“If you really want things to change, you have to show up.”

World

9.25.2018

Meet The Co-Founder of AWP, The Think Tank Devoted to All Women’s Progress

“If you really want things to change, you have to show up.” Maya Contreras, the co-founder of the All Women’s Progress Party (AWP) think tank, isn’t sugar coating it this time. A think tank for policy research that will benefit women and minorities, AWP is exactly what the doctor ordered in advance of the 2018 Midterms, and there’s just one thing left that only you can provide: your vote. But since proactive is practically Contreas’s middle name, she’ll expect more of you than that—and since this election arguably matters more than any other one prior, we’d be remiss not to wholeheartedly agree.

What matters most to Contreras? Post Midterms, it all comes down to two demands: accountability and transparency. Prior, it’s all about the vote. Get informed, then get yourself to your local polling station on November 6. In that spirit, we’ve created a Midterms Cheat Sheet, and then dove further with Contreras on we can continue to inspire and inform the next generation of voters—AKA you.

What would you say is the best way to encourage people to vote, especially if they’re feeling cynical or apathetic?

I completely understand the cynicism, because you know there’s always a group of people who pay attention to voting. If you feel like you don’t have a voice because you don’t have tons of money or don’t agree, I get it. But if you really want things to change, you have to show up. And you have to show up at a local level. You might be frustrated on a national level, but if you don’t participate on a local level, things won’t change. And by not voting, you are voting. There’s no neutral. Because if you don’t participate, you’re still participating by giving your vote to the majority. So sitting out is not really an option. If you don’t like the options, write in someone on the ballot. But at the same time, really think about how good progress is built brick by brick, steadily over time—it is not burning down an entire building and trying to find the money to rebuild that building. And it also erases all the progress that people literally died to get. In order to honor those generations of people—black people who were shot down by KKK members during Jim Crow trying to vote, for example—you should want to vote. So there are no shortcuts. We have to go inch by inch. And if you’re like, “No one sees things the way I do,” then great—run for office. Participate that way.

And I think some people are so intimidated by the wealth of options and information that we have access to that they’re not really sure what to decide before they get to the polls.

Totally. And there are websites completely dedicated to telling you what’s on your particular ballot. So there really isn’t too much of an excuse now with technology. People have made it really easy.

Crush the Midterms is fabulous, you put in a cause and they’ll matchmake you with people who you can work with.

BallotReady—you can put in your zip code and it will show what your ballot will look like.

Mobilize America is great if you want to volunteer for a campaign—calling, canvasing, etcetera.

Swing Left finds the closest district to you that’s not blue so you can go canvas and help out.

Postcards to Voters—people volunteer their time to write postcards to remind people to vote, people who have asked for reminders.

So there’s a lot of grassroots thing that you can do. And everything is readily available.

Thinking about policy, what do you think is the thing that most urgently needs addressing in Congress?

The first thing would be accountability. There’s two great things that could happen—if the Democrats take back the House, they’ll be able to start holding Trump accountable. And not just Trump, but the entire federal government. There are holes all over the government of jobs not being filled, for example, and they’re doing that on purpose to break certain aspects of the government. Keep in mind, Trump is still in office, and he’ll still be in office unless he gets impeached. We want more transparency, and more accountability. Democrats will have a lot of clean up to do. They still won’t be able to push total policy, because Trump has the veto, but they should still propose legislation that we can all get excited about. Like Kirsten Gillibrand’s #metoo Act, Tammy Duckworth’s Veteran Act, so I hope that people stay engaged. And I think they will until Trump is gone, to be honest. So that’ll be the first step—accountability. After that it’s about getting him out of office. And I’m hoping that after that, also, 2020 will be the most women we’ll have running again—because this election now is the most who have ever run. There are now 15 female governorship nominations, it’s amazing. But still only 19 percent of Congress is women. So hopefully 2020 will be a continuation of that increase, because we need parity. We need gay women, we need disabled women—a whole representation, so that people are seen and heard. And I really hope that people recognize that the United States has really been inherently broken since the beginning. So this idea of “We need to get back to the good old days” is incorrect. When Trump won, I was really frustrated and upset, and my male black friends were much more cynical, and less surprised—and they were right. So we have a lot of work to do. I hope that people are able to verbalize how those things get do. And I hope that those people also realize that their participation is essential.

For Democrats who are running, there’s this constant struggle between talking about Trump versus talking about your own platform and why it’s better. What do you think is the right balance?

People always ask me why I don’t run for office, and I tell them it’s because I don’t need to be yelled at by both sides. No matter what you do, someone is going to completely criticize the way you go about it. It depends what trajectory you’re on too—if you’re Kamala Harris or Cory Booker, and you might be running for President, you have to talk more about your platform and your solutions and what you want to get done, and then obviously shading that heavily with criticism of Trump’s policies. So it just depends where you’re at. People always say, “Why isn’t Congress on the streets protesting!” Congress members aren’t activists. They have a job to do. And honestly other than flashing on TV for a second, it’s not glamorous. They’re working very hard. And they can’t be an expert on every single subject. Messaging is probably the most difficult thing they do—because you have to prioritize what you want to talk about.

How do you think people can stay optimistic, and not in a naive way?

Be pragmatic politics: the President of the United States is not the only person who governs the United States. And what people do on the local level is more indicative of what is happening to you. So to me, if you’re saying “Oh, the world is going to shit!” I’m like well maybe, but if you really care, then you’ll care about who your city councilperson is, who your school board person is, etcetera. There are half a million elected offices in America. That’s 500,000 seats. Care about the ones in your community and in your state. Take 20 minutes, put your zip code into Whoismyrepresentative.com, and it will tell you all of your representatives. Find out who they are and what they voted on. And if you’re frustrated on how they’re voting, either ask them to change or vote them out and vote someone else in.

Featured image via Rebellious Magazine

Stay tuned to Milk for more voting stuff.

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