Opinion: Amherst Forward Presumes To Speak For BIPOC People While Simultaneously Silencing And Oppressing Those Voices
When candidates run for local office in Amherst, they have the opportunity to be endorsed by a PAC (political action committee) that will support their campaign through volunteers, financial support, and strategic planning. A PAC’s decision to endorse a candidate is largely based on a questionnaire filled out by the candidate followed by an interview and agreement with the candidate – or so I thought.
When a friend texted me to let me know that Amherst Forward had endorsed my candidacy, my first reaction was disbelief. Why would someone who did not fill out their questionnaire and had never had a conversation with a representative of this PAC, be added to their slate of candidates? My disbelief quickly turned to disappointment and anger as I recognized a pattern I was all too familiar with as a young BIPOC woman.
I have lived here in Amherst for my entire life. It is my home – where I learned to read, ride a bike, hike the trails, and where I have the same beautiful experiences with my own children. I grew in Amherst. I grew largely because of Amherst’s school system – a system that produces activists – and it is because of Amherst that I am advocating for change.
The Amherst education system taught me to think critically, to observe systems, to debate intelligently and respectfully, and most of all, to advocate for social and racial justice. It was because of my high school experiences in POCU (People of Color United) and in MSAN (Minority Student Achievement Network), alongside incredible community members of color like Ms. Pat, Ms. Bowman, Ms. Robinson, Mr. Wallace, and Mr.McGraw and students like Naimah, Amina, Kinga, Benji, Monique, Anthony, Mwende Katwiwa, that I became who I am.
Institutions like Amherst Forward have helped to solidify the polarity in Amherst and I am being tokenized in service to that polarization. Tokenized for my skin, youth, and demeanor rather than for the substance within me – the substance that was bred and has thrived in Amherst advocating for equity and authentic racial justice. Amherst Forward has not engaged BIPOC and other marginalized voices in the decisions that impact these communities the most and Amherst Forward did not engage this BIPOC candidate and endorsed her without her agreement.
Amherst Forward upholds the status quo by continuing to speak for BIPOC on a platform of “equity” while simultaneously silencing, eliminating, and oppressing BIPOC voices – and the voices of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. We must have representation. To truly value and invest in equity and racial justice, these voices must be in the rooms and at the tables where decisions are being made for them and their community. Equity looks like including anti racism publicly and substantively, across the board, not just in conversations about “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. Equity looks like electing BIPOC community members to the Town Council to represent the needs of the BIPOC community.
I want to leave a legacy of amplifying the voices of the most marginalized community members. BIPOC, immigrant, low-income, renters, and other community members who have long been disengaged by town government but are the most impacted by the decisions the council makes. In other words, I am looking to challenge the status quo. To engage the community in a way that will allow their lived experiences to inform the work of the Council.
We can make this happen right now. In the words of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, “This doesn’t take 100 years, it takes political courage”.
Ellisha Walker is a life-long resident of Amherst and an at-large candidate for Amherst Town Council
12 thoughts on “Opinion: Amherst Forward Presumes To Speak For BIPOC People While Simultaneously Silencing And Oppressing Those Voices”
Thank you Ellisha Walker for speaking and living your truth. I am one of those who was elected to public service in Amherst and faced repeated efforts to silence, eliminate, and oppressing my voice because I did not agree with the head of Amherst Forward. She and Amherst Forward are a toxic force in this town and I salute you for calling out how they have treated you and failed to engage you with the respect you deserve. I will do all that I can to see you elected and I am hopeful that this town will rise in accord with its better angels to vote for you and sweep out all those AF-backed incumbents who have done little to nothing to advance inclusivity and justice.
Dear Ellisha, I was impressed watching your work with the CSWG and again with your participation during the District 1 Candidate Forum yesterday. Today I am in awe. You are truly gifted. Thank you for speaking your truth to power. You will certainly have our votes and those of anyone else we can “reach”.
Thank you for your words, Ellisha Walker. Your article reminds me of my experience with Amherst Forward when I ran for school committee a few years back. I was invited to meet with Amherst Forward representatives only a few days after I had announced my candidacy, and did not end up earning their endorsement. Curious as to why my experience would not earn me an endorsement (former 7-12 grade educator, PhD in education, other service positions in town), I followed up with Amherst Forward for clarification, asking what basis they use to select who they endorse. In my inquiry I suggested that perhaps adding transparency to their endorsement process would earn them some credibility. The email reply stated that Amherst Forward “will share information about our priorities in making this decision as we move forward.” In reading your article, it appears things haven’t changed with their endorsement process since then. In the end I was grateful I had not been endorsed by a group whose values I myself could not endorse (lack of transparency for one). To run for public office is one thing, but having to negotiate these distractions during the campaign process does not help. I am sorry that Amherst Forward has put you in this position, Ellisha; it is not just to endorse someone without their agreement.
Since running for office, I have watched Amherst Forward take a strong stance on some issues, and maintain complete silence on other issues. Where was Amherst Forward, for example, during the negotiations between the Town and the Community Safety Working Group earlier this year? Where was Amherst Forward then to “endorse” you, and the other CSWG members advocating for our community members of color?
Thank you, Ellisha, for speaking out about authentic representation and power. I have seen Amherst forward do these actions in the past and your articulation of your truth to the power of their PAC is inspiring and the kind of leadership I’m looking for in Amherst. I am excited to do what I can to get you elected to lead us in Amherst.
Note to Rita and Sean Burke: Ellisha Walker is running for at-large councilor, and the forum where she spoke on Sunday night was for the at-large candidates. Also running for the three at-large spots are Vira Dougmany Cage, Vince O’Connor, Robert Greeney, and Amherst Forward incumbents Mandi Jo Hanneke and Andrew Steinberg.
As much as I respect Vince and Bob, a vote for either of them is a vote to continue Amherst Forward dominance on the Council. I urge everyone to vote only for Vira and Ellisha, two excellent candidates.
Thank you Kitty. My apologies for being less than precise with my reference to the “District 1 and At-Large Virtual Candidate Forum hosted by District One Neighborhood Association”. Also participating were Michele Miller and Cathy Schoen, District 1 candidates for Town Council. It was a very fine and informative event. Rita Burke