Continuing our spotlight series, we are proud to amplify Brianna Carmen, the Political Director at Emerge.
Can you give us a brief background and introduction about yourself?
BC: My name is Brianna Carmen, I’m the political director at Emerge, an organization that works to recruit and train Democratic women of the New American Majority to run for office up and down the ballot. Before then I got my start in El Paso, Texas, where I was born and raised right on the border with Mexico, and I feel like that really shaped my perspective, my idea about politics, and how it relates directly to the community; how good policies are bad policies weren’t necessarily decided in the city where I was living, but those decisions that were incredibly impactful on the day to day were made in places like Austin, Texas, up at Texas state capitol, or Washington, DC.
My junior year of college, I interned for my local member of Congress and loved it so much, spent so much time there. They had to hire me. I became the campaign manager for my local member of Congress in Texas, the 16th Congressional District, and managed their 2016 race for US Congress, while at the same time I was a senior in college, and it was just a really awesome introduction into the back end of how politics and campaigns work. My family wasn’t politically active before I started doing this; I don’t come from a line of donors, or anyone who’s run for office before. So it was really demystifying this entire process as I went through my day to day work, making sure that the campaign had funding, that we were building political partnerships and relationships, and ultimately getting the Congressman re-elected.
I really enjoyed that work. And then, when 2018 rolled around, I stayed on board with them for a US Senate race in Texas, and had an opportunity to build out events all across the state, the 254 counties, getting to know all of the issues, and people who live there in a really intimate way. Again, directly seeing how good policy relates back to the people living in the community, and that can really be something that lifts them up and helps them reach their potential.
After that time I realized when you’re recording people for their vote, you’ve already missed out on the opportunity to bring new folks into the mix. That led me to my next step, where I worked at Voto Latino in various roles throughout a few years to register the Latinx community to vote, and also turn them out for elections like 2020 in Georgia, the 2021 special election in Georgia. It was really like my way to give back to the community where I’m from. We see that the Latinx community is one of the fastest growing populations, especially when we’re talking about Latinx youth. At the same time they’re one of the most underrepresented and under registered. So it’s really an incredible opportunity to bring in new voters into the fold and ideally get them their first taste of politics, and see that their vote matters.
And I’ve been really fortunate to bring all that experience together at Emerge where, as the political director, I oversee our partnerships, thinking of strategic and creative ways where we can meet our 2035 goals of reaching a 100,000 women of the New American Majority, lifting as we climb, and also repowering political structures.
Would you say that being a campaign manager at such a young age in college guided you into doing these sorts of jobs or not?
BC: I kind of fell into this where I was around really amazing people who wanted to mentor and wanted to open up opportunities, and recommended that I would be good for this. I never considered being a campaign manager. I didn’t even know it was a potential job opportunity, and it was really eye opening. What I loved about it specifically is that you become the “Jill of all trades” where you learn how to do accounting and finance, you learn how to do fundraising calls, you learn how to build relationships in the community, and you learn how to put on events.
So, it really is an opportunity to learn so many different skills that opened the door for later opportunities, where I knew how to plan events and talk to people, so that made voter registration, and communities easier. I knew how to think about political strategy and connecting with people to leverage our joint resources. That’s helpful in my day to day as the political director as I approach different organizations on how we can work together.
How have you integrated being a Latina and your past experiences into your work at Emerge?
BC: I’m really grateful to work at Emerge, an organization that is focused on equity and justice under our President A’shanti Gholar. She really has led the organization into a new vision for the next fifteen years, through 2035.
When they first set up the strategic plan, we were focusing on our core values of equity and justice. What that means is revising our curriculum to make sure that we’re running and teaching candidates how to run culturally sensitive and thoughtful campaigns and culturally competent campaigns. We are taking a look at who our staff is, and making sure that our staff is representative of the communities that we serve. We’re also looking in the states, and each state might have a board or a cabinet, and making sure again that those boards and cabinets are representative of the communities that they live in.
We also have different goals for cohorts of the women that we train focusing again on the New American Majority. Like really seeking to train a high percentage of women who are young women who are people of color, women who identify as LGTQIA+, and women who are unmarried because we know that those women that group specifically will comprise one of the largest voting blocks of the Democratic party. We don’t want them to just be supporters. We want them to be leaders in the field.
And so, with all that being said for myself, specifically, I am working on building relationships with Latinx groups to make sure that when we do recruitment pushes, we’re sending that information out to them, so they, as trusted messengers, can share it out to their communities. I’m also taking a look at this curriculum to make sure that as Latinas, as people from the border, come from lower incomes that it is reflected in the curriculum, in the examples that we use talking about the different states that we’re in. And I also have these conversations, when we are hiring new staffers, making sure that people are aware of what equity and justice you need as a living idea, as living values at an organization, and also just how I carry out my work, and how I treat other people.
What made you get involved in politics? Was there a specific turning point that made you choose this path?
BC: I needed an internship to graduate from college, and that really was like my first step into it. All my friends had interned for my local member of Congress at the time, so I was like, Why not me? This sounds interesting, and I did it, and it really was an “aha” moment of being able to advocate for the community and see yourself as a facilitator or a liaison.
When I was an intern, I was a Department of Defense and Department of Veteran Affairs specific intern and focused on that case work and cutting through red tape. And El Paso has a huge veteran population, so a ton of people that I worked with were veterans who were dealing with health issues later on years, maybe decades after they’ve been discharged from the military. So I was twenty-one getting phone calls from people who lived in my community saying, “I can’t see my mental health care provider, or I haven’t been able to get my medication in months. Can you help me?” And it was really amazing to see how, as an individual working in an office, much impact and weight that the name of that office carries where you can actually change outcomes for people on a day to day.
What has been the best part/best memory of your career so far?
BC: I will say what I love about politics, and what I also share with folks is this ability to create communities. Some of my best and closest friends have been made on campaigns where these are people who have seen me at my best moments and at my worst moments, and I’m able to count on them. They have my back, and they really understand what it’s like to live and work in this field, and being able to have that community and that support is just priceless.
What had you wished you had known about getting involved in politics as a Latina?
BC: It is really hard for women, and if you add on other intersectional identifiers, like being a Latino woman, being a woman from the LGTQIA+ community, being a woman from a marginalized community or lower income, politics is hard. And part of it is that we haven’t been to, or been shown a lot of the soft skills that make navigating through this political world easier. We say that we’re working in politics, and we might forget that there is internal politics at the organizations that you work for or on campaigns that you might work for.
Negotiating income is a good example. There have been times where I learned that I was paid probably one of the least on a team, and I remember talking to my parents, and it was just like “just be grateful and work harder, and you’ll be able to get it.” Whereas some of my male counterparts or other people who did not identify as marginalized were there advocating for bonuses, advocating for raises. So that was a really hard hurdle for me. Also, it made me question whether or not I was good enough, because I wasn’t being paid as much as everyone else, and it took me years to realize it wasn’t a reflection of me. It was the system that I was working in, where people knew how to ask and who to ask for raises, and I just didn’t have that insight or that knowledge. No one had told me how to navigate that system.
What advice do you have for young Latinxs looking to get into politics?
BC: It’s twofold. One: starting and just volunteering or working on campaigns is really helpful, because you get to see how, for better or worse, the sausage is made. You get to see the inner workings of how campaigns go. If you work on a local campaign because they are usually limited and staff and resources. You’ll get to wear a lot of different hats and really figure out what you like, whether it’s finance, field fundraising, all that good stuff so really trying that, and using it as an opportunity to learn a little bit about everything before you decide what you’re interested in.
And then, on the other hand, it is really building relationships like finding key people who will champion you, who will speak your name in rooms that you’re not in, who will seek you out and pick you for opportunities, has been really helpful for me. Just to even bounce ideas off of, because this work is notoriously tricky and hard, and sometimes you might internalize that. So it’s nice to have a friend or someone who has been in this for a little bit longer than you. Having them there to ask these questions like, “Am I crazy? Is this really what happens, or how do I navigate this? I’m just stuck in my head.” So it is really nice to have that support system.
How do you feel about the midterm elections?
BC: It is a mixed bag. We at Emerge, I’m really proud of all the work that our team has done. We have over 620 candidates on the ballot this year, which is mind blowing.
One of them is Becca Balint. She is going to be a member of Congress from Vermont, a state that is the last state that has not sent a woman to Congress. So we’re checking that off the box. We also have other women in Georgia who are running. Nakita Hemingway, who is running for a state executive office in Georgia. Jen Jordan, who would be the first female Attorney General in Georgia.
You know, with individuals like Herschel Walker, who are running, who, point blank, do not live the values that they espouse, and who don’t realize that what they say harms women and what they want to practice will harm even more women. I think it makes our work even more important to have individuals who are representative of the communities we live in, who have experienced these issues for themselves who know that maternal mortality is one of the biggest issues that kills black and brown women in the United States, and that conversations around reproductive health and justice should be happening with women and their doctors, and you know their faith or their family if they choose to loop those in.
And so I do think we’ll see an interesting turn out whether this could be a mandate from women, saying that you know abortion is a human right, and it’s a human issue that we should codify and legalize. Or you know the continuation of this conversation that we’ve been having for the last half of the century with Roe v. Wade.
Lastly, just for fun, what’s your favorite Latin American food dish?
BC: I will say, for background, right? I grew up in El Paso, which is predominantly Mexican-American. It’s right on the border with northern Mexico and Chihuahua, so I didn’t have a chance to try other Latin American dishes until really moving to DC. And learning what pupusas and arepas were and so many good things like that! But I will say true to myself, and who I am, my favorite dish is my grandma’s tacos.
Make sure to read all of our past interviews posted here on our blog.