Cinda Danh, 27
Lynn, Massachusetts has the 3rd largest Cambodian American population, yet no one from that community has ever served on city council! 27-year-old Cinda Danh first Asian American woman ever to run for office in Lynn, to make sure every resident feels like they have a voice in their government.
What's the best advice you received before running for office?
Take your work seriously but don’t take yourself seriously.
So what first got you interested in politics?
I got into politics when my parent's house was going through foreclosure. We really struggled using our voice to advocate for ourselves for the first time. We weren’t introduced to civic engagement and what active citizenship looked like. Through this process, we witnessed so many families in our hometown who were struggling just the same.
This was also the year that Senator Elizabeth Warren was running for Senate for the first time and listening to her speak really opened my eyes to the fact that we can make a difference through policy and collaboration with working families.
Your first trip to Beacon Hill was to participate in a protest outside the state legislature building, wasn’t it? But within a few years you ended up working in the state legislature. Why did you decide to transition from activism into working into government directly?
When we protested at the state house, I remember leaving the building and thinking, “I'd love to work here because it’s such a beautiful building, but thought maybe I’d only work in the gift shop, because I have no idea what they did there.”
I didn’t think much of it until someone had forwarded me an application for the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative fellowship program. This program is one of a kind in a sense that it solely focuses on placing AAPI woman into state government internships. I have never taken a political science class in my life but I was intrigued and wanted to learn more. This lingering feeling of injustices became a call to action.
“I think we need to meet our communities where they’re at and let them know that they have a voice and their voice holds power.”
Through this program, I had the opportunity to learn first hand about the value of constituent services as well as the legislative process and how a bill becomes law. After my internship was over, I was offered a full-time position as a legislative aide and eventually became chief of staff to another state representative. I spent the last half of a decade working hand in hand with legislators, advocates, and lobbyists when it came to advocacy and filing legislation and amendments.
You're the first Asian American woman ever to run for office in Lynn? How do you think we can get more Asian American civic engagement, particularly from Asian women?
Yes, I am the first Asian American woman to ever run for office in Lynn, MA. I think we need to meet our communities where they’re at and let them know that they have a voice and their voice holds power. We need to give them a reason to believe in our government again. We need to give them a reason to vote and to let them know that government is accessible. We can’t leave people out because they haven’t been active. I recently registered someone to vote at their new address in Lynn and the last time they voted was for President Obama and because of that, no politician has knocked on her door because she hasn’t voted since then.
“We need to see more active encouragement of public participation when it comes to policymaking.”
What are the potholes in your city? What are the issues you feel are being neglected and you want to see addressed in your community?
The issues we have range from wild turkeys to lack of affordable housing and in between are potholes, budget deficit, violence, gentrification, and lack of transparency in our government. The city isn’t doing enough to address the lack of transparency and lack the effort of putting residents first when making decisions. We need to see more active encouragement of public participation when it comes to policymaking.
In addition to your government and advocacy work, you also launched your own magazine, Faces of Lynn. Tell me a bit about that project.
The Faces of Lynn magazine is something that I have thought about for many years. I tried launching it in 2014 with friends and I photographed them with an iphone or a borrowed camera. I thought a tumblr would work but that digital platform was difficult for me. I was also going to school full time and working full time so I didn’t have the capacity to put my heart and soul into it. I graduated undergrad 2017 and when I moved back home, I started the magazine and met as many people as I could to talk about the project and if they knew someone I should talk to. This vision was created to highlight our community that is inclusive of everyone whether I agree with them a hundred percent or not. I wanted to highlight folks that wanted positive things for our community.
When we have magazine launch parties, we invite local vendors to come out. We invite local artists to perform or hang their work. We hire local photographers, DJs, and MCs to be part of our celebration. I feel like it's a true celebration of the city of Lynn that has so much talent and so many different types of people that can just come together and have a good time and support one another. I always thought that I would have an Instagram or Tumblr for it. But those digital platforms really didn't work for me. I wanted to have a party with a purpose and having a release of the physical copy of the magazine made it that much better.
“I am always itching to learn about everyone's stories and how they became who they are today.”
Most campaigns focus on what’s wrong with a community. Instead, tell me what you love about your city? Why do you want to fight so hard for it?
I love that the city of Lynn is so diverse with so many opportunities to learn and embrace different cultures. Lynn has a wonderful downtown cultural district and it’s an area you can go to and see so many familiar faces, art, events, and eat at so many delicious restaurants.
What advice would you give to another young person considering a run for office?
If you want to run for office, a great start is to get involved with your community to know what’s going on and who the community leaders are. I am always itching to learn about everyone's stories and how they became who they are today, so I would highly recommend getting coffee or lunch with people in your community and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.