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New Group To Recruit More N.H. BIPOC And LGBTQ Candidates For Local Office

New Hampshire's state legislature is overwhemingly made up of older white men. This is also true for many local governments across the state.

A political action committee created this year is dedicated to increasing the diversity of New Hampshire's state and local governments. 

Nashua Alderwoman Shoshanna Kelly co-founded Our Moment PAC to identify and support BIPOC and LGBTQ candidates. NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with her about the PAC's efforts moving forward.

Rick Ganley: I know you were the first woman of color elected to the Nashua Board of Aldermen. Can you talk about the need for more representation in general?

Shoshanna Kelly: It's definitely been quite an experience for me being a person of color growing up in New Hampshire. So, you know, back in 2016, when I ran for office, I couldn't believe that I would be the first person of color. And that came up as we were getting ready to run my campaign. And actually, there was another alderwoman who was elected at the same time. So we kind of co became the two first women of color on the Board of Aldermen, so that was Linda Harriott-Gathright. But I was floored at the time that we were the first in 2016.

Rick Ganley: Not a new problem, of course, as you said. Historically, this has been a white guys club. You know, the state only elected its first Black state senator two years ago. Has the group been in the works for a while? Is this something that you've had in your mind for a long time and you thought this is the right time to launch?

Shoshanna Kelly: One hundred percent. So I think as a woman of color, I didn't expect to be put in this position where I was the first, not necessarily. I just wanted to run for office because I had people on my board who didn't connect with my experiences or understand what my life was like. You know, and we all kind of sat down and scratched our heads and said, well, if the people who are in these positions aren't people who have the same experiences as someone who is a Black, Indigenous, person of color, or a member of our LGBTQ community, they're not going to prioritize the same things. So we've been thinking about it since I ran for office. And people on our board have definitely been thinking about it for a while. But with the current tensions and race protests, etc, that are going on, we felt this was a really strong time to step it up and start this organization.

Rick Ganley: Can I ask you about your personal experiences on the board and how those conversations go with your fellow aldermen?

Shoshanna Kelly: You know, we have a really good board right now, and I've actually said this before. When people congratulate me as being the first woman of color, I say actually what I was really excited about was we went from, I believe it was all white, maybe two women at the time to two people of color, four or five people under the age of 40, and half the board is women now. So we have a pretty good representation of our city. And I think that's what Our Moment really wants across the board. It's not about having just young people or just people of color. It's having that diversity of experience there.

And so for me, it's interesting being on the board. For example, we just had a long debate about changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, and most of the board was pretty receptive to it. But there were people who just didn't understand why we were even putting this forward. And I think not being able to see it from the perspective of somebody who is a Black, Indigenous, person of color, and the fact that that is part of their identity and that they would very much like to see something that celebrated it, was a conversation I had to have with my board members.

We also had a conversation about changing it to alderpersons. And definitely comments were made like, well, if it's not broke, then why should we fix it? And I very pointedly said, it may not seem like it's broke to you as a white male, but as a woman of color, I would like to be identified for who I am. So there's definitely been tough conversations, but it is a good group. And there is such a diverse city that you generally find support.

Rick Ganley: And how's the group working to identify more diverse candidates in the Granite State?

Shoshanna Kelly: Honestly, one of the things that is pretty much across the board, especially with women and people of color, is that we often have to be asked to run for office. I know I was, because it's not something that we're necessarily just, it's not in our mindset. You know, we're not always bumping up against political people or organizations. It hadn't occurred to me to run for office until I was asked. So some of it is just feeding the idea that you can run, and you can win and that your experiences matter. And they're really important to helping shape the narrative of our state going forward.

Rick Ganley: We hear this all the time about, you know, our state representatives. You know, they're older retirees quite often because it's not a full time job, obviously, and those are the people who have time to do that kind of a thing. It really does take that kind of support system for people that want to be able to run for an office and really participate in government, doesn't it?

Shoshanna Kelly: It really does. And, you know, one of the things, this is my own personal opinion here, but one of the things that I've been incredibly frustrated by here in New Hampshire is how much we pay our representatives. You know, the reality of it is if we're paying someone $100 a year, you're automatically leaving out voices who can't afford to give away their time for that much money.

And so I've said consistently, that economically it makes it really hard for people of color or people of low income backgrounds to even consider getting involved. Because $100 a year is just, you know, it's more ceremonial than it is doing anything else. And so we've talked about looking at ways that we can assist beyond that. And I've talked multiple times with people in the state government and the local government about how do we potentially offer child care or things of that nature so that people can get the support that they need.

Rick Ganley: So is that part of your mission as a group here is to try to overcome those barriers to help candidates be able to to run and serve in office?

Shoshanna Kelly: Yes, definitely. I think barriers to running and serving are incredibly important. And I think, like I said before, I think just even considering it. It's not always something that comes up for people. And I will tell you bluntly that when a person asked me to run, I said you really think a woman of color can can win in New Hampshire? I grew up in the Lakes region. I was the only person of color. Well, there was one other person in my high school of 300. But I really had a very different experience growing up there. And I genuinely asked that question wondering if it was even a potential. So I think that this organization is the opportunity for us to make sure these voices are uplifted. We're asking people to use that opportunity to make some real change.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.

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