On Sunday, January 24th, The Veritas interviewed Reverend Wendy Hamilton. A candidate running to represent the District of Columbia in Congress for 2022.
Andrew LaBerge: What are the responsibilities of a Representative to Congress?
Rev. Wendy Hamilton: A lot of people ask that because they are not particularly sure, especially in D.C.’s case, because D.C. is not an official “state”, per say. Some will say, “What would be your role” or “What does a representative actually do?”
As a representative, you still have a voice, you still represent the needs of your constituents, and you can contribute to conversation. I would write bills, I would put my name on the record, I would serve on committees — in the interest of the District of Columbia. When it comes time for conversations around funding, distribution, most recently when COVID first hit and there were discussions on The Hill around the federal budget and how those funds would be divvied up. D.C., because it is not a state, got the short end of the stick in terms of federal funding. At the same time, having a representative there to have our voice at the table is one of the major roles of a representative in Congress.
In running for this office, it is also to provide that clarity for folks that there are 712,000 residents in the city of D.C. It is made up of 8 districts, 8 wards, 8 districts if you want to call it that. You have over 100,000 residents in each, you have schools, you go to work, you go to little league, you get potholes fixed. We worry about the same things and when things happen over on Capitol Hill, which is mainly the monuments and the White House, that’s all in Ward 6. Things that do happen in that district impact the rest of D.C. With everything that happened regarding the lock-down, the insurrection, they closed all the streets. They shut down the metro system. The residents catch the brunt of things that happen in that specific, specialized area within the city itself.
One of my motivations is to let you know that there is a bustling, vibrant community of residents in D.C., who want you to understand that we deserve to be represented, and we do not want to be grouped together with what’s happening over on Pennsylvania Avenue or in Congress. We are distinctly different from that.
Lilly Kurtz: How has your faith impacted you as a person and your campaign as a whole?
Faith is the substance of things hoped for — the evidence of things not seen. Faith comes into play for me when I am able to look at what I see, but understand that it’s not the only thing I see and the only reality there is. If I were someone who wasn’t a person of faith and was going off strictly what I see, I’d be very discouraged. Terrified, scared, and uncertain. Not that I’m not any of those things, but at the same time there is a hope.
There is an under-girding of faith that suggests that things do — and will — get better. You trust things that you cannot see. You believe that even when you cannot see it, it is still possible. All things are possible to those who believe, and though I may look at the television and say, “It cannot get any worse than this, how can we recover,” I turn to my faith and even back into my own life during situations where I didn’t think things would work out or I wasn’t going to make it through. Yet, here I stand. That is how I navigate my faith and act as a person of faith during these difficult times.
AL: Campaigning during a normal election cycle is challenging enough, how has your campaign adapted to COVID-19 and the restrictions on in-person campaigning?
COVID-19 has prompted everybody to cultivate their creativity. We now know how to do weddings, social gatherings, and we’ve just made it work. I believe that as Americans, we are resilient. It’s, “Okay, we can’t go outside, so what can we do.”
My campaign is going into its 7th week. What we have had to do is adapt and use the technology available to us. Or, we use smaller, more focused, socially distanced practices to keep the pandemic in mind. One of the focuses we had was a toy drive right around the holidays. For our campaign, we focused on collecting toys for the children of incarcerated parents. A lot of times around the holidays, many people have toy drives. There are a lot of organizations that pull together for the needy, but that’s a specific group that is close to my heart in terms of returning citizens and those in the process of getting their lives back. Perhaps they’re in a halfway house or they’re getting released from the criminal justice system. Their kids are hit hard.
My job is in D.C. Public Schools, and so I’m working with the middle school truancy and attendance counselor. I see firsthand what a lot of these kids are experiencing and going through, we wanted to make sure we had things set aside. We couldn’t have the usual dinner and santa claus, so we set up a table on the Avenue, called them, said “Here’s your food and your toy and you’re good to go, God bless you.” We had to modify that practice.
It’s not about the event, it’s about the intention. We have been finding ways to achieve and accomplish the things we want to, given the parameters of COVID-19 and what we’ve been dealing with. Having been a single parent, having gone through my own struggles, I am not talking about doing things because it’s the right thing to do, it’s a good thing to do. It’s necessary and it’s needed. That was a highlight of the campaign — to be able to participate in an event like that.
LK: How has the attack on the Capitol Building — the district you are running in — shifted or changed your message?
Shifted it, in the sense that I have moved around some of the things I was going to talk about. Universal Basic Income is one of the planks of my platform, I am an advocate for its implementation in D.C. and in America as a whole. I think that especially given these times of COVID and what’s happening economically, the conversation is more pertinent now than ever. I am glad to see it in the national discourse, but at the same time, the events of January 6th highlighted why D.C. statehood was so important.
Not being a state, we weren’t able to call for the National Guard. We had to go through the government, we had to go through all of these bureaucratic hoops to ask permission to protect ourselves. Many of us saw how that played out in terms of the National Guard and additional police. Our mayor had requested the National Guard to be activated three days prior and was told no. Day of, when things were happening, you have to reach out to the White House, they deferred to the Secretary of the Army, Secretary of the Army wasn’t returning any calls. That is a situation where you are a D.C resident, you’re looking at the fact that, yes, that is happening downtown. Some folks are coming uptown, some folks trying to escape and spill into the city. We, more so than anyone else, should have been the first people to be granted authority to call for protection, not only to protect our capital, but also to protect our lives. It took a long time to do this.
The emphasis for me has shifted to, “We can’t let this happen again.” We’re petitioning at this point for Biden to include D.C. statehood in his first 100 days platform. That was not okay.
AL: If elected, what are the top three priorities you would advocate for?
Of course, I will keep calling for D.C. statehood until we get it. Statehood really is the gateway to other issues.
If we’re a state, because there’s UBI pilots in D.C., I’m working with a couple of groups: Thrive East of the River, The D.C. UBI Coalition, there’s groups right now doing UBI pilots in the city. However, if we’re a state, I can make it a policy for the whole state. Instead of doing just the pilots in D.C — which are good things — we could do it for the whole state. Of course, we need statehood before we can get Universal Basic Income.
However, my platform is not just based on statehood, it’s statehood and beyond. I have to assume that once we do get [statehood], we’re closer now than we’ve ever been. We have to have a platform ready to promote once we get it. You don’t wait until you get something to decide what you want to say. You act like you have it already, and they give the go ahead.
From there, I would say Universal Basic Income, Universal Healthcare, I definitely want education reform in the way of adding more vocational and trade schools, because our graduation rates are heinous in the District of Columbia, working directly with schools. I see some of my kids just aren’t engaged but if you give them something to do with their hands, they have incentive to stick around and be involved.
Then of course, criminal justice reform. Part of criminal justice reform includes reallocating some of the police budget to bring on service care providers and social workers — creating these community networks — and taking the pressure off the police department. Again, as a minister, as a chaplain, police chaplains can be very helpful when responding to situations. These calls do not have to escalate into something that becomes violent. Reallocating the budget to make for some of those reforms would be very high on the list.
Environmental justice is also very big for me as well, we have a lot of green space in D.C, but a lot of developers are trying to build on it. Being a federal city, we have got a lot of green space that is designated as national, federal parks. Getting the community more involved in environmental justice. I believe that teaching the community what environmental justice means and participating in things that keep the community and keep our parks clean, these can turn into job opportunities and training.
LK: When D.C. becomes a state, what would you like it to be named?
The actual proposed name is “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.” They are keeping the D.C. and paying homage to Frederick Douglass, who’s home was here in D.C. I have also heard terminology surrounding “New Columbia.” I think the name is something moving forward that we can all agree on, or figure out together.
There has been a D.C. constitution that has been prepared. In that constitution, we have been referred to as the Douglass Commonwealth.
LK: What specific things would you propose to lift the burden off of those hardest hit by COVID-19?
To lift the burden, depends on how they were hit. For those who have been hit health-wise and physically, I actually was diagnosed with COVID the week before Thanksgiving. That was not planned, and it was scary. With COVID, you don’t know if it will be a mild or moderate case. It could be light coughing one day and the next day is a 104° fever in the emergency room. And especially when my oldest daughter was diagnosed, and she had just had my grandson, she had to quarantine in her house for 14 days, away from her son and partner because she couldn’t expose them.
What lifted the burden off of me from the panic and the mental perspective, was that D.C. has an excellent contact-tracing system in place. They called me every day, and checked on my symptoms and checked to see if I needed anything. They delivered non-perishable food items and hygiene products. They accommodated so that you wouldn’t have to go out and risk getting others sick. They put it on my curb or doorstep. Just having that resource was very comforting, so for folks who are recovering physically I would say to lean upon them and make more resources available. There are some people experiencing long-term symptoms, and so those folks may still be in need of some kinds of support. From a physical standpoint, we need to create as many resources of support systems, checking in on folks to make sure they’re doing okay, building a resource community to support folks who have been physically burdened by COVID.
Economically, we’re doing what we can. I think it is about using wisdom at this point. When COVID came, it was just an unknown. We didn’t know and to be honest, then is probably when we should have locked down until we knew exactly what it was. So we have conflicting opinions, in that COVID is either mild or the next Bubonic Plague. None of us knew how to respond and as a result we’re not even on the back-end. What was a result was that we have more information and knowledge now than we had last January. I would say to lift the burden we need to go with the information we have now, and make decisions based on the information, not emotion. Even if you look around the country, some schools are back and going. Others are not. D.C. Public Schools will be coming back for the first time in February. February 1st is when they’ll start bringing students back. March 16th was the last time I saw any students at my school. So, because we don’t have any real guidelines nationally on how to approach things, we have to rely on local leaders to determine what is in the best interest of their state and their localities in order to address the burdens people continue to experience.
AL: The Veritas is a student-run paper, led by youth. What policy stances, what things would you advocate for that would benefit youth?
I want to say UBI, because UBI generally is not supposed to start until you turn 18, however, UBI for kids would be very helpful. I think the education piece. Students need a much more prominent voice on how education policy is shaped. For me, the idea around trade schools and public schools, or Montessori versus elite, we have now demonstrated because we had to adapt that traditional approaches to education are not the only way that our kids learn or can be successful.
Right now, we have a real opportunity to reinvent, perhaps, and re envision what education could look like. Giving students such as yourself an opportunity to contribute to that conversation would be key. Of course, I could talk about healthcare and you all being healthy. And I could also talk about the conversation surrounding cancelling student loan debt and things like that. But I also think that before you all even get to the place of where you’re incurring student debt if you find yourself in the situation, finding innovative ways to go about what it is you want to do. Everybody doesn’t have to go to college, everybody is not college material and that’s not a bad thing. And we’re looking at results, and college is good don’t get me wrong — I went twice. I went to Howard University in D.C. and got Undergrad at Howard and was at Howard School of Divinity for Seminary. I love Howard and I love the fact that I had the opportunity to go to college.
However, college is not the only way to be successful. So what are some other ways that we can draw from students in reinventing education. You all aren’t being involved enough in the conversations surrounding any of the policies being made, and especially the ones most useful to you. Adults have a tendency to think that we know what’s best. That in all of our great wisdom and supposed non-failure in life, we can dictate to you all what you need to do in order for your future to be successful. The best thing we can do is recognize that you all have minds, and that your words need to be heard. Your feelings need to be validated, you shouldn’t be dismissed for your age or lack of experience. Your experiences are different than ours, and we need to be willing to acknowledge and embrace that.
LK: Criminal justice reform was one of the priorities you mentioned earlier, how would you advocate for change within the system and what would you like to see in terms of criminal justice reform?
Well, I would like some nonviolent drug offenders out of jail, I would like some of that money reallocated into more effective rehabilitation and looking at those a little bit more closely into what they are actually doing in terms of rehabilitating folks. Then, also, creating pathways back to citizenship, back to enfranchisement in the community. The things I want to do surrounding criminal justice, do I want to see police reform, yes. This is controversial, but, I used to say — and a lot of us say — that with the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality and everything that happened over the summer with the murder of George Floyd. We were shouting about the police needing more training, for de-escalation, so they don’t just resort to rubber bullets and bats and violence and shooting someone in 12 seconds when they shot Tamir Rice in Cleveland. So I used to say, yes, train them to de-escalate. I don’t want the first thing to be “shoot.” The response shouldn’t be to shoot.
Then I watched the insurrection on January 6th. I watched police let numbers of people — armed people — walk by and get selfies at the Capitol. So you can de-escalate, is what you’re saying. These rioters were overthrowing the government, they hung a gallows outside for VP Mike Pence, they were looking for Pelosi, they were looking for AOC, and I cannot help but wonder if those folks were any other color, would the response have been different? And if so, why?
If D.C. police were to allow all of that to happen and have minimal casualties, what that demonstrated for me was that police don’t need de-escalation training, they already know how to do that in certain situations. We need to have a deeper conversation about the why behind that. That is why my criminal justice reform is more about reinvesting and changing the culture of policing.
AL: The 2022 midterm elections are quite a long time away, why should voters be listening to your campaign?
People are a little burnt out, and I was thinking about that because again, the lead up to the presidential election and then the special election in Georgia, and people were getting inundated with emails and ads, they don’t even want to hear about another race. However, they understand that at the same time, even the media is going to shift to 2022 because that’s what they do to keep ratings.
From my own personal campaign perspective, it is my desire to engage more people in the process here in the District of Columbia. What I will say is that they may not want to talk about 2022, but like [Andrew] said, it will be here before you know it. I’m approaching this from an energizing of voters who just come out. And one of things we do know, is that just particularly here in D.C. and nationwide, is that turnout during the midterms is usually lower than during the primary election, the general election — when there is a presidential election. So when you run in an off year, you are already coming against the curb of getting people interested because there isn’t a president on the ticket. However, D.C.’s mayors office will be on the ticket, which may bring out residents here in D.C., but what I’ve noticed over the last few primaries because we have the data for the last 20 years, and turnout has decreased, save for this year.
My goal is to go out starting now, so that they don’t drop off and lose interest. It is to say, “I know you are burnt out, it’s been a long stretch, but it will be time before you know it so I don’t want you to lose sight of what the importance of voting was able to produce, and if we want to continue those gains — that progress — I have to keep you engaged. Democrats can never settle now that we have the trifecta — the House, Senate, and Presidency. This is not the time to kickback. This is the time to keep pushing for more.”
Most people assume that, well, this is just the way it works with Republicans, they gain during midterms. The way we won this trifecta was because people remained engaged. The way we won Georgia is because people remained engaged even after November because they understood that their vote could make that difference. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. If we want to continue these advancements, we must stay involved in the process.
LK: What’s one thing you want voters to know about you?
I would like them to know that I am a down-to-Earth, committed representative who is a real, authentic human being. I am not a politician. Nothing against politicians, but that is not who I am. I feel that as a minister and bringing that training to my role is beneficial. I will be someone who will listen, that is what I have been trained to do. I recognize the importance of validating every voice, and not just dismissing one person over the other or because this person gave me more donations. I don’t view the world in that way, I don’t view humanity in that way, I am someone who is moved by purpose and moved by plan. You will never have to worry about me getting on to Capitol Hill and forgetting about who I was sent there to represent. You’ll never have to worry that I won some title or office and became a part of some club.
My constituents will see me out here in the community, in the city, talking with them, meeting on a regular basis, using an open-door policy where they can come in because it’s the residents who are supposed to hold elected officials accountable. If I get up there and do someone my residents don’t agree with, I expect for you to stomp into my office and ask, “What was that?” Living here in D.C. that can happen right, I live right down the street. That is my goal, I’m running as a pragmatic progressive that is coming from the outside and wants to change the status quo. When I woke up, I had a question, and I tweeted about it on Twitter asking: why had the stimulus checks not been cut yet? What happened between the Georgia runoffs when the standalone bills for the stimulus were written and waiting for a signature to now be folded into a larger bill, maybe coming in March 2021.
I came to the conclusion that we need a new mindset and wave of thinking on Capitol Hill. We cannot continue to do things and approach them from a 20th century mindset, as we are in the 21st century. And I’m not saying that to disparage anybody, just because I am running. If we continue to do the same things over and over again and expect a different result, that’s insanity. It’s irresponsible. The world has changed and so we have a few change-makers on Capitol Hill and they’re doing their best, but they need more. I was encouraging people this morning, I don’t care where you are in life, if you feel like that’s you — state, local, federal, run for office.
The only way that change is going to be made is with intention, but also with numbers. We need people who are willing to come up there and push. That’s the kind of representative that I’ll be as an individual. When I made the decision to run for this office, I was torn about whether I wanted to step into this arena but at the same time, do I save face and run or do I stand up and fight. I decided that this is the best way for me to stand up and fight.
AL: What would you say to youth who want to get involved in politics at the local level?
The first thing I would ask them is, “What are you fighting for?” It’s one thing to be riled-up and ready to participate on the local level, but find that issue that is the one nearest and dearest to your heart, and then from there, get involved in an organization, a non-profit, a local organization that is working on that issue. Passion is very important, but so is experience and being informed. It’s the same thing I tell students who want a certain career, I say, go to somebody’s law office and see if you can intern. Make sure that you get that exposure and see if you still would like to pursue that. On the local level, here in D.C., we have people involved in statehood, who are invested in climate change. The one thing about living in Washington, D.C., is that the headquarters of most non-profits is here, whether it be Sunrise Movement or whatever. It’s all here, it’s a gold mine where you can get your feet wet and understand the pros and the cons of the issue that you support.
From a standpoint of just having your voices heard and starting to get involved, attend a local city council meeting. Just go. Oftentimes, they have the opportunity for residents to address the body or speak. What I’ve noticed is that we’ll see something and want to get involved because it emotionally touches us, but we don’t take the practical steps needed. If you are someone who is passionate about climate change, what organizations in your community right now are doing the type of work you are passionate about. Is it clean air, solar, emissions, what aspect. Is there anybody in your community that is doing that work, that would allow you to come in. Even college campuses will let you come audit classes and sit in classes. The professors are more than willing to let you sit in on classes so that you can get informed. That is what I recommend.
LK: Who has influenced you the most as a person?
From a famous standpoint, I would say I am very inspired by Dr. Maya Angelou, who is like a spirit-mother to me in terms of her life story and her presence and her commitment, her dedication, her intellect, has been something I’ve always leaned to. It was her who inspired me to go beyond what I thought I was capable of doing and so I will always pay homage to Dr. Maya for continuing to inspire me in so many ways.
Of course with Maya being my spirit-mother, my actual mother, my late mother who passed away a long time ago, I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for her. Watching her as a single parent raise my brother and I, the obstacles she had to face and the values she instilled in us, not to be bitter, not to fear obstacles, but to trust in faith, to trust that things would ultimately work out. To see her live that out is why I am able to even operate in the space and in the sort of perspective that I do. She had input so much into me that I was able to dedicate myself to making her proud by living those values out.
Rev. Wendy Hamilton is running in the 2022 election to represent Washington D.C. in Congress.