Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton Mass has been an activist, an organizer, and an impassioned advocate for women's health, and many other issues for, well, a long time, because she started at 9-years-old! Although the life-long activist never thought that she would run for office, she eventually changed her mind after so many community members told her she should. Now she is a candidate for State Representative in the Massachusetts First Hampshire District.
On her very early start in activism
When I was nine years old I lived in Westfield, Massachusetts and we had a local branch of our library that was a very important place to me. I volunteered there. I spent a lot of time helping set up the arts and crafts that they did every weekend for children in the community. I learned the whole Dewey Decimal System, which is very exciting as a child. It was just this really magical place. The staff was wonderful. They really connected with the children and with community as a whole. And it was a place where people did come together and there weren't a lot of those places in our town. So you can imagine it was fairly devastating when the city decided to close down that branch library because of budget cuts.
So along with my mother, we organized a protest march. People I’ve spoken to when I visit claim it remains the only protest march that has ever happened there. I think someone should change that soon. But we were one of the first organizers in town and so we organized the march from through the city to the main branch of the library where we were met by the mayor. The march was really just to say cutting the budget for a place in the community that is important to people is really not acceptable. And it was scary because I was nine and I had to go up to the mayor and in some way, and I don't remember what I said, but in some way try to verbalize the fact that budgets are values and he was not representing the values of the community by the budget cuts that he was selecting.
So I actually got to sit down with the mayor after that, he invited me to his offices. It was very, very intimidating as a child to go into the mayor's office and talk about budgets. But I went and I expressed my views and he told me that I was wrong basically, and that they were going to have to cut the library anyway so we didn't win the fight. But it definitely taught me that whether you win or lose, it is still absolutely important to speak up and to make sure that another viewpoint is being heard. Because if we hadn’t been heard, if we hadn't organized that march, he wouldn't have known that he was cutting something essential to the community. Westfield is a big place, so the branch library was on the north side of town, but all of the sort of business district is on the other side. He wasn't aware of what was happening in this sort of other place in town where we really didn't have a spot to go besides the library. So I'm grateful that I had the courage to stand up and tell him and I'm grateful for that experience of learning that you always, always, always stand up for what you believe in and that's something that I have carried with me for the rest of my life.
I think maybe this is coming through a little bit in this conversation, I was definitely someone who loves to debate."
On getting nervous - or not - when speaking as a nine-year-old and as an adult
Interestingly, I rarely, and this remains true to this day, I rarely feel nervous when I speak in front of people because when you are speaking from the heart and when you’re speaking about things you really care about, it's hard to be nervous. There is something greater that you were trying to communicate, so nerves are really secondary. I do remember, and this is still true, that I just didn't feel like I was speaking eloquently enough or intelligent enough and that I wasn't able to argue my point of view as well as I could have. And I think that comes from imposter syndrome, right? You know, we, we often feel like we must be the expert on every subject to be the person who speaks about it. And that's just not true. Our values and our viewpoints matter, regardless of, of whether there might be someone more informed out there.
I also got to be on the local news because again, it was a protest march in Westfield, so they came to cover it. It was exciting to be on television for the first time, and I've said this many times, but they always pick the soundbite in which you say the most unintelligent thing. So it was a very good lesson to learn at a young age that you need to be very careful what you say on camera.
And even though I remember watching myself on television and thinking, wow, I don't sound smart, I am glad that I came across as my authentic self and not as somebody who was hyper prepared for our camera because it's just, it's not the same and people pick up on it.
On being called “bossy” as a child
I was always an outspoken child. In fact, my kindergarten report card is reflective of that, that I was not one to be shy about expressing my opinions. I was actually referred to as bossy, although I am not bossy. I am very good at directing people, but in a kind non-bossy way. But I do think when we refer to little girls who are, you know, people who want to be in charge, they're often referred to as bossy. We, we see that all the time, even with adult women. So it bothered me, it's still sort of to this day bothers me that that was part of my childhood being referred to as bossy. But I've always been outspoken, and I've always believed that you do stand up for things.
I still really love to rile up the crowd, but I now do have to speak more knowledgeably about issues that people care about."
On the differences between speaking as an activist and speaking as a candidate.
I imagine that I probably should be speaking differently as a candidate than as an activist, but that's something that I'm honestly trying not to do. I like to see candidates who are real and who don't speak in sound bites. I understand that it is a tactic to make sure your message gets across, but it also comes across as very inauthentic. So I am really trying to make sure that my speaking skills as a community organizer are coming through now that I'm a candidate. I haven't really bought into that idea that I need to be different. I will say though that the depth and the breadth of the conversations has changed.
When you're an activist, you're out at a rally and you're talking about one specific issue. You really do get to rile up the crowd a little more. I still really love to rile up the crowd, but I now do have to speak more knowledgeably about issues that people care about. I also have to speak more in depth because people deserve that. I think that we have a very intelligent constituent base in this area, and I think they want to hear somebody who, truly understand policy, and I do. So I'm making sure that that comes across more. But I think it's more about content than style of speaking that has changed.
On the benefits of high school debate team
I was on debate team in high school and I actually would go to school committee to testify as a high school student. So I'm used to debate style. (Although I will say I miss having a rebuttal period because that's a really nice. Especially when your opponent says that we completely agree but I'm thinking we do not completely agree. I have had more things I want to say about that.
I joined the debate team in high school because I had an amazing social studies teacher in seventh grade who used debate as part of the curriculum. She would take an issue and I'm just going to pull the one that I remember. It was about whether Christopher Columbus should be celebrated as a hero or be reviled as a villain. And we broke down as a class on opposite sides of the question. And then we had all these debates and they were done in a very formal debate setting. because you don't get to pick your side, right? You have to argue whatever side you're given and that is really exciting because you have to sometimes go against what your actual viewpoint is and you need to be researched and you need to really learn how to win an argument. It was also just so much fun. It really inspired me to want to continue on in debate.
On why you should know BOTH sides of an issue
Debating the other side of an issue is helpful sometimes in reconfirming your own convictions. So I know where I stand on gun control but having to argue as someone who is strongly in favor of deregulating guns helps me to contact my member of Congress to say that I am in favor of regulation because I've seen that other viewpoint. And knowing what the arguments are always helps to give you a holistic view of any issue. I think too often we get into echo chambers, and we don't always understand issues as fully as we need to. We need to be far more comprehensive and I would encourage everybody to do debate. Going back to my candidacy, that's something that I think we need to get away from, especially on a state level. We need to stop putting bandages on things and passing legislation that kind of sort of works.
I think maybe this is coming through a little bit in this conversation, I was definitely someone who loves to debate. I was someone who loved government. I loved model UN and mock senate where we would go in and we would try to pass legislation. These things were really fun and exciting. In fact, I was voted most political in my senior graduating class.
On why she changed her mind about running for office
I never thought I would run for office until a few years ago, and it’s because other people told me I should. The first person who told me to run for office was my grandfather, who was another incredibly influential figure in my life, and being with him was probably where I developed my love of being outspoken and talking about government. He was a huge history buff. When I was a child he would spend hours talking to me about the Roman Empire and the British Royalty. Any book he was reading I would get a summary of, and he only read nonfiction, so I know a lot about history and we had a lot of debates about topics like why World War One started. That was all very, very formative.
He told me very early on that I should run for mayor. He was always convinced that I was going to get into politics and I kept saying, “who wants to be mayor?” As I said before, when I was nine, I had to sit down with the mayor. That did not seem like a job I wanted to have. Community organizing feels really good because you are there as the voice of the people and you’re helping people which is very important to me. I don't think I would run for office if I hadn't come to the realization that there is the ability to be in office and still actually serve the people.
Quite frankly, a lot of times we have people in office who seem to be more interested in the power and prestige that comes with office. They're less interested in furthering the voices that are often unheard. But I've seen some really wonderful people in office who inspire me, who are activists, politicians, and I think without those examples, I wouldn't be so interested in running for office. It is really taking what you do on the outside and bringing it into the inside to effect change. People either fall into one of the two camps outside the system or inside. I think we can bring those camps together.
Every time I leave a palm card in the door because someone is not home, my face is staring back at me and that is surreal."
On being so VERY VISIBLE as a candidate
The high visibility part is actually a very strange part of running for office. I have no problem being in the newspaper, and organizing protests, marches, and speaking in front of crowds, but I'm not someone who loves to have my picture, so that's changed.
I now have my face on thousands of “palm cards” that are being left in people's doors. Every time I leave a palm card in the door because someone is not home, my face is staring back at me and that is surreal. It's just so bizarre. And then to have your name put up all over town.
One of the things that I liked as an organizer is giving this light to other people and now I'm actually asking for the spotlight, so that feels a little uncomfortable. But as a legislator, I will be able to give the spotlight to others, which is a really wonderful feeling to know that it's not going to be about just my voice, but bringing those other voices in.
On knowing who you are as a speaker at candidates’ forums
We had our first forum recently on environmental issues and energy. And you know, I spoke about imposter syndrome earlier, and that definitely comes into play when you're having a single issue debate. I was raised by a family of environmental activists, and conservation is part of who I am. And yet at the same time I am not a climate scientist, so going into the debate, I was acutely aware of my deficiencies. That said, I'm not running for office to be the expert in everything. So I will bring in the experts who will guide me and allow the State House to make informed decisions. I know who I am, I know what I stand for and that's what I'm sharing with people. When you look at these opportunities for debate and as a way to start a conversation with constituents, it feels really good.
On public speaking as a conversation
In the first part of the forum, we answered questions that had been prepared by the sponsors, Climate Action Now and the League of Women Voters. And in the second part, all the questions came from the audience. As soon as I shifted to audience questions, it got so easy because I know how to have conversations with people. And then you just become so relaxed because you're talking to voters. And that's wonderful. I'm really looking forward to the next forum because it will be an all-issues forum. It's being hosted by the high school students. And I’d like to have as many forums and debates as we can because that's how people get to know you.
On the “Year of the Women” then and now
I want to start off by talking about how 2018 has been referred to as the year of the woman. I find that fascinating because I remember 1992, the last year of the woman, right after the Anita Hill case. But in that “Year of the Women" I think we elected maybe 10 women to Congress after that, not a very large number in any case. And I have spent a lot of time thinking about that. I actually tie the Anita Hill case to when I decided that I was absolutely a feminist. I thought everybody needs to be a feminist because that case was terrifying to me as a child. That you could tell someone that you had been sexually harassed and that you would then be put on trial for having spoken the truth. And I was really glad that finally women were stepping up because when we saw that happen, you know, it was, it was all men. There was this one woman being questioned by lots of men about the facts that she had been harassed. So I have a lot of respect and admiration for the women who ran for office at that point.
It's important to run with authenticity and there is no need for us to pretend that we are men."
On women running as men
I look back at how those post Anita Hill women ran their campaigns and the things that they said and also the way they dressed. I don't want to be judgmental about the way women dress, but I do want to say that they ran as men in a lot of ways. They had the suits and they had the shoulder pads. They really tried to look bigger. If you look through the pictures, they are very cookie cutter in the way they dressed, and I think they understood that they had to do that because the world was really not ready for women in office. So they were really trying to emulate men with the sole difference being that they were biologically women and identified as women. That was interesting because it didn't really show us what female candidates look like. It just showed us that females can get elected to office.
I am on the board of Emerge. Massachusetts. Emerge is a ”nationwide organization that recruits, trains and provides a powerful network for Democratic women to run for office.” We're in 23 states. It started about 20 years ago, actually, the very first woman to be trained with Emerge was Kamala Harris. I love this story. Kamala sat down with a friend of hers and said, “You know, I really want to run [for DA], but I don't know how to do this.” That friend was Andrea Drew Steele who decided that women needed an organization to teach them how to run for office and went on to start Emerge California and then made it a national organization. (Steele is now president of Emerge.)
On why it's important for women to run as women
It's important to run with authenticity and there is no need for us to pretend that we are men. I don't think that we need to use the traditional palm cards where it looks like you could almost take out the picture of the candidate and drop another candidate in. We don't need that. That's not who we are. And in fact, in my campaign, I've been very clear that I am, I am a female candidate. But besides that, I am a mother, I am a community organizer. I'm a runner and I have this boundless of energy because I run a lot. I’m someone who's very progressive. I am someone who is deeply involved in my community, and so my palm cards are not just a picture of me in some photo studio with a blue or white background. They're me, they're authentic. And when I speak, I am very true to who I am.
On how women connect with voters
So it's not about creating that 30-second sound bite. It's about me as a candidate talking about my personal experiences. That means that the issues that I talk about are of vital importance. And I hope that when people hear me speak, they can tell that is coming from my gut. These are not just talking points because I think people will then vote for me. If you don't agree with me, you shouldn't vote for me. And I think that that's how we need to go into these elections and run our campaigns. Maybe men should learn from the female candidates, but I think women do bring that. And the women who are most successful do that really well. And I think about Elizabeth Warren and her campaign when she talks about being a single mother, when she talks about the struggles that she faced.
But it really is important to connect with people on a deeper level. And I think women do that really well. "
That's powerful because you hear her story and you can see her doing that, and you can see where she's come. That's what connects her to voters. I don't always feel that way with male politicians. I may admire and respect and agree with their policies, but I don't feel that same level of connectedness to them because they don't offer it. They know that they can be elected simply on the fact that they agree with a few things – or even many things – with their constituents. But it really is important to connect with people on a deeper level. And I think women do that really well.