People First in Holyoke
March 31, 2016
During a presidential election year, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the big race and forget about the municipal and state races that are happening, too.
One of the most essential ways we can create a politics that improves people’s lives is by changing who’s in charge at the local level.
Today, we’d like you to meet Nelson Rafael Roman, a 2010 graduate of Camp Wellstone, who is now serving on the City Council in Holyoke, MA.
Nelson got started supporting his friend Alex Morse’s successful run for mayor (Alex is also a Wellstone alum!). He organized around homelessness, worked to increase voter registration and engagement within the Puerto Rican community, and saw the needs of his ward first-hand while employed at a family resource center.
In 2015, when Holyoke closed that much-needed family resource center and no elected officials stood up to fight for his community, Nelson knew it was his turn to run for office.
As a young Latino, LGBT man, and openly HIV positive individual, Nelson anticipated a tough campaign. He dug up his Camp Wellstone book, called up some friends, and “just like we did at the training, we sat down in my living room and created a timeline.”
They canvassed and knocked on doors. They created a database from scratch. “Whenever stuff got hard, I came back to what Wellstone taught me.” In the end, Nelson won with 60% of the vote, and is now an important progressive voice for Holyoke.
Doing things the Wellstone Way didn’t stop on election day. “I still have my message box on my computer: Putting the People First.” He started by creating neighborhood associations within the two most marginalized communities in his ward. And he’s still knocking on doors and bringing all members of the community into the political process.
“If you’re true to yourself, and true to what your message is, there’s no way you can lose.”
“To me, the municipal races are even more critical because they set the look and feel of what the community represents,” says Nelson. "Decisions made at the local level have larger impacts farther up the line, especially during redistricting. We need to make sure there are more progressives in office to build our base and our movement.”
There are more people just like Nelson across the country – with the heart and drive to bring change to their communities. If you would like to help us train progressive leaders with the skills they need to win in November, please donate to Wellstone today.