Virtual Women in Politics Forum Brings Cambridge Leaders Together in Conversation


Azusa Lippit, Metro Editor

Following weeks of planning, the Women in Politics virtual forum took place over Zoom on Wednesday, June 10th. Hosted by the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, the forum was the brainchild of the CRLS #HerVote club, featuring panelists Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui, Vice Mayor Alana Mallon, and City Councilor Denise Simmons. Founded in commemoration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment which gave some women the right to vote, the #Hervote club’s mission is “to preserve the voices of women and to encourage political participation,” as stated by student moderator Ning-er Lei ’21 in an introduction to the event. 

 The forum, attended by over sixty eager audience members, opened with an introduction by Harvard Professor Jane Kamensky. The event was moderated by CRLS juniors Rayne McNerney, Sofia Mrowka, and Ning-er Lei. 

In response to the recent events concerning the Black Lives Matter movement, the panelists were asked how citizens could work to contribute to the movement from within their own communities. Councilor Simmons advised people to act locally, “Start on your own block and in your own neighborhood. Give support to people of color. We have to notice what is happening to black lives in our neighborhoods, our own streets,” Simmons continued, “There is currently a watershed of support and energy, but unfortunately it doesn’t continue. We go back to our jobs and our lives until the next major catastrophe. We’ve got to make a commitment that we are not going to let a catastrophe to another black or brown person happen again.”

There is so much at stake for women’s rights in our elections.

— Sumbul Siddiqui

Recognizing the large community of youth in Cambridge, including the many who are eager to make their voices heard, CRLS alumna Mayor Siddiqui was asked what she would say to a teenage version of herself, “I didn’t know how change was possible, and there are so many different ways to bring about change in your community,” she responded. “It doesn’t have to happen overnight, it can be a series of things. Be involved. Our love and bodies are constantly a political battlefield, so it’s really important to fight for that existence and freedom through voting.” 

Beyond her past self, Vice Mayor Mallon responded to the same question, saying that she would like the youth to understand changes being made in their own municipalities. Though this method may not translate well during a pandemic, “Knocking on doors,” she advised, “is one of the best ways to ensure that people get elected.” The Vice Mayor continued, “We have been lucky enough to work with the Cambridge youth council at CRLS to effect some real change.” She went on with a message for young women in particular: “You need to look no further than this COVID crisis to see that women can, and should lead in these conversations. We are very well represented here in Cambridge by strong female legislators, and it’s critical that we continue to elect them.”

As three prominent women in Cambridge politics, the panelists were appetent to share their past experiences navigating the field of campaigns and elections. Mayor Siddiqui recalled constant doubts, and thoughts such as, “I don’t know how to run for office,” and “I don’t know how to run a campaign at all.” She soon discovered that a positive attitude led to increased confidence, and by her second time running, she was able to believe, “I can run a campaign.”

Vice Mayor Mallon extended upon this topic, stating, “The term before [Mayor Siddiqui] and I decided to run, Councilor Simmons was the only woman among nine city councilors. They say it takes women seven different times to be told to run for office before they stop saying, ‘I don’t have the time, I’m not smart enough, it’s not for me.’” The Vice Mayor continued, “We somehow need to get to the point where women don’t need to be asked so many times. No one needs to ask [men]. They feel like this is a job they can do, and we need to get women to that point where it becomes very normalized.”

Members of the #HerVote club were ecstatic with the outcome of the event. Mrowka told the Register Forum, “Our goal was to start a conversation and get people talking, and the forum definitely accomplished it. The answers were incredible, we got super unique responses. People were interested and engaged.” Club member Anna Von Rosenstiel ’21 added, “I was pleasantly surprised that there were people from very far away. We had a person from Denver, Colorado submit a question to the panelists.” 

The #HerVote club has continued to meet biweekly with diligent perseverance throughout the past months in anticipation of the forum. Guided by faculty advisors Mr. Marlin Kann and Mr. Christopher Montero, members worked to develop thoughtful questions and drafted many rounds of emails in order to make the forum successful. McNerney told the Register Forum, “I appreciated how good our questions were. I had read them so many times but now that I was considering what [the panelists’] answers were going to be, I got excited to hear what they were going to say. And it was so cool to hear them say after a couple of the questions: ‘Wow, good question,’ or ‘I’m glad you asked.’”

Reflecting on the group’s efforts, Mr. Kann shared that, “When COVID-19 hit, we decided that we were going to continue. And we lost members, but nonetheless we stayed together and kept pushing. The only way that this could have ever happened was with us working as a team.” 

Mrowka agreed with Mr. Kann, sharing the obstacles which came with gathering the panelists virtually, instead of in a more traditional manner, “We had backups for everything and there were people behind the scenes who made us able to adapt super quickly.” After seeing the ability to adapt, Mrowka looked to the future, and continued, “Being able to handle sudden changes was definitely something that I think we did really well, and can keep doing for future forums.” The club will continue to meet during the summer, as well as throughout the 2020-2021 school year.