While that’s still a theme for Sunday night, the Smith students decided to focus on the role of women in light of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh. In the days before the event, they circulated flyers promoting the panel, featuring a hissing black cat, the female gender symbol, and the words, “DON’T MESS WITH ME.” 

Speaking at the event will be Linday Sabadosa, the unopposed Democratic Party nominee for the 1st Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives; Jo Comerford, the unopposed Democratic Party nominee for the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester District in the Massachusetts state Senate; Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who lost the Democratic primary for Massachusetts’ 1st Congressional District; and Elizabeth Silver, chairwoman of the  Northampton Democratic City Committee and one of the main organizers of the “Take Back the House Campaign” in western Massachusetts.

The panelists will address the crowd and then take questions. For the candidates, it will be a chance to share their stories about what it’s like to be a woman on the campaign trail. For the students and members of the public, the event will offer an up-close look at their races.

Amatul-Wadud said that her talk at Smith will be the most substantive on her campaign since her defeat in the primary.

“It’ll feel good to be able to talk to voters about that experience,” Amatul-Wadud said.

Sabadosa, who won a heavily contested race to secure the Democratic nomination for the 1st Hampshire District, said that female candidates face challenges that male candidates don’t.

“I don’t think being called ‘a little girl’ is something that happens to men,” she said.

“There is definitely sexual harassment on the campaign trail,” she also noted.

And it’s something that’s not always talked about — one reason why she decided to participate in the panel. Even after Kavanaugh, “I still don’t think we talk about harassment enough.”

Comerford plans to talk about her race and the current political climate, which she described as both turbulent and full of opportunity. She noted her status as the soon-to-be first woman to hold the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester Senate seat, and said she’s thrilled to see greater diversity in candidates seeking office.

Amatul-Wadud, who is black and Muslim, said she will talk about how the public can step up to support more diverse candidates. She also said she may touch on the Islamophobia she faced while she was running.

Amatul-Wadud added that she ended up winning some of the Commonwealth’s least racially diverse towns. On how she won these communities, Amatul-Wadud said that, as a family lawyer, most of her clients are white, and that in her personal experience, people move beyond racial differences once they get to know someone.

“We move past that, and we get the job done,” she said.

Amatul-Wadud added that she found a different kind of activism is needed to mobilize communities of color, including sending canvassers who are people of color to those communities.

Amatul-Wadud said that she has been mostly focusing on her law practice since the election, although she may get involved with some races.

Because Sabadosa has no general election opponent, she said that she is working on the campaigns of a number of Democrats running in contested legislative races.

“We are focused on helping other campaigns across the state,” she said. “I am out canvassing for them.”

Chen, who’s originally from Queens, New York, and is majoring in government and philosophy, said that she first became involved in politics in a major way when she joined the Smith Democrats in the fall of 2016, the beginning of her freshman year. Chen felt it was important to elect a strong Democratic woman to the presidency, she said: “It was just the most important time to get involved.”

She said that the efforts of the Smith Democrats are focused on flipping control of the U.S. House of Representatives to the Democrats. To this end, they’re looking at nearby races in New York and New Hampshire.

“We had a phone bank for Antonio Delgado just a couple of weeks ago,” said Chen, referring to the Democratic candidate in New York’s 19th Congressional District.

She said that the group has not been involved in the governor’s race, but “if any opportunities come up, we’d love to get involved with that as well.”

Comerford noted that she and 3rd Hampshire District candidate Mindy Domb sponsored a call party for the “Take Back the House Campaign.” She also said that she’s working at MoveOn.org part-time currently, where she previously worked before she ran for office, and that taking back the House is a big focus of the organization at this moment.

“I think voters across the country on Election Day are going to send a very powerful message,” she said.

“Women and the 2018 Election” will take place on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. at Graham Hall, which is located in the Hillyer Art Library on the Smith College campus. It is open and free to the public.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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