A story with Healthy Beginnings+Healthy Communities Collaborative Healthy CAPACES.
Representation matters. When elected officials and other community leaders reflect the communities they serve, those communities do better. Having had similar experiences to their constituents, these leaders understand the issues firsthand, know the barriers they need to tear down, and can create change that improves people’s lives.
In reality, leaders rarely reflect the communities they serve. Although only 31% of the U.S. population is made up of white men, white men make up 65% of the United States’ elected officials. Similarly, 38% of Oregonians are white men, but white men make up 67% of Oregon’s elected officials. That means women and people of color, among other populations, are underrepresented.
Four out of five students in Oregon’s Woodburn School District are Latinx, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the Woodburn school board had a majority of Latinx school board members (although still not four out of five). As Latinx representation on Woodburn’s school board has grown, Latinx student dropout rates have gone down, teen pregnancy rates have gone down, gang activity has decreased, and graduation rates have gone up. One of Woodburn’s high schools is now among the top five in the nation.
Woodburn’s success in electing Latinx candidates is largely due to the efforts of a group of nonprofit organizations known as Alianza Poder/Power Alliance (Formerly the CAPACES Network). The Alliance includes an electoral organizing entity, a housing development corporation, a nonprofit focused on educational accountability and equity, a statewide immigrant rights coalition, a youth leadership program and more. By leveraging all their skills, resources and, most importantly, people power, Alianza Poder does an amazing job of engaging and activating their communities, getting out the vote, and preparing community members for leadership opportunities. Acción Política PCUNista, the Alliance’s 501(c)4, succeeded in electing Oregon’s first Latina immigrant to the Oregon House of Representatives in 2016. They also supported Latinx candidates to run for school board and other local positions.
While Alianza Poder has led incredible progress, Oregon’s elected officials are still far from reflecting Oregon’s Latinx population (Oregon’s largest ethnic minority). So, this year CAPACES Leadership Institute launched People’s Representatives – a bilingual leadership development institute based in Marion and Polk Counties, designed to prepare social-justice-minded Latinxs to compete for appointed or elected office or volunteer on committees.
People’s Representatives has two tracks: one for people curious about running for elected office, and one for people who want to serve on committees. Over the course of five trainings, all participants self-assess their values, financial resources, social network, etc.; conduct research about their region and elected office/committee of choice; and learn about messaging. Elected-track participants also learn about fundraising for and planning a campaign, while committee-track participants learn about building relationships and making change through committees.
The committee pathway graduated its first cohort of 16 people, mostly Latinx parents, on April 28, 2018. The first elected pathway cohort graduated on September 15, made up mostly of young adults. Already, some of the committee pathway graduates have been selected to serve on a school district hiring committee and a Salem area transportation committee.
People’s Representatives will continue to check in with all its graduates, even after they’ve taken on public service leadership roles.
We can’t wait to hear more stories from People’s Representative graduates and the cohorts to come!