As an African-American woman, I spent most of my life thinking that politics was a game of greed. Where I grew up, we saw politicians as obnoxious and self-interested – putting themselves over the communities they were elected to serve. My opinion began to change when I took my first government class during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The Democratic nominee at this time was a Black senator from Illinois. Barack Obama looked more like me than any other presidential candidate I had ever seen. More importantly, he spoke to my experiences and my dreams for the future. His election showed me and millions of other African-Americans that we had a voice, that we had a say in choosing the leaders who would represent us, and that our elected leaders could, in fact, be among us. Watching our first Black president speak in Hyde Park on Election Night, I knew I wanted a career in politics.
I put these thoughts into action at Norfolk State University, joining a state senate campaign in Virginia Beach, then helping Norfolk elect its first African-American mayor. I later served as an organizer for the Democratic Party of Virginia, NARAL Virginia, and Hillary for America. Now, I work as a personal aide for the man running to become the next governor of Virginia. His name is Tom Perriello.
Like me, Tom was also pulled into electoral politics eight years ago, inspired by the hope and change Obama offered. Tom then succeeded to do what many called impossible: winning a congressional district that no Democrat had won before.
I met Tom after being asked by my mentor and NARAL co-worker to attend one invited me to help her corner Tom with questions on reproductive rights, specifically his 2009 vote on the “Stupak Amendment.”
That’s not exactly what happened. Tom listened to us and responded to our questions without flinching, taking full responsibility for his one-time vote which he apologized for and still regrets. As a young congressman representing a red-leaning district, Tom cast that vote to keep a promise he made to his constituents – later allowing him to vote for the Affordable Care Act. He explained that he is and has always been pro-choice, marching for Roe v. Wade when he was 17, fighting against the defunding of Planned Parenthood in Congress, even overseeing a progressive push to take on dangerous Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws at the Center for American Progress.
And as governor, Tom will be the champion women need to protect our rights. Access to health services and reproductive care is especially vital to women of color, and as an African-American woman, a vital issue for me. There is no doubt in my mind that Tom is, and will continue to be, a strong champion for all Virginia women.
Tom’s willingness to address the issue openly and honestly was refreshing because accountability is so rare in politics. While I entered the meet-and-greet skeptical of Tom, I left so impressed and inspired that I asked how I could become involved with his campaign.
Now, a few weeks into the job as his personal aide, Tom has not let me down. He has continued day in and day out to impress and inspire me with his deep desire to do good and do right by the people of Virginia.
He cares deeply about bringing politics back to the people – meeting voters where they are, from Arlington to Abingdon – and I’ve witnessed his passion first hand. Tom is open, honest, and truly cares about our struggles and worries, just like when I first met him in Norfolk.
By Thiaa Rahman