Politics, Power & Purpose: Q & A with Aisha in Swerv Magazine

From politics to pop culture she contributes to the dialogue at one of our nation’s most influential think tanks, and a leading cable news channel. This lady also co-hosts a show with her wife. Aisha Moodie-Mills is on FIRE!



SWERV: What is your day job?

AMM: My wife, Danielle, and I are serial social entrepreneurs and live, love, and labor together. We currently run a think tank program called the Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality, or FIRE, Initiative at the Center for American Progress that works to eliminate the social, economic, and health disparities faced by LGBT people of color. We also produce and host a weekly politics and pop culture talk show called Politini on blis.fm, and I am a regular political commentator on MSNBC.

SWERV: What is the Center for American Progress and how does the FIRE Initiative fit into their overall work?

AMM: CAP is the largest progressive, multi-issue, think-tank in the country. Our work shapes many of the public policy ideas of the day and helps to create a blueprint for a more progressive America. FIRE’s is a part of the LGBT policy and communications program, and our work is intersectional, bridging the gap between policy issues of class, race, sexuality and gender.

SWERV: Why is that work so important to the everyday lives of Americans?

AMM: Much of the LGBT movement’s priority headline issues have rightfully focus on legal equality, but the reality is that legal equality does not always translate into lived equality. LGBT people of color in particular are more likely to live in poverty, have significant health disparities, and are disproportionately pipelined into the criminal justice system—so it’s critical that we also address policy issues that can eliminate structural barriers to these quality of life issues.

SWERV: What drew you to politics and to Washington, DC?

AMM: I had two experiences in high school that really sealed my interest in politics and government. During my junior year, I participated in a program called Youth in County Government where I was selected to shadow a county government official through their day to day work for several weeks. Then, later that summer, I was a delegate to New Jersey’s Girls’ State. A mock state government program where girls from every high school in the state came together, formed political parties, launched state-wide campaigns, and ultimately elected a governor. That experience was transformative for me and I completely fell in love with the political process. I ran and won several offices ultimately becoming the State Party Chairwoman who got our gubernatorial candidate elected—she happened to be the first black girl elected as Governor of NJ Girls State at that time!

SWERV: What is the significance (if any) of openly LGBT people of color working at think tanks and political action committees?

AMM: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. That’s why it is critical that we are at the policy-making table, to ensure that our interests are represented and that our issues are inserted into the foundation of the process. Allies at the table are also critical to helping advance our interests, but there is no force is more powerful perspective than that which comes first hand. Our life experiences shape our perspectives, so the best way to insure that political and policy agendas are inclusive and reflect diversity is to actually have diverse people helping to shape that agenda. That is true for LGBT perspectives, as well as racially, ethnically, gender, ability, etc. diverse perspectives as well.

SWERV: How can LGBT people of color outside of Washington influence policy/let their voices be heard?

AMM: VOTE! All politics are local. The people who work in federal policy are sent here by the rest of America. So it is your duty to send people that represent your values and fight for your interests.

SWERV: In addition to your work at CAP you are frequent political commentator on MSNBC and along with your wife host a weekly show. Tell me how Politini came along.

AMM: As Washington Politicos, or “Polinistas”, we wanted to bring out the personal side of politics. Those outside of the beltway often tune out to what’s happening here because the political posturing and talking points just morph into distant static. The reality is that public policy impacts all of our lives, whether directly or indirectly and that’s what we discuss. We also believe in the power of culture to shift hearts and minds and ultimately influence political opinion. Politini sheds light on the intersections of policy and pop culture and how they shape our lives and the way we understand and engage with the world around us.

SWERV: You two have discussed a variety of topics and had many notable guests. Is there a favorite guest or topic that sticks out to you?

AMM: One of our most popular shows is “It’s Open Season on Black Men & Boys”. We taped that show around the Trayvon Martin verdict and it is still one of the most watched today. Trayvon, Jordan Davis, the opposition to President Obama, among countless other incidents sadly reminds us how little value our society has for black men and boys. In fact we are a nation predicated on dehumanizing black men and that attitude persists today and permeates our policy and culture in such destructive ways. On this show we spoke to three black fathers of black sons about how they raise their boys to navigate this world. It was insightful, sobering, and cathartic, yet hopeful.

SWERV: Do you see yourself transitioning to from policy influencer to the role of an elected official that crafts policy?

AMM: It has always been my aim to educate and advocate, and good politicians do indeed do just that. Though there are several ways to impact change and influence policy, media being one of them. I certainly plan to continue to amplify issues on a national platform through politics, policy, media and advocacy.

SWERV: What advice do you have for young people interested in working in the progressive political movement? How can they follow in your path?

AMM: The first thing is to just dive right in. I started off at a nonprofit right out of college, then moved in to politics and campaigns for ten years. I also went to business school, and now I do both policy and media. My path was not, and will not be a traditionally linear one, and few people’s will be in this day and age. My recommendation is to dive in and work with organizations, campaigns, companies that reflect your values. Stay connected to your values, tease out your passion and purpose and lead from there. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and above all, never be afraid to fail. Failure is a matter of perspective, and it is always most productive to be persistent and try new things, as something will eventually stick. You’ll never achieve anything just sitting on the sidelines.

SWERV: You make the time to be a volunteer board member for Choice USA. Why?

AMM: Choice is a youth-led organization, the young people who are involved are the leaders of the future and I am honored to be able to help cultivate fresh progressive leadership. It’s also inspiring to watch them work, they are so intersectional and inclusive in their advocacy work, by default, and without hesitation. While they focus on reproductive justice issues they are also very active on all issues of sexuality and are very LGBT inclusive. I only hope that some of these students run for office one day as they are models of how to lead in a diverse world.

SWERV: Looking ahead to 2014 and 2016 elections. What are your predictions?

AMM: 2014 will be a tough mid-term election as the US Senate is up for grabs. Should the balance of power shift and Republicans take control of both houses of Congress you can expect complete and total gridlock as they’ll try and render Obama politically impotent. But all politics are ultimately local, so I am most concerned about the state races. Conservatives have a strong-hold on Governships and state legislatures which has proven regressive for so many states. Healthcare implementation, criminal justice reform, LGBT rights, all rest on state governments, and conservatives have been the biggest road blocks to progress. It’s so critical that people vote their interests during mid-terms and not just focus on Presidential elections. On that note, I do hope we have a woman in the White House in 2016.