Montgomery County, seen from the outside, may seem an idyllic collection of affluent suburbs and single-family homes: a place where you can live your American Dream. But when you start knocking on doors, you learn there’s a lot more to who we are. My place, my status in this diverse county "qualifies me to understand the real challenges families face, and to find real solutions that meet their needs," Council at-Large candidate Brandy Brooks says.
/By Brandy Brooks<>Progressive Breakfast/ “What qualifies you to run for office?” That’s a question I get a lot as I meet voters in my campaign for Montgomery County Council’s at-large seat. To me, it hits at the heart of why I’m running.
I’m a working class, Black Latina living in a multi-racial, multi-generational household. My family moved to Montgomery County to find an affordable home where we could live together and support one another. But it takes the full- and part-time incomes of four adults to make our housing “affordable.”
I’ve been an executive director and senior manager at nonprofits, but I’ve also been a waitress, a secretary, and an IT help desk assistant. I’m a woman of color who has faced sexism and racism in the workplace. I’m a renter who uses public transportation.
I’m the daughter of a single parent, and I had to work as a teenager to help support my family. I’m also a community organizer and member of Progressive Maryland, and I’ve knocked on thousands of doors and had conversations with families all across Montgomery County.
So what does all of this qualify me for?
It qualifies me to understand the real challenges families face, and to find real solutions that meet their needs.
Listening To Montgomery County
Montgomery County, seen from the outside, may seem an idyllic collection of affluent suburbs and single-family homes: a place where you can live your American Dream. But when you start knocking on doors, you learn there’s a lot more to who we are.
We’re incredibly diverse: Gaithersburg, Silver Springs, and Germantown are three of the nation’s most multicultural cities. A majority of our residents are people of color, with nearly a third born outside of the U.S. 140 languages are spoken in our public schools. A third of our 55,000 students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.
And especially in immigrant households, a lot of families look like mine: multiple generations live under one roof, and multiple adult incomes are needed to keep up with Montgomery County’s ever-rising cost of living. We’re far from the exception.
That’s why I’m passionate about finding housing solutions for Montgomery County. We need at least 60 thousand affordable units to keep up with demand over the next ten years. Our county is increasingly more dense and populous, and increasingly unaffordable – for young people who grew up here and want to move back, seniors who want to stay, and homeowners who can no longer afford rising property taxes.
Too often, our elected officials do not reflect our stories or experiences. When we look at our elected leaders, we don’t see ourselves making public decisions or serving in public leadership. So it can be surprising to see someone who is “one of us” is running for office.
I want to change how we understand who is qualified to lead – and how we decide who and what counts in Montgomery County. Our county has a deep and rich history, with vibrant communities founded by free Black people and freed slaves, alongside thriving immigrant communities from every corner of the globe. But you’d never know that if you looked at the decisions our county government makes.
For millions of low-wage workers in Montgomery County, the American Dream is nothing more than a mirage. Wages are stagnant, while property values and rents soar ever higher. Today, your ZIP code and the color of your skin determine whether your local school is a stairway to college or a pipeline to prison. It doesn’t have to be this way.
So many of the challenges we face here, and all across the country come down to what we think of as worthy and valuable. When we make development plans, are we thinking only of our tax revenue and how many big businesses we can attract? Or are we considering the wealth we already have in our communities, our history, our green space, and our local small businesses?
If we put all of that on our balance sheet, we come up with very different plans.
A Better Way
So I’m not a lawyer, a self-funded millionaire or former business executive, and I haven’t served in elected office before.
Instead, I embody Montgomery County’s true diversity of identity and experience. My story reflects both our county’s history and the present challenges faced by thousands of our residents. And my leadership is focused on empowering those of us whose voices and value have been ignored for far too long.
It’s time to choose a new path. We can rebalance our books and put people over profit. We can invest in ourselves and in the beautiful communities we have, not push them out for the next big development. We can make sure every school is funded, not just those that can rely on the time and money of affluent parents to meet their educational needs.
We can make sure everyone can get around, not just those who can afford a car. We can level the playing field for the small businesses who invest in their workers and in Montgomery County, instead of giving big tax breaks to companies who just extract profits from our communities.
I’m running so that people and families all over Montgomery County have access to affordable housing, good public transit, excellent schools, and a thriving economy that lets us support ourselves. And I’m running because I believe that we should have the power to shape the policies and systems that affect our lives.
I’ll fight for workers and families and people of color and immigrants and those who face gender discrimination – because when I do that, I’m fighting for myself and the people I love. I know how much these issues matter in our daily lives.
We can’t win with the same tired tactics and the same out-of-touch leaders. We’ve got to build sustainability, not sustain a broken system. We’ve got to raise our voices together, not throw up our hands. It starts with changing who we think is qualified and who government should serve.
All over the country, there are candidates like me running and building a new kind of politics. And there are people like you, who are ready and able to transform our communities.
Are you in?
Brandy Brooks is a candidate for Montgomery County Council at-large and has been endorsed by Progressive Maryland. Disclosure: she conducts activist training sessions for Progressive Maryland on a professional basis. This post first appeared June 21 in the Progressive Breakfast blog of People’s Action, Progressive Maryland’s national umbrella affiliate organization, which is allied with the Institute for America’s Future.