On October 15, 1991, at age five, Alessandra Biaggi’s passion for women in politics was awakened. She was attending the opening of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, which was founded by her grandfather, Representative Mario Biaggi of New York. Then-State Attorney for Dade County and eventual-Attorney General Janet Reno spoke at the dedication. After the ceremony, Alessandra met Reno personally. Though Alessandra has been told before that women could succeed in politics, seeing Reno in real life was concrete proof of it.
Throughout her childhood, Alessandra’s family supported her political ambitions. They encouraged her to be thoughtful and critical. “When I’d say ‘I really wanna do X,’ my parents would ask me why I want to do that, who it’ll help, how it would affect the community, stuff like that. They were priming me.”
Alessandra entered politics with an internship for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). She went on to work at the Kings County D.A.’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of NY, the Presidential Succession Clinic at the John D. Feerick Center for Social Justice as an editor, and the NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery as Assistant General Counsel.
In early 2015, Alessandra was offered a position on the vetting team of the Hillary Clinton campaign. She accepted immediately, ecstatic about the opportunity to help elect the first female president in United States history.
On April 1, her official title on the campaign became Deputy National Operations Director. She described her roles and responsibilities as “literally everything.”
“I was helping balance the budget, I was requesting extra funds, I was helping them sort all the merch while working the compliance… All of the hiring for all dates as well as all of the offices, which includes negotiating leases… All of the paid canvassing programs, GOTV, everything that you can imagine at this point fell underneath operations.”
Alessandra described the days following Election Day as a “blur.” The sense of loss was heavy, with two suicides in her network of friends occurring “as a result of the stress caused by the current state of our country and the political climate.”
However, she did not fall into a state of despair. She said that there was a quote from Persian poet Rumi that became her mantra following the election: “The wound is the place where the light enters.”
So along with thousands of other women across the country, Alessandra redirected her suffering into action.
She created an extensive “Take Action Guide for Activism” to help activists and organizers get involved with progressive politics and stay informed in a time when every Trump tweet becomes a national headline. The guide is unbelievably comprehensive, providing readers with links to grassroots organizations across the country that focus on everything from immigration to rebuilding the Democratic Party at a state level to helping women run for office to civics education, and so on.
Alessandra also got involved with countless progressive efforts such as Ladies Get Paid, Rally + Rise, New York University’s Women’s Initiative, Impact Hub, Solidarity Sundays, Columbia University, Changemaker Chats, All In Together Campaign, and the latest, with Diane Von Furstenberg. She currently sits on the Advisory Board of the New Leaders Council, is a member of The New Agenda’s Young Women Leadership Council, and serves on the host committee for the Arena Summit. She describes all of these organizations as “communities” of politically active progressives from across the country.
“We all need to jump on board and link arms. That’s how you get stronger.”
One of her main focuses has been connecting people. “I would say that one of my superpowers is identifying what people are working on and identifying people in my network already and then connecting them… This is my ritual of democracy.”
For example, at The New Agenda, a nonpartisan organization “started after the 2008 election cycle because of how the media was treating Hillary Clinton,” Alessandra helped organize National Girlfriends Networking Day. “They have different events across the country that they stream the one event from New York City into. It’s basically a network of women to support other women, so it’s like a mentor-mentee networking group focused on young women, middle-aged women, and older women.”
But while she has found many meaningful ways to get involved, Alessandra knows that civic engagement is not easy. She recommends that folks start by asking themselves three questions.
The first is a personal one: “What does it mean to be a citizen?” In other words, the infamous words of President John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
To Alessandra, the question of what it means to be a citizen “begs the answer” of “social change.” “How we’re going to have that social change” leads to the next question:
“How do you create community?“
Once you pinpoint what you care about, Alessandra says, you should find a community that shares your interests.
“You can never underestimate a quick Google search of ‘progressive millennial organizations.’”
If “it doesn’t exist… create that group!” And that leads to the final question:
What’s the way in which my voice can be most heard, or where can I make the most impact?
Alessandra said that once you have found your “tribe,” you have the strength in numbers to set concrete group goals that can make a real difference. Whether it be making 50 calls to a senator, holding workshops, creating a PAC, or signing up for ResistBot, Alessandra’s final question is meant to guide people to their own “Rituals for Democracy.”
“I think we need to treat activism and our engagement as another thing that we schedule… What can I do in a day, what can I do in a week… We have to break it down for people like that because not everything is for all of us.”
For progressives who want to get involved in politics in particular, Alessandra says that the best way is always to volunteer.
“Volunteer in a campaign office, and from there you meet the staff, and then you become an organizer and then organizers go into headquarters, and it just grows there. But you have to start with what you got, and usually what you got is a field office, so volunteer for a candidate that you care about.”
“Volunteer, cause that’s where the people are.”
Volunteering for progressives candidates is especially important given the midterms occurring next year. But women can do more than just volunteer.
“My call to action for women would be to consider running for office even if they’ve never considered it before and if not for federal office or even state, consider putting their name in the ring for non-competitive seats on the county level. There are many roles, upwards of 500,000 public offices that you can hold, and we need more women.”
But what are the next steps after consideration? How can women actually prepare themselves to run for public office?
“You can do all the training in the world, and you’ll never be ready. You just do it because you make the decision. There will be a support network around you once you decide to do it, that’s no question, so equip yourself with the right tools. Take a training. Go online, look at the courses. She Should Run has an online incubator that you can do from home. Look wherever you are, see what training groups can help. The Yale Women’s Campaign School or New Leader Council, these different groups have all of these different trainings and make yourself the most prepared that you possibly can. Figure out what issues you care about and just run.”
Alessandra already knows what her top issue is: women in politics. It is what she’s dedicating her life to at the moment through public speaking and advocacy. But she hopes that soon, she will be able to empower women from a different position. When I asked her if she plans to work on the presidential campaign in 2020, she told me:
“If it were a campaign I believed in as much as I believed in Secretary Clinton’s. So the bar is very high. But the next campaign I hope to work on is my own.”