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She’s Running: Social Justice Leader Erika Almirón Is Ready To Represent Philadelphia’s Most Marginalized In Public Office

She’s Running is a FIERCE series highlighting Latinas running for office in local, state and federal elections.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed for correction. An earlier version inaccurately stated that Almirón would be the first elected official of Paraguayan descent in the country. She will be among the first, and the first in Philadelphia, but not the first nationwide.

Philadelphia has a powerful history of political activism, and in recent years, Erika Almirón has been considered one of its biggest social justice warriors. Now, the Paraguayan-American is vying for a seat on the city council, where she hopes to create change for the people of her city in new ways.

Almirón already has a history of impactful change-making, though. As the executive director of Juntos, an immigrant rights group in the city, she helped make Philadelphia the most progressive sanctuary city in the county. Before then, as assistant director of the Philadelphia Student Union, she pushed back against the criminalization of young people.

“I’ve been doing social justice work for 20 years,” Almirón told FIERCE. “It’s time to be a voice inside city council representing the people accurately.”

Currently, more than 40 candidates are trying to get on the ballot to run for city council at-large in Philadelphia, but should Almirón win, she would be among the first elected officials of Paraguayan descent in the country and the first in Philadelphia.

We chatted with Almirón, a first-time candidate, about her run for office, the biggest issues impacting Philadelphia today, how she’s prepared to tackle them and more.

FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for Philadelphia City Council?

Erika Almirón: I think that there’s this moment right now. I’ve been doing social justice work for 20 years. In the last eight years, I was leading Juntos, an immigrant rights group in Philly. It became apparent that there’s an opportunity right now for someone like me to run. After all my years of building coalitions, it’s time to be a voice inside city council representing the people accurately.

FIERCE: I know that your three priorities are tackling housing justice, decriminalization and police accountability as well as education equity. Why are these issues currently crucial to your city?

Erika Almirón: I’ve spent the last two decades doing social justice work, both in education reform and immigration as it intersects with criminal justice work. I’ve been working in Black and brown communities. So it’s very natural for these issues to be important to me. I’ve watched people in high school get criminalized. I know what the school-to-prison pipeline looks like. I spent eight years battling the deportation machine locally and across the country and watching policing and racial profiling. Those two issues are super important to me. And, naturally, as someone from this city and has seen how it’s gentrifying so quickly, especially Latino communities, housing and stability has been one main issue. Landlords are evicting tenants, rent is doubling in one year, neighborhoods are gentrifying so fast. And it’s not just impacting Latinos. It’s across the board and city. Being able to push for something like rent control in Philly would transform our ability to stay.

FIERCE: Your campaign slogan is “Fighting For All Of Us.” How do you intend on doing that on city council? What does fighting for all look like for you?

Erika Almirón: I’ve spent years building coalitions and fighting at intersections. I fought to have a DA that reflects our values, and Philly now has the most progressive DA. I fought to make Philly the most progressive sanctuary city. I was able to do this through coalition work. That’s how we win, when we build communities together, especially communities you don’t expect to work together because the powers that be want to keep us separated. Building citywide coalitions that are fighting for all the issues that matter and pushing that forward is what fighting for all looks like.

FIERCE:  In your first campaign video, you stated you would not be taking corporate money, PAC money or real estate development money. Why?

Erika Almirón: I want to run a campaign that’s reflective of my values. I don’t want it to be different from who I’ve been my whole life. I don’t want funds that guide my desire and I don’t want this city to think that’s happening. When you talk to me, I want you to know I’m guided by what the people need and not money.

FIERCE: As a working-class woman, Latina and child of Paraguyan immigrants who are small business owners, what do you think these identities, and the perspectives and experiences that come with them, can bring to Philadelphia’s city council that is new or needed?

Erika Almirón: I say it all the time: I was born in Philly to immigrant parents. I understand intimately what it means to be a working-class woman, what most of the city is going through. I know the struggle of putting food on the table, job access, college access for poor and working-class people of color, trying to understand processes as first-generation people. I know what people are going through. Philly is the poorest of all the big cities in the country, and it’s also majority-people of color. That’s not a coincidence. There’s a stark divide of people who have and don’t have.

FIERCE: Of course, you are much more than your identities. You’ve worked directly on education reform as the assistant director of the Philadelphia Student Union and you have successfully fought on behalf of immigrants and the decriminalization of Black and brown bodies as the executive director of Juntos. How do you think these experiences and the skills you’ve gained through them prepared you for this office?

Erika Almirón: I think all of those experiences. I understand what it takes to move power. I understand what movement-building looks like and how to do it effectively. That requires building coalitions, drafting policies, making legal arguments. It’s not just about knowing what the right thing is but about challenging power. I feel very prepared to be in city council.

FIERCE: You have been doing social justice work around Philly and the US-Mexico border for the last 20 years. How could holding a seat in public office allow you to carry this work forward in new ways?

Erika Almirón: I think what it does is it creates space for a woman of color, a Latina, to have a voice on the city council. I also think Philadelphia has shown ways it could be the most progressive in the country. I just see how in these dark times, when we have such a racist oppressive man as president, that Philly can be a beacon to show the country what is possible when you come together.

FIERCE: On that, it’s often said that the biggest and most effective change is done locally. What are you prepared to do or work on locally to combat the policy and rhetoric coming out of the White House?

Erika Almirón: I think it’s doing what I’ve been doing. Even recently, I’ve been fighting to get the accent on my last name on the ballot, because that’s never happened for a Latino candidate, and they originally said no but just recently, just this morning, they said they’ll fix it. This is a win. We are making sure our identities are not erased, which is exactly what we are seeing from our federal government. Trump is actively trying to criminalize and erase our people. There’s a lot of policies I’d like to push forward, but I’d like to start with rent control. Undocumented communities are being hit hard. They don’t have access to loans for homes, they’re being pushed out of their communities quickly and rents are rising. If this is not tackled, our immigrant hubs will disappear.

FIERCE: Finally, as a first-time candidate, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run for office. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?

Erika Almirón: I would say that it is time for women like us to take the seat that we rightfully deserve in power. Everything seems scary until you do it. Everything I know about Latinas is that we are a resilient bunch, and it’s so important that people find strength within themselves to do what they know they can do and fight for what is right and get those seats we deserve.

Read: For 160 Years, Denver Hasn’t Had A Woman Mayor — Lisa Calderón Could Change That

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Cardi B Has An Important Message About The Deaths Of George Floyd And Breonna Taylor

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Cardi B Has An Important Message About The Deaths Of George Floyd And Breonna Taylor

@TheAmirVera, @danicapaige08 / Twitter

Thank heavens for Cardi B because boy does the Dominican rapper know how to use her voice.

Since her rise to fame, the hitmaker has made a point to use her platform to raise awareness of the issues she finds important. From politics to our world leaders, the rapper has done her due diligence to break down current events to her followers.

Fortunately, she’s up to it again.

Last week, the rapper took to Twitter to open up about the protests breaking out across the country in an effort to demand justice for the wrongful deaths of Black people killed by police.

You might have already heard about the protests that broke out over the weekend which outcried the wrongful deaths of two Black people: George Floyd a Black man from Minnesota who was killed while being restrained by the police on May 25. The other, Breonna Taylor a 26-year-old woman, was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police officers on March 13, 2020.

In regards to their recent deaths, Cardi B  shared her thoughts and a call to action.

“Seeing people looting and going extremely outraged, you know, it makes me feel like, ‘Yes, finally! Finally motherf****** is gonna hear us now. Yeah!’” the rapper said in her Instagram post. “And as much as people is so against it, at this point, I feel like I’m not against it, even though it do scare me and I don’t want anybody to get hurt, but it’s really frustrating. You want to know why? Because police brutality been going on even way before I was born, but it has been more visual ever since social media started getting poppin.’ And ever since, let’s say Instagram started–just one app–let’s say since Instagram started, how many peaceful protests have we seen? How many trending hashtags have we seen? These hashtags keep freakin’ repeating themselves. I feel like I’ve done videos against police brutality… I feel like this is my seventh time. I’ve been doing f*ckin’ police brutality videos ever since my teeth been f*cked up, and the only shit that changed has been my f****** teeth. You know what I’m saying? People are tired, so now their tired is showing that it’s, “Oh motherf*ckers are educated. Motherf*ckers can take the grown and adult way and act peaceful people are tired of that, so now this is what people have to resort to.”

Cardi B continued her post telling her fans to vote in the upcoming general elections.

“And another thing, I also want to say this: Another way for people to take power–I don’t want to make everything political, but it is what it is–it’s by voting. And when I say voting, I’m not only talking about the President. We could vote for mayors. We could vote for judges, and we could also vote for DA’s–district attorneys. Yes, we could vote for these people, for our county. We sure can. The people that are voting for these people are most likely cops, most likely rednecks; that’s why every single time some fuck shit like this happens, it goes to their favor, because these people have the power–DA’s, these judges, these attorneys–they have the power to prosecute these cops when they do f***s***,” she said

It didn’t take long for users to respond to Cardi’s post with support and words of heartbreak.

We will win this!

Puerto Rico Is Planning To Vote On U.S. Statehood Once Again And Here’s Why So Many Are Against The Idea

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Puerto Rico Is Planning To Vote On U.S. Statehood Once Again And Here’s Why So Many Are Against The Idea

VisitPR / Instagram

Puerto Rican’s are no stranger to referendums. Since 1967, they’ve had five chances to make their opinions known on U.S. statehood and each and every time, their voice hasn’t been listened to. Congress has failed to take up the issue after each referendum and local leaders are often guilty of using the referendum simply to drudge up support for their candidates.

But this upcoming referendum is different in that it comes at a crossroads for Puerto Rican politics. The island has been plagued by natural disasters, political scandals, and unprecedented hate crimes. Even Bad Bunny is letting his thoughts out on the referendum and many others have lots to say on the issue.

For the first time in the island’s history, the referendum will ask a single question: Should Puerto Rico be immediately admitted as a U.S. state?

On Saturday, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood Republican governor, Wanda Vázquez, announced yet another vote on the question (the sixth since 1967 and the third since 2012). It’s a move that comes amid growing frustration with the island’s territorial government and its relationship with the mainland.

However, it’s a question that also outraged the island’s independence supporters and members of the main opposition Popular Democratic Party – which supports the status quo.

But it’s a gamble that members of the governor’s pro-statehood party are confident will pay off given that Puerto Rico has struggled to obtain federal funds for hurricanes Irma and Maria, a string of recent strong earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic amid growing complaints that the island does not receive fair and equal treatment.

“Our people will have the opportunity once and for all to define our future,” Vázquez said. “It’s never too late to be treated as equals.”

The upcoming referendum is just the recent in a long line of previously failed ones.

In the past, voters have been asked more than one question and presented with various options, including independence or continuing with the current territorial status – but none of them have ever been as direct as the upcoming one scheduled for the November 3 general election.

However, many on the island see the referendum as little more than a political move by the governor’s New Progressive Party to get voters out on Nov 3 – to boost her party’s candidates.

The New Progressive Party has been rattled with scandal after scandal and many are ready for change.

The past few years have not been good for the party – or the island for that matter. A string of devastating hurricanes, a severe debt crisis, ongoing corruption scandals that even forced a pro-statehood governor to resign, earthquakes, and now a global pandemic – have all led to challenging times in Puerto Rico. To some observers, the idea seems to be: Let’s dangle the illusion of a yes or no statehood referendum (nonbinding) that is already dead on arrival?

Many also feel that Gov. Vasquez is not truly authorized to make such a decision since she was never actually elected to the office. Instead, she became governor after Ricardo Rosselló was forced to resign following massive protests.

Meanwhile, the Republican government on the island doesn’t even have the support of the Republican-led federal government. The Trump administration’s blunt response was basically, “The first priority for all Puerto Rico leaders should be getting their financial house in order.”

This coming November, there will be plenty of incentive to vote “no” and punish the Vázquez administration. Even prominent figures such as Bad Bunny are jumping into the fray against her leadership.

What would statehood mean for Puerto Rico?

Statehood would award Puerto Rico two senators and five representatives, but it’s unlikely a Republican-controlled Congress would acknowledge the referendum because Puerto Rico tends to favor Democrats.

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections. And while the island is exempt from the U.S. federal income tax, it still pays Social Security and Medicare and local taxes and receives less federal funding than U.S. states. Many believe the island’s territorial status has contributed to its struggle to recover from the hurricanes and earthquakes, as well as worsened its economic crisis, largely caused by decades of heavy borrowing and the elimination of federal tax incentives.