Exclusive Profile: Hillary Clinton Deputy Operations Director Alessandra Biaggi

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On October 15, 1991, at age five, Alessandra Biaggi’s passion for women in politics was awakened. She was attending the opening of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which was founded by her grandfather, Representative Mario Biaggi of New York. Then-State Attorney for Dade County and eventual-Attorney General Janet Reno spoke at the dedication. After the ceremony, Alessandra met Reno personally. Though Alessandra has been told before that women could succeed in politics, seeing Reno in real life was concrete proof of it.

Throughout her childhood, Alessandra’s family supported her political ambitions. They encouraged her to be thoughtful and critical. “When I’d say ‘I really wanna do X,’ my parents would ask me why I want to do that, who it’ll help, how it would affect the community, stuff like that. They were priming me.”

Alessandra entered politics with an internship for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). She went on to work at the Kings County D.A.’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY, the Presidential Succession Clinic at the John D. Feerick Center for Social Justice as an editor, and the NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as Assistant General Counsel.

In early 2015, Alessandra was offered a position on the vetting team of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She accepted immediately, ecstatic about the opportunity to help elect the first female president in United States history.

On April 1, her official title on the campaign became Deputy National Operations Director. She described her roles and responsibilities as “literally everything.”

“I was helping balance the budget, I was requesting extra funds, I was helping them sort all the merch while working the compliance… All of the hiring for all dates as well as all of the offices, which includes negotiating leases… All of the paid canvassing programs, GOTV, everything that you can imagine at this point fell underneath operations.”

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Alessandra described the days following Election Day as a “blur.” The sense of loss was heavy, with two suicides in her network of friends occurring “as a result of the stress caused by the current state of our country and the political climate.”

However, she did not fall into a state of despair. She said that there was a quote from Persian poet Rumi that became her mantra following the election: “The wound is the place where the light enters.”

So along with thousands of other women across the country, Alessandra redirected her suffering into action.

She created an extensive “Take Action Guide for Activism” to help activists and organizers get involved with progressive politics and stay informed in a time when every Trump tweet becomes a national headline. The guide is unbelievably comprehensive, providing readers with links to grassroots organizations across the country that focus on everything from immigration to rebuilding the Democratic Party at a state level to helping women run for office to civics education, and so on.

Alessandra also got involved with countless progressive efforts such as Ladies Get Paid, Rally + Rise, New York University’s Women’s Initiative, Impact Hub, Solidarity Sundays, Columbia University, Changemaker Chats, All In Together Campaign, and the latest, with Diane Von Furstenberg. She currently sits on the Advisory Board of the New Leaders Council, is a member of The New Agenda’s Young Women Leadership Council, and serves on the host committee for the Arena Summit. She describes all of these organizations as “communities” of politically active progressives from across the country.

“We all need to jump on board and link arms. That’s how you get stronger.”

One of her main focuses has been connecting people. “I would say that one of my superpowers is identifying what people are working on and identifying people in my network already and then connecting them… This is my ritual of democracy.”

For example, at The New Agenda, a nonpartisan organization “started after the 2008 election cycle because of how the media was treating Hillary Clinton,” Alessandra helped organize National Girlfriends Networking Day. “They have different events across the country that they stream the one event from New York City into. It’s basically a network of women to support other women, so it’s like a mentor-mentee networking group focused on young women, middle-aged women, and older women.”

But while she has found many meaningful ways to get involved, Alessandra knows that civic engagement is not easy. She recommends that folks start by asking themselves three questions.

The first is a personal one: “What does it mean to be a citizen?” In other words, the infamous words of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

To Alessandra, the question of what it means to be a citizen “begs the answer” of “social change.” “How we’re going to have that social change” leads to the next question:

How do you create community?

Once you pinpoint what you care about, Alessandra says, you should find a community that shares your interests.

“You can never underestimate a quick Google search of ‘progressive millennial organizations.’”

If “it doesn’t exist… create that group!” And that leads to the final question:

What’s the way in which my voice can be most heard, or where can I make the most impact?

Alessandra said that once you have found your “tribe,” you have the strength in numbers to set concrete group goals that can make a real difference. Whether it be making 50 calls to a senator, holding workshops, creating a PAC, or signing up for ResistBot, Alessandra’s final question is meant to guide people to their own “Rituals for Democracy.”

“I think we need to treat activism and our engagement as another thing that we schedule… What can I do in a day, what can I do in a week… We have to break it down for people like that because not everything is for all of us.”

For progressives who want to get involved in politics in particular, Alessandra says that the best way is always to volunteer.

“Volunteer in a campaign office, and from there you meet the staff, and then you become an organizer and then organizers go into headquarters, and it just grows there. But you have to start with what you got, and usually what you got is a field office, so volunteer for a candidate that you care about.”

“Volunteer, cause that’s where the people are.”

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Alessandra speaking at NYU.

Volunteering for progressives candidates is especially important given the midterms occurring next year. But women can do more than just volunteer.

“My call to action for women would be to consider running for office even if they’ve never considered it before and if not for federal office or even state, consider putting their name in the ring for non-competitive seats on the county level. There are many roles, upwards of 500,000 public offices that you can hold, and we need more women.”

But what are the next steps after consideration? How can women actually prepare themselves to run for public office?

“You can do all the training in the world, and you’ll never be ready. You just do it because you make the decision. There will be a support network around you once you decide to do it, that’s no question, so equip yourself with the right tools. Take a training. Go online, look at the courses. She Should Run has an online incubator that you can do from home. Look wherever you are, see what training groups can help. The Yale Women’s Campaign School or New Leader Council, these different groups have all of these different trainings and make yourself the most prepared that you possibly can. Figure out what issues you care about and just run.”

Alessandra already knows what her top issue is: women in politics. It is what she’s dedicating her life to at the moment through public speaking and advocacy. But she hopes that soon, she will be able to empower women from a different position. When I asked her if she plans to work on the presidential campaign in 2020, she told me:

“If it were a campaign I believed in as much as I believed in Secretary Clinton’s. So the bar is very high. But the next campaign I hope to work on is my own.

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Exclusive Profile: Millennial NYC Mayoral Candidate Collin Slattery

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In 1992, when Collin Slattery was just two years old, his father was diagnosed with leukemia. His health insurance was provided through his high-level corporate job, so when he was let go, the Slattery family had to pay for all of his health bills out of pocket.

In 1995, they moved from Illinois to New Jersey, one of the few states at the time that required providers to offer healthcare to people with pre-existing conditions. Collin’s father died in 1999, leaving 10-year-old Collin and his family bankrupt from the millions of dollars they had to pay out-of-pocket on healthcare.

Collin, along with his mother and two sisters, moved to New York City in 2003 so that Collin could attend a good high school. But though he attended Stuyvesant, one of the best STEM schools in the country, his life was far from good. He had a rocky relationship with his mother, who was more interested in how much money he won playing poker in an underground park than how he was doing in school.

Collin graduated in 2007, but was unable to afford college. His mother was evicted from her apartment in 2008, leaving Collin on the edge of homelessness.

For over a year, Collin had only one meal a day. He walked 9.2 miles to get to his minimum wage retail job. He was oftentimes single days from eviction. Though he is over six feet tall, he was only 150 pounds.

Then, in early 2009, he came across an incredible opportunity. He met a young businessman who created his own hedge fund, Elea Capital Management, in his early 20’s. The young businessman offered Collin a six figure per year job that could springboard Collin’s career and develop into a multimillion dollar per year job. The young businessman’s name was Martin Shkreli.

Martin Shkreli, now commonly referred to as “pharma bro,” earned the hatred of people around the world in 2015 for hiking the price of Daraprim, a medication used to treat people with AIDS, by 5000%, making it unaffordable to many who desperately needed it. Shkreli had taken similar action before, hiking the price of Thiola, a drug used to treat the rare disease cystinuria, by 2000%.

“It’s a great business decision that also benefits all of our stakeholders,” Shkreli explained on Twitter.

Later that year, Shkreli was arrested by the FBI for securities fraud. He ended up with a congressional hearing in which he refused to answer any questions beyond what his name was.

Though Collin could not have possibly known in early 2009 that Shkreli would hike the prices of essential drugs by thousands for his own benefit alone, Collin could tell that Shkreli was running a fraud. “I was faced with this moral dilemma,” Collin told me. “I was impoverished. I was so poor I can’t even afford to eat.”

But despite the opportunity to pull himself out of poverty, Collin declined Shkreli’s offer. Instead, Collin reported Shkreli to the SEC for running a fraud.

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Collin’s email to the SEC reporting Martin Shkreli’s fraudulent activity. Sent Sat, May 16, 2009 at 4:04 AM.

Seven months later, on December 23, 2009, Collin spent his last $134 to start a web hosting company. He named it Taikun. It became a side project after Collin acquired a job in March 2010, but in 2014, Collin began running Taikun full-time as a digital marketing agency. Taikun helps small- and mid-size businesses grow on the web. He currently isn’t making as much as he’d like, bit he can now afford healthcare, rent, three meals a day, and a MetroCard.

“I haven’t taken any money from anyone, I haven’t taken any venture capital. Just bootstrappin’ my way up.

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Collin with his grandmother.

After the election, Collin wanted to use his tech skills to take action. He started working to create a millennial, digital-based Super PAC that would engage millennials and help encourage them to run for office. He specifically wanted to drive nerds into politics. “The nerdier you are, the more likely you are to accept reality and facts,” he said. “So why don’t we have nerds in charge for a while?”

But then he had a thought. “Why don’t I just run myself?”

He was initially cautious, worried that people would find embarrassing pictures of him online that would be disqualifying in the eyes of voters. But that concern faded quickly. “Trump is a self-professed serial sexual predator. If that’s not disqualifying, literally nothing in my closet is even close to that.”

“Donald Trump should be in prison. I just got drunk and fell into a wall.”

Collin immediately knew that if he was going to run, he’d have to run for mayor of New York City. “There’s so much you can do as mayor to help people,” he said. “You can be this beacon of progressivism and good governance for the country.”

Initially, he thought about “doing a Mayor Bloomberg” – making money in the private sector, then going into politics. But with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, this is urgent.

Unfortunately, Collin has had some difficulty being taken seriously as a 28-year-old outsider to the political scene. “They think it’s a publicity stunt.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth, Collin says.

“I don’t want to be a career politician. I want to improve the lives of my constituents. I’m not trying to be governor. I’m not trying to be president. I’ve always wanted to run for mayor of New York.”

Good intentions don’t get you on the ballot, though. What does? 7,500 signatures, technically. But according to Collin, that’s not really the case. “You can’t just collect 7,500. You need more like 20,000. The establishment, the big money, they’ll try to declare fraud.”

Collin hopes that he can make up for the lack of establishment support by capturing the grassroots progressive enthusiasm that has driven the campaigns of Jon Ossoff in Georgia and Rob Quist in Montana. “There’s no enthusiasm for Mayor de Blasio,” he said. “Nobody wants a 60-year-old white guy who just barely avoided federal corruption charges.”

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Collin believes that mobilizing millennials in particular will give him a good shot of winning the Democratic primary, which many currently see as a lock for Bill de Blasio. “In 2013, de Blasio got 282,000 votes, and there are 1.9 million millennials in NYC.”

Collin’s “unabashedly progressive” platform is definitely one that could attract millennials. His slogan is “A New York for All New Yorkers,” and his campaign is focused on making the city more affordable for low-income New Yorkers. He took his experiences from his time in poverty to craft policies and a budget that will take care of those who most need help. He wants to make housing and transit specifically more affordable. As someone who had to walk 100 blocks to work because he couldn’t afford to ride the subway, this stuff is close to his heart.

He wants to give low-income New Yorkers half-fare MetroCards, as well as expand to Student MetroCard program to all NYC public schools. He also wants to decriminalize fare evasion, the most common reason for arrest in the city. NYPD data indicates that 90,000 people per year are stopped by the police for jumping the turnstile, 92% being people of color. “The city is just criminalizing people for being poor,” Collin said. “African-American New Yorkers are being rushed off to prison just because they couldn’t pay $2.75.”

Collin suggested that New York should stop paying to keep Donald Trump safe when Trump has the money to do so himself, and instead redirect the taxpayer money that’s currently being wasted to helping low-income New Yorkers. And ultimately, that’s what matters to him the most: helping the people of his city.

“Winning is not the most important thing. The most important thing is the issues I believe in getting coverage.”

http://slatteryfornyc.com/

Exclusive Interview: Seattle City Council Candidate Mac McGregor

Campaign Kickoff Celebration and Fundraiser

Mac McGregor spent the first 40 years of his life as a professional athlete and small business owner. Prior to transition, he was the highest-ranking female martial artist in the world cumulatively. He owned a martial arts school and personal training studio. He empowered people all over the world by teaching them self-defense. Motivated by the sexism he faced in the world of athletics, he fought for women’s rights. Though he loved what he was doing, he wasn’t able to truly be himself. He last competed in the world championships at age 39.

Shortly after, he moved from the Bible Belt of the South up to Seattle, where he had more resources to transition. In Seattle, he used his skills as a public speaker and teacher to educate people on diversity and defend LGBTQ rights. As a member of the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, he has fought for marriage equality, trans-inclusive healthcare for city employees, and gender neutral bathrooms. He also worked with the Seattle Women’s Commission for paid family leave and sick leave. In 2011, he was appointed as a City Commissioner.

Mac worked with the City Council and Mayor’s Office till 2016, when he stepped down to prepare to run for office. He is currently running for Position 8 on the Seattle City Council and hopes to be the first transgender person on the council.

I spoke with him recently about his career and campaign. Below is a transcription of our interview, edited for length and clarity.

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Mac with City Council members Mike O’Brian, Nick Licata, and Sally Clark.

How did you get into politics?

What started me in all of this is working for the rights of the marginalized communities I’m a part of. During my time as an athlete, when the world perceived me as female, I worked for women’s rights, and then for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

My work as a teacher, public speaker, and negotiator also got me into politics. I’ve been trained by the Olympic committee to be a negotiator/arbitrator to handle disputes in competitions. When someone has a complaint, they have arbitrators who come in and hear from all sides to make a fair decision if somebody feels like they were treated unfairly in the competition. That skill is very helpful in negotiating in the world of politics.

I actually am not a politician, which is a good thing. I am a bridge-builder and I’m a fierce advocate for people that are marginalized. And we need more people like that stepping into these positions.

The other day, I had someone attack me online for running for office. It was a trans person and basically what they said was: “I can’t believe that you’re doing this! Why would you do this! I loathe politicians!” And my response to that was that I loathe a lot of politicians as well, but if we don’t have some people who are willing to step up and make a difference, how is any of this going to change?

If you want something to change, you gotta get up and be a part of creating the change. You have to make that change, not just think about it. I’m very action-oriented in that, and I’m an optimist; I truly believe that one person or a small group of people can make a difference. I won’t give up on that.

 

When did you first know that you wanted to make that change by running for office?

I’ve been considering it for the past two years. I was of course motivated by this last election and by the fact that we, more than ever, need people from marginalized communities to step up and say we’re not going into the shadows again. We’re here and we’re going to stand strong and stand together.

There are 535 members of Congress. Less than 20% are women. Less than 50 are African-American. There’s only one Muslim. There are seven out lesbians and gays. We have a long way to go. There are 535 people that are supposed to represent us, but there’s such a small part of them that actually represent the diversity in our country.

 

How did your family and friends react to your announcement?

I mean, a few people asked me if I’m crazy, but I’ve had a great deal of support. I would say there aren’t many cities where people would be so thrilled to have somebody who’s unique running. There are people who say they love that a trans person is running. There are straight, cisgender people who are supportive. This is really the next movement.

 

Why did you choose City Council?

I would actually run for the United States House or Senate in the future, but my wife and I have a son who’s a sophomore in high school and we don’t want to do that until he’s graduated. I also love the city.

I believe that even though Seattle is a very diverse city and supports a lot of civil rights, with what we’re facing federally right now, with them threatening to pull our federal funding here because we’re a sanctuary city, we’re facing some things we never thought we’d face two years ago. And we need diverse voices at the table because if all that funding is pulled, it’ll most affect marginalized communities. We need voices from those communities figuring out how we’re going to handle that.

 

What’s so special to you about Seattle?

It’s a city that doesn’t just tolerate diversity, but actually celebrates it. It’s a city that you can be true to yourself in, and there’s just a great deal of rich diversity that’s genuinely enjoyed here.

 

How have your past experiences prepared you for city council?

I faced a great deal of obstacles in my life and overcame them. I didn’t come from a silver spoon – I came from a troubled family and became a world champion. I didn’t have the family support that most of the other people on the US Karate Team or traveling on the competition circuit had, and I overcame that. One reason I overcame it was because community members helped step up for me – teachers and coaches and parents of friends – and that helped teach me to give back to the community.

I didn’t back down. I didn’t become a world champion in martial arts by not overcoming adversity. Those experiences of not giving up, that perseverance, it’s huge. When I believe in something or I’m fighting a battle for something I believe in, I’m not going to give up, I’m going to stick to it. There are going to be bumps in the road and a lot of people won’t stick it out, but I’m going to stick it out.

 

What are your top issues?

We have a growing critical problem with homelessness in Seattle. There’s a few reasons for that. One, housing has gotten so expensive here that we’re seeing a lot of people forced out of their homes. And the other thing is that Seattle has been a city that has many more services available than most, and being a sanctuary city as well, more people come for the services they need. So I want to work on that, help make housing more affordable and accessible.

There’s a Martin Luther King quote that sums up my campaign: “If America is to remain a first-class nation, it cannot have second-class citizens” And I am saying that about not only our nation but our cities, and right now the homeless are definitely being treated like second-class citizens.

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I also want to work on the gender pay gap. Unfortunately, as progressive as Seattle is, we still have a big problem with that here. And I believe that we need to start with city employees. There was a study done two years ago that showed there’s still big disparities between men and women that work for the city – in pay, advancements, and opportunities – and we need to fix that. The city has to set the example.

I’m also a small business advocate because I was a small business owner for 23 years, and right now, we don’t have a small business advocate on the council. A lot of our small businesses are being forced out of the city because of how expensive it is. The regulations are tough, and they really aren’t giving breaks to minorities that open small businesses or people that open small businesses in lower-income areas of the city. I would like to make our city more small-business-friendly. Right now a lot of small businesses feel like corporate interests are pushing them out.

I think it’s also very important to recognize non-binary as a legal gender. I would love to see more options on birth certificates, and that’s just a start. I want to work with our city and county to change the options for gender on our driver’s license and all of our documentation so people actually recognize gender as a spectrum.

 

How does your identity affect your candidacy?

I have a unique perspective. I have lived part of my life as what the world viewed as female. I know what it’s like to live and walk in the world as female and own a business and the struggles of that.

I understand the in-between phase. A lot of people don’t talk about this, but when you go through transition, there’s this in-between phase when you’re walking across the gender bridge where people don’t even know what category to put you in.

I’ve always presented as masculine, but now I’m perceived as male. I don’t get questions. So now I’ve experienced three sides of how the world treats a person. That’s a unique perspective. I have experienced what it’s like to be part of a couple of marginalized groups. It’s an experience I won’t forget, and it makes me very aware of how all marginalized people are treated and the importance of education around that and understanding and creating access to opportunities.

 

What will you do in the city council to help marginalized Seattle residents?

I want to close the gender pay gap, which I think affects women and everybody on the trans scale. Unemployment is a huge issue in the transgender community as well. I want to work with the Office of Civil Rights on access to housing. They did a study not too long ago about housing discrimination against people of color and people with disabilities, and they wanted to do a study on discrimination against LGBTQ people and I’d like to see that happen. I’d also like to see a study done on housing discrimination against immigrants.

 

You mentioned earlier that you’d be interested in running for Congress. Do you have any other plans beyond City Council?

I’d like to run for the House or Senate after our son graduates. Our government is never going to change unless we get people to step forward who are doing it because they actually care about the people and making things better for the average person.

My wife and I, one of the dreams we’ve had for a long time is to open a retreat center for all kinds of education and growth and to help all kinds of people, from women who have suffered from domestic violence to people questioning their gender. Basically, a retreat that hosts all kinds of great events that create a safe space to grow and explore and connect.

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Mac with Danni Askini and Stevie Lantali. (Trans Pride Seattle)

What advice would you give to trans youth hoping to run for office?

Get involved with a local campaign that you really believe in. Volunteer and learn everything you can about the process. That will help you learn what areas you’d be interested in running for and what you’re passionate about.

There’s so many different areas and a lot of people don’t understand the importance of local positions. Just get in there and volunteer and you’ll learn from all kinds of great people and learn about yourself as well.

 

How can folks get involved in your campaign?

There’s an area on my website where you can sign up to volunteer. We do our best to put people in areas of volunteering that fit their personalities so they can flourish and enjoy the experience.

For instance, not everyone is an extrovert, so canvassing isn’t for everyone. Not everyone’s comfortable going out and talking to people they don’t know. So one of the questions we have when people sign up to volunteer is “would you rather a job that is extroverted or introverted”? because we have all kinds of behind the scenes jobs, like data entry. We need help on both ends and I think plugging people into an area that their personality and their gifts better just makes volunteers happier and more likely to come back.

 

Any closing thoughts?

There was a time when the first woman ran for office. There was a time when the first person of color ran for office. Those were essential moments in our history.

Someone asked me the other day, “why should I vote for you because you’re trans?” And I said you shouldn’t vote for me just because I’m trans. That alone doesn’t make someone a good candidate, being from a marginalized community. But that perspective and having various diverse perspectives at the decision-making table is of the utmost importance if we’re really going to represent our diverse population. So that’s where it makes a huge difference, and we’ve never in my state or city had a voice like mine at the table. And never in many states or cities. I think it’s time.

 

www.votemacmcgregor.com