Graduate Student Rebecca Lisi wins re-election to become City Councilor at-Large of Holyoke
On November 4, 2009, Rebecca Lisi, a Ph.D. candidate in the Political Science Department won re-election to become City Councilor at-Large. Caroline Koch, a student at UMass Amherst asked her a couple of questions about her experience.
What made you want to run for the position of City Councilor at-Large in Holyoke?
I was first involved in politics and then became a graduate student. I became interested in running for election while I working for Clean Water Action in Northampton, which is a citizens' lobbying group that works on environmental issues. It was there that I learned how to do community organizing and policy advocacy. While working on issue campaigns, I also found that it took a tremendous amount of work to contact voters and make phone calls to representatives and essentially I thought this was very time intensive and inefficient and that I could represent progressive issues better than this.
After living in Holyoke for nine months, my ward representative was stepping down and I thought ‘I know how to run a campaign and I am just going to jump in.’ I didn’t know anybody in the city until I literally started knocking on doors for my campaign. I lost my first election by about 50 of 2000 casted votes. But, the following year when I ran for an at-Large seat, I won by pulling together various pockets of progressive support from throughout the city. I realized that ward politics can be very parochial; as an outsider I really had to prove that I was part of the community and seriousness about my intentions. It was somewhat of a hazing process.
What has your experience been?
My experience has been a really difficult and trying process but because it is so difficult it has also been very gratifying.
It has been difficult for me because I am the first of a new generation of leadership in the city. So I am somewhat of a ‘trailblazer.’ I was one of the first candidates to initiate a substantive discussion about downtown revitalization in Holyoke as an important factor that could bring success to the overall city. When I first ran in 2005 there was fairly strong resistance to the idea of reinvestment in downtown Holyoke, but by 2009 the majority of candidates were talking about downtown revitalization and the ability of Holyoke to make a comeback. Today there is a renewed interest in downtown and in local politics. More diverse groups of people are starting to pay attention to politics and how they can get involved as ordinary citizens.
It’s been a personal mission of mine to revitalize Holyoke and increase citizen involvement. I knew progressive constituency existed somewhere in Holyoke even if it wasn’t formally organized and that is why in my first term I worked to start a group called CRUSH (citizens for the revitalization and urban success in Holyoke) as a forum for people to learn about and advocate for issues having to do with the downtown revitalization and citizen involvement. We say, “We have a CRUSH on Holyoke.”
I am involved in politics because I believe that in a democratic system of government we need to be responsible for actualizing the things we want to have around us in our everyday lives. So if you see injustices or are dissatisfied with the state of the environment around you, it is really your responsibility to get involved and make those changes you want to see. A lot of my goals as a City Councilor are to use my position and influence as a way to empower more people to feel that they can get involved and effectively influence positive changes in their community.
More information about Rebecca Lisi and her position as City Councilor at-Large can be found at her website www.votelisi.com