I have found my entrance into politics exciting, exhausting, and invigorating. I knew that this would be my most challenging endeavor yet, but this is on another level. This is hard and not just in the ways that one would think.
Now, I did not think that running for a seat in the United States House of Representatives was going to be an easy task. I was fully aware that this would be the most difficult journey I had ever embraced. It's not necessarily the tasks in front of me, but how they make me question myself and reflect incessantly.
It is so easy to lose sight of what put me on this path. Instead of focusing on being the agent of change that I have been throughout my life and educational career, I find myself painted into various boxes. Our national political climate is in a state of chaos. This includes attacks on the entire working class, notably all educators at all levels. These broad attacks require a response, and the flow is constant. Respond to this, respond to that. Comment here, comment there.
As an educator, whenever I find myself confined to a box or set of expectations, I reflect and take risks, implement new approaches, and break out. I encourage the students and staff that I work with to do the same exact thing. Now that I am here, I feel that I am not doing this enough.
For example, I spoke at a rally against the GOP Tax Scam recently. I worked with my team to create a compelling speech that I was excited and ready to deliver. I was prepared and confident to speak, and then once it was my turn, I blanked.
I have been engaged in public speaking since I was student council president in 9th grade. This has never happened to me. But there I was, addressing a group of people and straining to regroup and get back to my original talking points.
The reason? I stepped away from what I always do. As a teacher and speaker, I never plan precisely what I am going to say. Instead, I know my content and subject and speak freely depending on how the class and lesson unfold. This is what I am good at, and I did something opposite that because I was trying to fit into a mold.
Another example of this is fundraising. Everyone knows that you cannot win a major election without raising significant financial support (unless you find yourself funded by special interest groups). To put this into perspective, I have been told personally by experts that this race is a $10 million race (campaign finance reform, anyone?!). Not stressful at all, right?
Starting a grassroots movement for Congress requires non-stop calling, messaging, and asking for money. In conversations with friends, family, and total strangers, I have to sell myself as a candidate. The discussions, however, aren’t the hardest part of it. I find that explaining my why for running and thoughts on improving our district, state, and nation enjoyable. It’s what happens when I’m not able to have that conversation.
No training class ever teaches you about what goes through your mind when people you genuinely care about are seemingly unresponsive to your journey and requests for support. Everyone has their reasons, but it is hard not to get lost in your thoughts about the cause. Is it me? Do they not believe in me? Am I annoying?
Getting stuck in your thoughts and reflection is easy. Analyzing a situation is always a good thing, but overanalyzing paralyzes progress. Eventually, that thinking can slowly creep into doubt. I feel that educators, in general, are very susceptible to this.
All of this leads to doing things differently and not embracing the path and approach that allowed me to get to where I am today. As an educator, I have been successful because I have been willing to go against the grain. To speak out unwaveringly in a system that doesn’t always appreciate and encourage it. To not ask for permission, but to do everything in my power to ensure that my students have every possible chance to grow and thrive.
I will remember that I am an educator. We work best when the deck is stacked, when the odds seem insurmountable. We are not afraid to take risks. We are relentless in doing the impossible for our students. I will do the same for the people of NJ’s 2nd Congressional District, New Jersey, and America.
This is my declaration. Our campaign for Congress will be different. I refuse to let a system that is not working define who I am. It’s the reason why I am running. Change starts when people are willing to bring the fight to a new level. That is here, with you and me.