Meet Rajah, Arriana, and Taylor: Data & Analytics Camp in Cleveland, OH
Hi there! We’re so excited to bring you our newest class of data and technology leaders, fresh off our latest Data and Analytics Camp in Cleveland, Ohio.
Last week, they participated in our new hybrid program that combines in-person learning with online cohorts. In just four days, these talented individuals learned and implemented frameworks that decolonize data and center people and community. They sharpened their practical skills by generating GIS Maps, coding, and creating a security plan for a campaign or organization. Participants were able to choose one of two tracks of training, based on their experience. In one track, folks could take their Excel skills to the next level and create SQL tables; in the other, participants wrote a Python script to retrieve data from online resources.
Meet some of our newest data and analytics alumni:
Rajah, where did you grow up and how did you get involved in political work?
I was raised in rural Ohio — I started off my career as a graphic designer and did non-profit consulting work. I started feeling the need to do work that made a difference — work that mattered, but I didn’t know where to start.
I moved from California to Ohio for work, and started to look for design and creative agency jobs. It was hard to find something that resonated with my experience, or put me in a place to be able to help others. Then I found out about Luke Feeney’s mayoral campaign in Chillicothe, OH and decided to join it as a communications and social media staffer.
I realized that politics is fun and let me make a difference. Then, I got involved with Bernie Sanders’ campaign as a field staffer, and was able to go to another campaign after that and really grow as a field organizer.
What has your experience been with DAC?
It’s been great because it has validated many of my approaches to my work. It helped me gain confidence in my data expertise, and showed me that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with feeling like I didn’t know data because my spreadsheets didn’t look the best or because I didn’t have the newest tools. I learned that I’m not alone, and that I’m someone who knows and can lead in data. It’s been great to learn Python — especially because it was explained in a way that makes sense to me and that I can easily apply in the work that I’m doing.
This training has also been really grounding to me because it acknowledges what it means to be a part of the movement and a part of a community that is oppressed. As a person of color and someone with a visible disability, this really resonated with me.
What do you want to make sure people know about what you’ve learned here?
Data work in campaigns is an expertise and not something that everyone inherently knows how to do. It’s an expertise that needs to be valued.
Data can and must be centered around all of our people. Right now, many data systems don’t capture the fullness of people — things like ethnicity or the ability spectrum. This is a problem in our movement, and I want to learn how to change that. It’s a big part of why I’m here.
Arriana, where did you grow up, and how did you get involved in political work?
I grew up in Denver, CO in a Muslim American family — we are Ismaili. My family has always been pretty political; my dad has worked for labor unions my whole life. In 2001, my mom decided to run for city council in our very conservative neighborhood in Colorado. This was right after September 11, and we faced so much racism and discrimination that it became dangerous for my mom to continue her campaign. She was forced to suspend her campaign because of the vitriol my family experienced. I watched the community that I thought we were a part of react to us like we were something to be feared. It stirred something inside me, and my sister — we decided to get involved in politics to make things fair so that one day, if we wanted to, we could run and lead our communities.
Why data and analytics, and why now?
My work is super goal and number oriented that I wanted to be able to really target who I’m talking to and how to structure data for a campaign. I wanted to learn how to find the right people to talk to in our community so that my work is more representative.
And I have to be honest, being a young woman of color you have to prove yourself to the world a lot more. I knew that coming here would help me add a data orientation to my organizing framework numbers and data which would help me form a more compelling case. Now I’m leaving this training with this and feeling validated in my expertise. All things that I know will help me be successful.
What’s resonated with you in data and analytics camp?
It’s been wealth of information, at times even a little overwhelming. It’s great knowledge to take back to my state to pass it along. I’ve really appreciated the diversity in the room, whether it’s from the trainers or other folks who are attending — people are coming from all types of organizations and backgrounds. I like learning about the work of organizations I’ve never heard of. It’s opened my eyes to other people in this movement and helped me see that when we work together, we can win.
I also learned that I know data, which means that in the campaign field I can conduct my own experiments. I don’t have to go through a larger scientific and data organization. There are ways I can identify how to target my people and the best medium to interact them with.
Then there was what we covered on the first day of training and what stayed a theme throughout the week — the reality of oppression. It’s an unfortunate reality, but it was not to hear in this space because iti let me know that I am not alone.
What’s the message you want folks to come away with after “meeting” you here?
I’ve worked on my own to get to where I am but I’ve had some really great mentors and support systems who helped me get here. To me this means that it’s important that I share the knowledge that I’ve learned here.
Wellstone did a good job of teaching us the content and equipping us with ways to teach what we’ve learned with others so that it doesn’t stop in this room.
Taylor, how did you get involved in political work?
I grew up in a household that was matriarchal. My mom and my grandma and all my aunts were in charge and did everything — my mom did all the heavy lifting. To me, femmes and women could do anything. It wasn’t until I started school that I realized, “Oh, this isn’t the standard.”
As a teenager, you get a lot of mixed messages from society about our bodies, our ability to choose sexual partners, and what expectations for women who reached puberty were. I was lucky that my mom was a nurse, who gave me scientific and factual information about my body and my choices.
All of these experiences exposed me to the injustice in the world and I wanted to challenge it. So in college, I took a women and gender studies class in college and learned about racism and marginalization. I came out as queer. It was the coalescing of all these moments that made me realize that I wanted to do this work.
I heard of an opportunity to canvass about sex education, and I decided to go for it. One of my favorite things about the organization I work at is our reproductive justice lens which really centers the leadership of women of color. It has led to an intentional and multiracial organization that respects the spectrum of gender and socioeconomic class present among us.
The environment pushes me to continue to develop and maintain an intersectional lens — this how this work should be.
What has your experience been at DAC?
It’s been wonderful — I’ve found myself unlearning things that weren’t helping me. Things about what I can and cannot do because of who I am. I surprised myself by thinking things like, “ I’m a girl. I can’t code.”
At DAC, I realized that numbers tell a story. As a creative, this was a welcoming space for me. I saw who was in front of the room — so many femmes, people of color, and queer folks. To me, this feels like my community. All of this let me know this training was for people like me. Arguably, it’s the only way that I would be able to learn data. I didn’t feel the cis white male gaze of, “Oh, you don’t know how to do this, why are you here?”
I’ve been able to bring more of my whole self to the work and I deeply appreciate learning data in this way.
What are some ways you will apply what you learned here?
I’ve shifted my understanding of myself — I went from being a non-data person to a data person. I am now able to take a series of numbers and make meaning from it. This means I can start to use data to answer questions like: Why are people voting? Why are they not voting? This is key to helping me understand disenfranchisement in voting.
In my day job, I can use GIS maps to show how far someone will have to travel to obtain an abortion — I can tell a story about this and use data to ground our work in community and values. This is a part of the narrative that often gets left out — how does ethics and data fit into our work?
I learned that when we see a list of numbers, we often forget those names are people. We aren’t just fighting for the win — we are fighting for our freedom. This training has shifted my understanding of what it means to win.
What’s the message you want folks to come away with after “meeting” you here?
Data is for everyone. My degree is in English Literature, and I never thought I’d be a data person. But here I am! I learned to code. I learned I can create my own data sets. There is space for us. We just have to make it.