Renewing Democracy: Councilwoman at large Kendra Brooks

Why did you decide to run? 

I never thought I would run for office. My background is in organizing and I have always believed that movements are at the heart of all social change. Mainstream political parties have long-ignored the needs of communities like the one I grew up in so I never imagined myself as an elected official. However, when the opportunity presented itself to run as a third-party candidate, it seemed different than what I had previously imagined running for office being like. Running as a third-party candidate allowed me to retain all of my commitments to social justice. Even some of my more polarizing beliefs like housing as a human right and fighting for a Philly Green New Deal did not need to be watered down in order for me to run. By running as an outsider candidate with the Working Families Party, I was empowered to bring my education activism and my commitment to social change into my role as a candidate, rather than leaving it behind. That is why I decided to run—because this unique opportunity presented itself to run as my authentic self. 

What obstacles did you face?

The primary obstacle was that this had never been done before. I was running an insurgent campaign for a minority seat on City Council traditionally held by Republicans. At first, many people didn’t even understand the mechanics of how to vote for me. There was a great deal of hesitation and skepticism from some leaders within the Democratic party that my campaign would detract votes and threaten the candidacies of other Democratic candidates, even though statistically that fear was unfounded. As someone who came from community organizing and activism, I didn’t have the traditional party supports that other candidates might have had. 

How did you overcome them?

In many ways my greatest obstacles became my greatest strengths. Although I didn’t have the support of a mainstream political party, I had a vast network of movement groups supporting my campaign. My run for office was propelled by small donations, community fundraisers, and passionate volunteers knocking on door after door. Grassroots groups and the support of unions played a huge role. My campaign manager, Arielle Klagsbrun, and I drew the blueprint for my campaign from scratch. It was extremely difficult, but we gathered strength knowing that we weren’t just fighting to win a seat on City Council, we were fighting for thousands of Philadelphians who had been excluded from mainstream politics for years to have a seat at the table. The race was bigger than me—it was about bringing the concerns of everyday Philadelphians to City Hall and making their voices heard. That’s what got me through it.

Did you face lack of support from the Democratic Machine?  (This can be worded differently) 

I faced skepticism from some leaders in the Democratic party, but I also received an outpouring of support from many progressive allies. Councilmember At-Large Helen Gym, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, Pennsylvania State Representatives Chris Rabb, Elizabeth Fiedler, Malcolm Kenyatta, Movita Johnson-Harrell, Brian Sims, Pennsylvania State Senator Art Haywood, and Massachusetts US Senator Elizabeth Warren were all strong supporters of my campaign. People can be afraid of change. Now that I am a City Councilmember I am seeing some of the people who were initially skeptical of my candidacy embrace me as an elected official. What matters is the result—I’m here now and eager to get to work.

What lessons can you give to other women who maybe thinking of running in the future?

The most important lesson I learned while running for office was to stay true to who you are and use that. One thing I know is that I don’t have a good poker face, and never have. I have a difficult time pretending or shielding my true feelings. When I feel something, people can read it right on my face. While some might see this as a disadvantage, it has become part of my identity as an elected official. People know that I am authentic, that I react genuinely to the problems facing Philadelphians. I think women are too often told to soften their message or to perform a watered down version of themselves. What I learned is that you can remain true to yourself and still be an elected official—that you can be yourself. 

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