IGNITE Fellows are changing the face of leadership in their communities, and ultimately, across the United States. Kayla Farhang serves as IGNITE’s Minneapolis Fellow at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Kayla recently graduated with a Political Science and Global Studies double major. She has a strong passion for politics and has been involved in a lot of community organizing throughout her college career and has focused on a variety of social justice issues.
As a Fellow, Kayla has encouraged her peers to pursue their passion for politics. As a woman in the field, she knows how important it is to feel a sense of support and solidarity. By creating an environment where women’s voices are uplifted and where they feel confident and supported, IGNITE helps achieve gender parity in the U.S.
What got you initially interested in politics and social justice? Was there a turning point?
Both my parents are very political, so politics and policy was always discussed in my home growing up. In kindergarten I attended one of the largest protests in the history of Minnesota against the war in Iraq.
As I got older, I began to understand that my identity, as a woman of color, was inherently political, which made me feel a responsibility to get involved; the saying “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu” really resonates with me.
My interest really sparked from learning about my heritage and history as an Iranian. I became fascinated with the Iranian Revolution and my father’s own journey as an immigrant. From there, my interest spread to the Middle East region and International Relations more broadly. I started to look for an outlet for my passion for politics, and began getting involved in campus and community organizing- the rest is herstory!
What type of recommendations would you make to a young woman who has not been politically active before, but would like to start exposing themselves to politics and social justice issues? What should be the next step?
First and foremost, read up! Identify an issue you are passionate about and do some digging. Educate yourself by engaging with a variety of sources- news media, blog posts, think pieces, scholarly articles, books, documentaries. For young women enrolled in college, I would suggest they attend a meeting of a political student group.
That group can be partisan (College Democrats or College Republicans) or non-partisan and issue based (environmental justice organizations, Fight for 15, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, etc). Whether this young woman is a college student or not, I would suggest that the young woman attend meetings of a local non-profit or non-profit coalitions. These meetings can often be found on the organization’s website or Facebook.
I would also recommend that this young woman identify peers who are either already politically engaged, or are interested in getting more involved like they are. It is much easier to get involved when you have someone there to encourage you! And lastly, set up meetings with your local elected officials.
Your elected officials love to meet with constituents, especially young folks! Google who your city council members and state legislators are, send them an email to set up a meeting, and just sit down and chat! It is easy to get involved when you know what’s going on at the micro level involving things that will directly affect you in your city or state.
What can be done to encourage women from the marginalized areas to embrace politics? What is the best way of helping them get jobs and be involved in public service?
As a woman of color, I think the most beneficial thing for me has been to build a network of other women, particularly women of color, who face the same or similar challenges as I have. Having a system of support is key. I would also remind marginalized women about the power of their intersectional identities. In embracing their intersectionality, women of marginalized communities (women of color, trans women, low income women, immigrant women, etc.) have a unique perspective from which to view policy issues – there is power in their identity!
As for helping these women get jobs and be involved in the public sector, I think those with privilege in our society (white, cis, straight, wealthy men – a prominent identity in politics) need to step aside and make room for our voices.
For more inspiration from IGNITE participants and how to get involved, check out our other stories!
Also published on Medium.