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.