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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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‘Bullying Crisis Has Become A Global Epidemic’⁠— Monica Lewinsky Talks Bullying In Her New Anti-Bullying PSA

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‘Bullying Crisis Has Become A Global Epidemic’⁠— Monica Lewinsky Talks Bullying In Her New Anti-Bullying PSA

Noam Galai / Getty images

There may be no better person placed in our culture to talk about online bullying and harassment than Monica Lewinsky. Her story has been co-opted and manipulated for personal and political gain purposes for over two decades now. It’s taken long enough for the culture to catch up. She’s been speaking up about this for years and finally, she’s in control of her own narrative. In her latest campaign, the PSA “Epidemic”, Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness about the silent and lethal epidemic that is online bullying. 

Online bullying is a silent and lethal form of harassment and Monica Lewinsky wants to raise awareness around this issue so we don’t miss the signs.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

In her latest campaign, the third of a series of ads designed to raise awareness about a silent and lethal epidemic, Monica Lewinsky wants to shine a light on how this silent and invisible this form of bullying can be, and how a psychologically challenging situation can quickly escalate and become physical. In “Epidemic”, we’re introduced to a teenage girl whose health seems to be deteriorating for no apparent reason over the course of the film.  First she stays home from school, she can’t eat, she can’t sleep. In a panic, she reaches out for a bottle of pills. The viewer sees her go from a normal teen to an unconscious girl in an E.R. It’s obvious that she’s been sick all along, but what’s the disease?

The words “The story is not what it seems” appear across the screen. “Go to the-epidemic.com/realstory to get the message.”

Once you follow the link, a new screen message asks viewers to enter their phone number. When the video starts over, the person watching it is receiving the same texts messages that Hailey, the protagonist of the film, is getting. The cruel messages are a deluge of threats, harassment and abuse. And by receiving the texts, viewers don’t just watch it all unfold, they experience it. “It’s like the difference between seeing something in 3D and seeing something in VR,” Lewinsky told Glamour of the campaign’s interactive elements. It makes the abuse that people face on the internet, through their phones, and IRL feel real, immediate, and dangerous. 

Although cyber-bullying happens online, the feeling can be very real, and it can even lead to sickness.

credit Youtube The Epidemic

The feeling of being bullied isn’t just one of fear and shame. Bullying can affect your physical and mental health in potentially dangerous ways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being bullied can increase your risk of sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, headaches, stomachaches, and more. Since bullying can lead to illness, it’s a sort of sickness in itself. Andd that’s exactly what Lewinsky is trying to convey in the PSA in partnership with advertising agency BBDO New York, and Dini von Mueffling Communications.

“We compare [bullying] to an illness for several reasons,” Lewinsky, an anti-bullying advocate, speaker, and former bullying victim, told Teen Vogue. “Just last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online. But the problem is, it can be hard to see the signs when somebody is going through something like this. With cyberbullying, even though it may take place online, it has offline consequences — and these consequences range from bad to grave.”

The film was a deeply personal project for Lewinsky who was bullied on a national scale in 1998.

credit Instagram @Notablelife Lewinsky was famously bullied on a national scale after her relationship with former president Bill Clinton went public when she was 24 years old and an intern at the White House. She has personal experience with how severe bullying can be and it’s something she’s spoken out about consistently. It’s that very issue which made this project a challenge she wanted to tackle. “It was hard for me to do this,” she admits. Drawing from her own experiences, Lewinsky, wanted to capture what she calls “that cascading feeling, that overwhelming feeling, the tsunami of texts that come in and the vitriol.” Not just in the video, but in the messages that participants receive. With “The Epidemic”, Lewinsky wants to show victims of bullying that they’re not alone and that they don’t need to remain silent about what they’re going through. 

While bruises and cuts are visible to parents, teachers, and friends, emotional wounds can be harder to spot.

Credit Twitter @MonicaLewnsky

“This is everybody’s worst nightmare—to miss the signs,” Lewinsky said on The Today Show. “And I think one of the best things that we can be doing is have these kinds of conversations, and what we hope to be a positive result from this PSA is that it brings awareness to the kinds of conversations parents should be having with their kids.” Lewinsky who is now 46 years old, remembers that when she was growing up, her parents would tell her, “Be home by sundown.” They wanted her to to be safe. But now, as she notes, “kids can be safe in their physical home, but they’re not emotionally safe because of what may be happening online.” 

The PSA supports a several organizations, including Amanda Todd Legacy, The Childhood Resilience Foundation, Crisis Text Line, Defeat The Label, The Diana Award, Ditch The Label, Organization for Social Media Safety, Sandy Hook Promise, Sit With Us, Think Before You Type and The Tyler Clementi Foundation. If you or someone you know is being bullied, tell someone right away or call the bullying hotline to speak with a professional. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

Here’s What The Candidates Had To Say About The Billionaires And Their Responsibilities To Pay Taxes

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Here’s What The Candidates Had To Say About The Billionaires And Their Responsibilities To Pay Taxes

elizabethwarren / juliancastrotx / Instagram

Democrats have officially wrapped their third round of Democratic debates. Last night, 12 candidates for the Democratic nomination went head to head on the debate stage in Ohio. The biggest topics of the night were President Trump’s sudden withdrawal of troops in Syria leaving the Kurds vulnerable to Turkey’s attacks and what to do with billionaires. There were some clear winners and losers from the debate. Here is your quick breakdown from the candidates trying to be the Democratic nominee for president.

Elizabeth Warren delivered a powerful message on the inequalities of the abortion debate.

“I think there are a number of options. I think as Mayor Buttigieg said, there are many different ways that people are talking about different options and I think we may have to talk about them,” Sen. Warren said when asked if she’d add justices to the Supreme Court to protect reproductive rights. “But, on Roe v. Wade, can we just pause for a minute here. I lived in an America where abortion was illegal and rich women still got abortions because they could travel. They could go to places where it was legal. What we’re talking about now, is that the people who are denied access to abortion are the poor, are the young, are 14-year-olds who were molested by a family member. We now have support across this country. Three out of 4 Americans believe in the rule of Roe v. Wade. When you’ve got three out of four Americans supporting it, we should be able to get that passed through Congress. We should not leave this up to the Supreme Court. We should do it through democracy because we can.”

The U.S. has seen a series of laws passed on the state level aiming to limit access to abortion. The laws have attempted to shutter Planned Parenthood clinics, which offer many more services than abortions, and Alabama’s law sought to put physicians in prison for 99 years for performing abortions. Louisiana has a law that is being heard by the Supreme Court this session that could force all but one doctor in the state to stop performing abortions.

Julián Castro spoke out about increasing police brutality and deaths at the hands of law enforcement.

“I grew up in neighborhoods where it wasn’t uncommon to hear gunshots at night,” former HUD Secretary Castro said when asked about preventing handgun homicides. “I can remember ducking into the backseat of a car when I was a freshman in high school across the street from my school, my public school because folks were shooting at each other.”

Castro continued by speaking about a topic that has been frequently discussed among the candidates, government buybacks of guns. Castro pointed out that he doesn’t like the idea of a mandatory buyback program since some people have not been able to define it. Furthermore, Castro states that if authorities are not going door-to-door then it isn’t going to be effective.

According to a Pew Research Center study conducted using data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 39,773 people died from gun-related incidents in the U.S. in 2017. The deaths came from suicides, murder, law enforcement, accidents, and undetermined circumstances.

Castro also made a point to name the latest victim of deadly police violence.

Atatiana Jefferson was home in Fort Worth, Texas with her nephew playing video games when neighbors called the police to check up on Jefferson. The officer who killed Jefferson, Aaron Y. Dean, resigned before he could be fired, according to The New York Times and has been charged with murder in the death. It is also reported that there have been six police-involved killings in the Fort Worth area this year.

Beto O’Rourke doubled down on his plan to create a mandatory buyback program of assault rifles.

If someone does not turn in an AR-15 or an AK-47, one of these weapons of war, or brings it out in public and brandishes it in an attempt to intimidate, which we saw when we were at Kent State [University] recently, then that weapon will be taken from them,” former Congressman O’Rourke told the audience when asked about finding the weapons and taking them away. “If they persist, there will be other consequences from law enforcement. But the expectation is that Americans will follow the law.”

Bernie Sanders, fresh from a health scare, let the billionaires have it.

“When you have a half-million Americans sleeping out on the streets today; when you have 87 million people uninsured or under-insured; when you have hundreds of thousands of kids who cannot afford to go to college and millions struggling with the oppressive burden of student debt,” Sanders said. “Then you also have three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, that is a moral and economic outrage and that truth is we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality and we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war for 45 years.”

The night was filled with other candidates bringing up issues of the opiate crisis, Russian meddling in American democracy, the need to bring dignity back to jobs, and Biden was confronted about the Ukrainian scandal his son is involved in.

READ: From Gun Reform To Immigration, Here Are The Highlights Of Last Night’s #DemDebate