We have so much to fight for!
We have not just a need, but a human right to single-payer healthcare. Exploitation at the hands of the insurance industry is deadly and immoral. Our planet is facing man-made environmental catastrophes at every turn, and we MUST stand up to the fossil fuel industry for our survival. The American tradition of racism in all of its forms must be extinguished. These issues feel gigantic, even insurmountable at times. I feel trepidation in taking a leadership role in addressing such wide-ranging and deeply important issues. But I refuse to let despair drive me to inaction. Despair is a tool of control in the racialized patriarchy.
I know first hand the violence of poverty: homelessness, hunger, physical illness that I couldn’t afford to address for many years. I still cannot afford to address it and I’m tethered to a system that is exploiting me for that fact; I’m drowning in school loans and medical debt. But I’m still standing, and so long as that remains true, I will fight to repair the effects of the violence committed against us and the planet. I will fight to ensure that this violence ends now. How many people have to die? We have to seize the moral answer to that question ourselves, together.
No excuses: The Democratic Party leadership voted for censorship, expanded warrantless surveillance, and increasing the Pentagon budget; all during the Trump administration. People are suffering and dying. Use voting as a tool of harm reduction. It is not a replacement for organizing and on-the-ground involvement in our communities. Rise up together and make your voices heard!
Green New Deal
Single Payer Healthcare
Tuition Free Public Universities
Anti-War & Anti-Imperialism
Sex Work Decriminalization
I am a proud member of the Rose Caucus.
The summer of 2016 I was in a high stress job managing a restaurant. I had left the University of Illinois in the final month of my final semester in 2015 due to an autoimmune disease I could not afford to treat. I worked constantly, and had no benefits through my job other than a couple of free glasses of wine every night. I found myself growing increasingly concerned with the rise of Donald Trump’s profile. I saw the same features of abuse I had suffered in life playing out on a national stage: all of the gaslighting, self-created scandal used to suppress valid criticism, anger and faux outrage used to create fear of others, and willful suppression of facts. The misogyny and bigotry was on full display and presented as a means of empowerment for white men. While drinking a few beers and painting at Bunny’s, I overheard someone with a familiar rural accent, “When Trump is president, we’re all going to have gold toilets!” he joyfully exclaimed. That’s when I knew Trump was going to win and if I was going to fight for the rights of everyone I love, including myself, I would have to change my life.
During that same summer, FOSTA SESTA was introduced. I immediately realized how dangerous this legislation was not only for the sex worker community (FOSTA SESTA seeks to eradicate safety nets like client screening and suppressed harm reduction content), but for the country at large, as it is a censorship bill that serves to weaken Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. A local activist reached out to me to discuss the legislation and through talking to her, I realized for the first time that under Illinois state law, I was considered a victim of minor human sex trafficking. I was devastated. No one trafficked me. I had turned to survival sex work as a poor, queer teen to get my basic needs met. I felt this designation obfuscated the root problems of my situation: bigotry, a lack of kind, trauma-informed social service, and most of all poverty. I recognized immediately what was being set up to play out, it’s straight out of the fascist playbooks. Sex workers are a historically vulnerable population, suffering abuses from not only clients and pimps, but also law enforcement. Remove the safety nets, and start picking us off, either through murder or incarceration, or in the case of Joe Arpaio’s prisons, both, in the name of moral decency.
In realizing I needed a clear head, I finally ditched the bottle in October 2016. I watched with horror as Trump pandered to the people I grew up around through manipulation, fear, and outright hatred. His mission was clear: unity through the destruction of empathy and compassion. My mission was also beginning to form. I needed to find my people. I needed to get well enough to get loud for their rights. I felt a sense of duty to fight for our dignity, our right to express our actual needs, our rights to housing, healthcare, sufficient wages. Our right to live freely and openly in full acceptance of who we are, messy parts and all.
I didn’t know where to start externally, so I spent a great deal of time processing my experiences and getting comfortable speaking without shame. Therapy can be amazing, but it was out of my budget even with insurance. I had to DIY my own recovery. My story is emotional and deeply personal, but it is rooted in facts that can be quantitatively explained. It’s systemic and so much larger than me, and few people working within our institutions are qualified to speak to both the insidiousness of oppression and the human cost. I began to feel anxious, this task seemed so large and out of reach. I had two driving questions: How do I find my people? How do I effectively advocate for us?
After the election, as I watched my rights and the rights of others begin to erode, I felt despair wash over me in waves. I questioned if anyone cared about me and my struggle. This alienation had the potential to eradicate me. I adopted a simple terror-management system. When things felt overwhelming, I would pull a 180, as in, 180 seconds, just three minutes, devoted to improving the quality of life for someone else. Three minutes is all it takes to donate a few dollars to an organization fighting for our rights. Three minutes is a thoughtful text to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, just checking in. Three minutes is taking a few deep breaths in the bathroom of the restroom where you work, so that you can walk tall and share a genuine smile with another person. I used 180 seconds as a powerful tool to fight falling into the void. I began to create a sense of connection and camaraderie with those around me.
I contemplated returning to school and finishing my linguistics degree, but felt like I wouldn’t have time to take the action necessary to shift the culture around poverty while managing school. I needed to find another way. A friend passed along a job ad for a front desk position at Cunningham Township. I had no idea what a township was, but in scoping out the website it became clear: this is support for our low-to-no income neighbors. Support meant to keep people who have suffered as I have in homes, support to get them off the streets. MY PEOPLE! I never wanted an office job, and lacked the technical software skills, but I felt confident that I could learn. I decided to apply because I thought, if nothing else, a smiling and compassionate person who understands poverty isn’t a personal failing at the front desk could soften the humiliation that often comes with seeking help. I poured my heart into my cover letter, speaking openly about my experience with homelessness.
I got an interview, but I didn’t get the job, and goodness am I grateful for that! Danielle Chynoweth, the Cunningham Township Supervisor, instead offered me a paid internship working on the development of a trauma-informed, inclusive women and women with families shelter, an internship which has now shifted towards researching and addressing the intersection of sexual violence, poverty, and homelessness. It marked the first time in my history that my lived experience was viewed as an asset instead of a detriment. I am forever grateful for everyone working in that office and the dignity, respect, and tenderness they direct at everyone who walks through those doors. I feel deeply connected to our participants, and I found my sense of purpose in the world. I began doing outreach and advocacy for our homeless neighbors. I met people doing incredible work in community organizing. I felt involved, invested, and seen. My work, my goals, and the ways I desire to spend my free time in service to those with less began to coalesce into action. It’s revolutionary. It’s replicable. It’s a movement.
This is how I got here: through self acceptance, through doing the hard work of taking responsibility for my shortcomings and addressing them in baby steps, through bold leadership that lifts people up instead of knocking them down. I’m here today because I feel the power of connection, the intimacy of shared experience. And I want you all to feel that, too. You deserve that love, respect, and dignity. You are worthy and I want the world to know.
You deserve to be heard. Submit questions for the Bricks from Bed Livestream which will take place Sunday evenings on Facebook! Respect and dignity always; I will not respond to the work of trolls.
Questions will be answered each Sunday at 6pm on my Campaign Facebook: Stefanie Smith for Congress!
We are running out of time to act, and individual action will not be enough. We must reject the notion that our lives, our world, is unsalvageable. Our bodies, our lives will not be used as bargaining chips as the wealthy play politics. Our world is not lost, we are here right now and we can stand together in solidarity to mobilize our people to action.
I acknowledge that our district occupies the traditional territories of the Bodéwadmiakiwen (Potawatomi), Meskwaki, Miami, Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux), Osage, and Peoria nations.
This space is respectfully held for Indigenous people and organizations to use as their own platform. I acknowledge that creating this space is a small gesture and does not absolve me of my responsibility to fight for Indigenous rights. Please contact us to be included in whatever capacity you see fit.
Love and Solidarity,
I strongly believe in the power and history of Black activism and organizing. I don’t want to co-opt a movement; instead stand in solidarity. Supporting Black movements and organizations is a priority. Please reach out to us if you would like your organization to be featured on this page or if there are additional ways we can support your labor. Additionally, your individual stories and experiences have so much value; please consider submitting to the Local Voices section if you would like to share.
To my fellow white people, especially young men feeling alienated under this system: Our struggle is a shared struggle. The forces feeding that alienation and pushing for a radicalized right are the same forces oppressing us all. You have the potential to be a radical leader by rejecting a culture of hate. You can lead with compassion and tenderness. That option is available to you. If you choose to take control and seize your own personal redemption arc, as I am trying to do, I will fight for you. I do not barter with the human rights of others. Fear, despair, and alienation are tools of control, not forces of true power.
We must cast off the perversity that is white supremacy. As a white person, I consider it a minimum to boldly stand against white supremacy and all of it’s insidious machinations loudly, with dedication that acknowledges this is an ongoing process of dynamic unlearning of abusive behaviors. It is a personal responsibility to learn anti-racism, and marginalized people are not responsible for educating their oppressors. The resources exist and are easily found. Do not burden others with your guilt, discomfort, or laziness. When Black people are murdered for existing, over-policed, unjustly incarcerated, forced to live in areas with high pollution, lack access to basic necessities like food and clean water, given unequal access to quality education, and subjected to discrimination in all arenas of life, we are failing to uphold human rights. Anyone who is not speaking out NOW likely never will. Their silence is complicity and it comes with a massive body count.
I would like to take a moment to recognize the unique struggle of Black trans women, many of whom face life threatening violence every day and still show up to create safety nets and fight on the front lines for our collective rights. They shoulder the largest burden, suffer immense loss of life within their community, and do a disproportionate amount of labor for advancing our causes. As a queer person, I recognize my relative safety to move about the world is directly tied to the bold activism of Marsha P. Johnson at Stonewall. When I was grappling with the danger and weight of deciding to accept this opportunity, I immediately turned to my 13 year old daughter for input. I explained my concerns, and told her I was frightened of uncharted territory. She immediately shot back, “The first trans woman to throw the brick at Stonewall? That was uncharted territory.” She knows how much this history means to me, how grateful I am to all of you. Black trans activists continue to lead the way, and as a former teenage runaway who performed survival sex work, I want to offer my gratitude to the amazing women working in Washington, D.C. to not only bring decriminalization to the national stage, but also for their inspiring work in street-based harm reduction and addressing all aspects of poverty, especially housing insecurity. Thank you.
I’m not one to argue the color of red herrings. There is no such thing as a kinder, gentler genocide. CLOSE THE CAMPS.