by M. Anthony Davis
Stephanie Gallardo, an educator, activist, and labor organizer, announced today she will challenge incumbent Adam Smith, a Democrat from Bellevue who has held the 9th Congressional District seat since 1997.
Gallardo, who is the daughter of a Chilean refugee and a fourth-generation Mexican American, currently teaches 11th grade U.S. history and human geography in the Tukwila School District. Gallardo is also a board member on the National Education Association (NEA) and the Washington Education Association (WEA).
Gallardo aims to bring a new lens of representation to the 9th Congressional District. Her campaign questions the idea of military spending outpacing educational spending 10:1 and she plans to end the cycle of trauma from war that impacts so many families in the District. As an educator, Gallardo also plans on bridging the gap between youth and leadership and will do so by creating a youth council that will take part in legislation. Gallardo has been impressed by the recent youth movements and looks forward to being able to bring youth in for roles that impact policy and decision making.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Why did you decide to run?
I decided to run because in my role on the Board of Directors for the Washington Education Association, I recently have been able to have conversations with state Legislators and Congressional members. And in my conversation with Adam Smith, maybe about three months ago, he wasn’t listening to educators. He wasn’t hearing our perspectives on what we need through the pandemic. And it got me thinking, “What does it look like to have an educator in Congress? What does it look like to have somebody that truly understands what it means to be working in public schools in Congress?” Then I began having conversations with people in my family, people in my community, and my students about the viability of being an educator and also being a Congress member.
So, one of the first reasons that I decided to run was because I recognized that there is definitely a gaping hole in representation for educators within Congress. The second reason that I decided to run is because I feel like now is the time for really bold moves from people who are community members or working on the ground and who have their ear in community. And I just decided, now’s the time to go for it and to take that bold step and run for Congress.
If you win, what is your plan for the District?
I have the platform that I’m running on, which is a platform that initially started from my own perspectives as an educator who lives and works in the 9th Congressional District. But this plan is going to grow, of course, in conversation with the community and getting to know different parts of the Congressional District that I’m not too familiar with yet. But to begin with, my platform is threefold. The first and most important thing, of course, as an educator, is education and what it means in our community to have schools in the south end that are fully funded, because I work in Tukwila. I experience as an educator and my students experience as students how we are drastically underfunded compared to schools that are in the north end. And a lot of that is also related to state-level legislation. I feel like we need somebody who understands the differences between state-level legislation and national-level legislation and how those things can be combined together.
The other thing that I’m working on with my platform is immigration. I’m the daughter of a refugee. My mother’s second generation Mexican American — I live in a mixed-status family, which means that some of my family members are undocumented and some of my family members have different levels of citizenship status. So, what I’ve seen over the past 10 years is that people want to say that our area, the Pacific Northwest, is welcoming to refugees. But we’ve seen cuts in resources, we’ve seen different treatment depending on where immigrants and refugees are coming from, based on skin color, based on religion.
Something that I want to work toward is really making sure that the 9th Congressional District is a true home that is safe, that is able to meet the material needs of new immigrants and refugees and create an oasis for immigrants because in addition to my family, that’s also the student population I work with in Tukwila. I want to make this place safe and a home that can really care for immigrants and allow them to prosper. Because that’s originally what happened when my family came here from Chile in 1976. They came to Beacon Hill, and immediately they had resources. They had Amnesty International and they had local church groups that were able to meet their material needs. But now, our resources are minimal, and they’re stretched thin.
The last thing that I’ll speak on is creating wealth in our workers and making sure that the wealth that workers create is distributed within the workers rather than within the billion dollar companies that we have here in the Seattle area as well as nationally. I think that one thing that we’re going to be working on is making sure that labor unions not only are safe and protected, but that we’re growing labor union membership across the city, across the county, across the district, and nationally.
Your press release mentions work you have done in labor unions. Can you talk about this work?
Yes, absolutely. I’m in my fifth year of teaching, and in my second year teaching I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Washington Education Association. In my work on the Board of Directors, some of the things that we’ve really been focused on is building membership specifically among early career educators and early career educators of color. We’ve done a lot of outreach and during the pandemic, we’re trying to stay 100% in contact with folks who are early career educators because now’s the time that they may be pushed out because this year has been incredibly difficult, even for veteran teachers. One of the most important things we’ve been trying to do is to build membership and maintain membership.
The other thing is, I was able to propose a motion on our Board of Directors to create a $300,000 COVID-19 Community Relief Fund. That’s the largest amount of money that we’ve ever allocated to community resources in the history of WEA. We’re able to award 55 organizations and nonprofits that money. And the amazing thing about this money is that it’s not just for 501(c)(3) nonprofits, it’s for local communities, and community members who are organizing on the ground like the South King County Mutual Aid Network and Youth Voices for Justice. So we are giving funds to people who are local organizers and not just the folks who are getting large amounts of donations constantly. We’re really trying to support people doing that work.
Your campaign also mentions the discrepancy in funding allocations for military and education. Can you go deeper into that idea?
Well, here’s the thing. As my press release stated, the amount of money that we’re allocating towards the military versus education is 10:1, and I think that the number that I just looked at for the military was something over $1 trillion. It was not only outrageous to me, but it’s just not a good use of money. As an educator, my focus is on trying to build up community, trying to build up young people, so that they can do what they want to do in this world and be able to also meet their material needs for themselves and their families. Military spending goes toward the destruction of communities and the destruction of human life. To me, it’s not a good use of money.
It also just creates more problems that we end up seeing down the line. As I mentioned earlier, my dad’s side of my family are refugees from Chile. And part of the reason they became refugees was because of the United States intervention in a coup in 1973. My grandfather at the time was an elected leader on the left, and they basically went after him, captured him, and put him in a political prison — a torture prison — for three years. The thing about military intervention and military spending is that it’s not just an immediate effect, it’s a long term-effect. I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington, but I come from a community of refugees. Refugees who have struggled to make ends meet for years and years and now have been able to create a life for themselves. But the impact that lasts over decades is just something that we need to be thinking about when we’re thinking about military spending.
The 9th Congressional District is huge. It spans from Tacoma all the way to Bellevue. That covers many different interests. How will you balance business needs in Bellevue with the needs you see in south Seattle or Tacoma?
That’s a great question, and it’s something I’m still grappling with. Like you said, there’s such a diverse community, both in terms of racial and ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic status. I think that when I hear your question, it makes me think about what are the opportunities, and what are the challenges within the district? And I think that in the last election where Adam Smith had a challenger, which was in 2018 against Sarah Smith, what I saw was that there wasn’t a lot of outreach to the Bellevue area. I think that probably ended up being something that hurt the campaign and hurt the organizing. That’s definitely something I want to look at. What does it mean to be a left wing candidate organizing in an area where there might be more conservative beliefs and there might be more conservative understandings of what our capitalist economy looks like? So, I think the first thing that we have to do is find people in those communities that are willing to hear and be open to a different sort of vision for that area that’s not based on this constant increase in capital, but is also based on taking care of each other in the community and finding resources for one another. That’s the first thing. And I would definitely say that a business owner is a business owner is a business owner. And all business owners need support, especially after the pandemic and as we continue in this pandemic, until it’s over.
As an educator, I’m sure your plans to support youth are rooted in education, but outside of just education, how do you plan to engage and support the youth?
As you mentioned, I am an educator. And the first thing that I envisioned when I began envisioning this campaign and what it could look like long term, was having a youth council and a youth group who are going to be guiding me as to what type of legislation and what type of work I’m doing and how it can impact young people. I definitely plan to have a team of youth who are doing that sort of directing along with me. And I’m serious when I say that I want the young people directing me. I think a lot of times we try and give space for young people, but as a teacher, I actually see every single day how capable young people are of directing their own lives and also directing the future of adults. I am also envisioning having an accountability council, which youth will be taking part of, that is going to have folks from different constituent groups and folks who are also elected to that accountability council. What I’m hoping we can do is create certain points of legislation, things that the folks want to see happen through the office and also like create mutual expectations of one another, because nothing can happen with a legislator without community. That’s what I hope my office is going to be — truly directed by the people and specifically young people.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
📸Featured image courtesy of Stephanie Gallardo.
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