Here at GAIN Power, we are always looking to spotlight different political progressives and changemakers. If you or someone you know would like to be nominated, please fill out this form!
The spotlight is on Daniela Velazquez this week, who is the Alderwoman of the 6th Ward in St. Louis. She also has a background working for grassroots organizations, global companies, and national nonprofits, as well as working as a journalist.
Could you give a brief background and introduction about yourself?
DV: I am the 6th Ward Alderwoman of the city of Saint Louis, and the first Latina ever elected in the city of Saint Louis history. I grew up in the Saint Louis area and both my parents are from Puerto Rico. Previously, before taking office, I was a communications professional. I worked at a couple of agencies doing public relations and then have been involved in advocacy, as well starting off my career as a journalist.
What does your day-to-day work as an alderwoman look like?
DV: Every day is different. We are obviously the legislative body of the city, but also a good chunk of our work is constituent services, working on solving problems with my fellow aldermen that my ward shares boundaries with.
Why did you choose to run for office? What led you to start your journey as a politician?
DV: I had considered running before, but it wasn’t until I was asked by my former alderperson to run that I actually took the leap. Part of the reason I ran was because the Latino community in St. Louis wasn’t represented–we needed somebody from our community to speak for our community.
How does your work impact the political climate we live in?
DV: All politics is local, so it’s important for me to have representation in our government for minority communities. While my ward is not majority Latino, it’s important that I represent the Latino community beyond my ward and make a difference in the city.
You are the first Latina to serve on the Board of Alderman, how does that influence your work?
DV: My experiences and community come with me wherever I go. I look at everything through the lens of my lived experience, and what naturally came out of my campaign was to be the first, but not the last. I’ve learned that being the first is something that you are going to carry with you for a good chunk of your life and while being the contrarian on issues is not something that I necessarily like, it’s necessary when you’re the first and only.
Is there anything you think campaigns should do or should stop? Why? What did you specifically do?
DV: Campaigning and winning an election is such hard work, but you have so much more work ahead of you and you don’t always have the same support system going into governing. So I think successful campaigns and candidates should start building a plan for the first 100 days, first 6 months, and first year to make the transition a bit easier. I was lucky enough to have a great support system, but it was still hard for me. If we’re trying to make politics more accessible and invite others from underrepresented communities, they aren’t necessarily going to have the same resources that I or their counterparts have.
What is one issue you think progressives could better message and why?
DV: I think progressives could do a better job of talking to and engaging with people of color. I am going to use Latinos as a specific example–we come from different countries and our cultures are not the same. So when you’re trying to talk to people, their experiences with government and with progressiveness is not going to be the same. And something as simple as creating bilingual literature or ads has to be culturally competent to whichever Latino community you are trying to reach.
What advice would you give to young professionals looking to get into politics?
DV: Face your fear and do it.
Lastly, for fun, if you could do another job for just one day, what would it be?
DV: I’d like to be like a forest ranger or something, but not totally like that. I would just wanna go on cool hikes in National Parks or lead some amazing travel expedition somewhere.