She Runs Illinois 2020! — Lindsey LaPointe, candidate for IL House of Representatives, District 19
She Votes Illinois is pleased to feature Lindsey LaPointe, incumbent, running for IL House of Representatives, District 19. Follow our series, She Runs Illinois 2020!, leading up to election day as we showcase and uplift the voices of Illinois women running for public office in the upcoming election.
Tell us about yourself
I’m originally from Maine, where my mom was a social worker and my dad worked in policy/advocacy. My mom passed away right after I graduated college back in 2004 and at her funeral, her former clients from foster care came out to talk about what an impact she had on their lives. I was astounded by that, and in that moment, I made a choice to use my life to help people and my community to make change for the better. I went into social work first and policy/advocacy second, which both laid the foundation for my entree into local politics. In both social work and policy, I quickly realized that If I wanted to create real sustainable opportunities for people in my own community and across Illinois, who was in (local political) office mattered. When the wrong people are in office, livable wages, safe workplaces, quality public education, workable childcare, and access to health care, including mental healthcare, are out of reach for all but a few.
I moved to Portage Park seven years ago after working at a ministry in the neighborhood doing street outreach, inspired to put down roots by the civically engaged people of the far NW side who were helping their neighbors. I jumped at the chance to serve on the ministry board, get more women engaged in local politics and volunteer on political campaigns. I first got involved in local politics in 2014, and although I was intimidated by the history of corruption and omnipresent declarations of “reform” candidates, I dealt with my frustrations by stepping up and doing.
Tell us about the women in your life
My mother who passed away when I was 23 years old had a huge impact on me. Her early career in social work and the impact she had on our local community and young women and girls in foster care forever guides me. At a young age, she was a co-director of the local YWCA. She saw the connection between her on-the-ground social work and politics, serving as a leader in AFSCME and always involved in presidential caucuses and local ballot referendums. My mom’s bumper stickers are burned in my brain: “I am pro-choice and I vote”, “Just say NO to domestic violence” and “Maine doesn’t discriminate.” I was taught through example, that women belonged in the civic sphere. Although she left social work to pursue a more stable job in accounting so she could raise her two daughters as a single parent, she dreamed of going back to a helping profession once my sister and I were out of the house.
As a newer and younger elected official and the first woman to serve as a state legislator in the 19th District, I have faced several challenges in this sphere and in this role that is historically filled by older men. Although I came to local rough and tumble politics with eyes wide open, I’m convinced women take tougher hits for things wholly unrelated to the job. Public comments about my looks came in a social media deluge on day one. The primary hurdle that will continue to dog me as a young woman in politics, however, is the assumption by many that I must be affiliated with a man. That is, a man must have put me up to this business of wanting to make change through government and politics. Simply put, many are just incapable of seeing me for my own person and standing on my own two feet.
What led you into politics? Why are you running for THIS office
My pathway into politics was direct service social work to policy advocacy. I am here today because of the road blocks I experienced alongside clients. My first job out of college was at a group home for kids with special needs and I went on to work with seniors on fixed incomes and with kids with autism. I loved the work, but at the end of the day, I was inspired to get into policy work because we weren’t doing a good enough job taking care of our kids with special needs or our seniors on fixed incomes and we certainly weren’t providing workers with the support and compensation they deserved. As I dove into policy work in state government and nonprofits to create a more rehabilitative criminal justice system, I traveled across the diverse state of Illinois and got up close to the state legislature. It became immediately clear that this body did the work I cared about the most such as human services, healthcare, public safety, and education.
I lived in Chicago for a full nine years before I touched local politics. For several years I would read the news, get frustrated and put my head down and go to work as a social worker. I wanted to get involved, but part of me was intimidated while the other part of me had no trust in politicians. Everyone said they were a reformer, but clearly not everyone was. Finally, I got so frustrated (for me it was former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s rule by fiat) that I walked cold into a Chuy Garcia for Mayor campaign office in December of 2014 and said, “here I am, put me to work”. I committed myself to showing up every Saturday from December to April because that’s the type of person I am. Committed to making our communities and State better for everyone.
How will you help ensure equitable access to healthcare for people in Black and Brown communities that are hardest hit by the coronavirus?
Some of us have long known and felt the deep impacts of systemic racism while others are looking behind the curtain for the first time. The disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color across our state and nation is undeniable, forcing many to see the structures enabling pervasive disparity — like food deserts, healthcare deserts, and employer tied healthcare — for the first time. There is a reason the life expectancy gap between Streeterville and Englewood is 30 years and it’s changeable. There is a reason there was no access to an adult trauma level 1 trauma center on the entire Southside of Chicago until our youth organized and demanded one. Through organizing and in our neighborhoods and in politics, this is changeable.
Our healthcare landscape is changing, but not fast enough. The employer tied medical model of access to healthcare, a basic human right, is simply harmful and and even deadly to too many. Expanded Medicaid in 2012 was a lifeline, but the pace of leveraging dollars to scale up community clinics that are responsive to the needs of our communities has been too slow. Healthcare, which includes mental healthcare and reproductive healthcare, needs to “meet people where they are at” and should be a responsive system of care that reflects the community it serves. This means workforce development and training for good paying healthcare jobs for black and brown communities. This means investing in our underfunded public health infrastructure. This means a healthcare system that recognizes and addresses the social determinants of health. This means, we align our policies to the ideal that healthcare is a human right, making it both accessible and affordable.
This past year I was proud to work or vote yes on several bills to ensure equitable access to healthcare in our black and brown communities. This includes the State Health Assessment/State Health Improvement Plan Partnership (SB3493) that updates our state’s public health plan with a foundation of community engagement, health disparity and the social determinants of health; ensuring Illinois was the first state to provide Medicaid for undocumented seniors; sponsoring a bill that creates an alternative (to the police) emergency response system for behavioral health crises — the Community Emergency Services and Support Act; and work to repeal the parental notice of abortion act.
Have you participated in any BLM protests? What influenced your decision?
I have participated in neighborhood protests about racial injustice where BLM was present. These outward signs of standing up against racial injustice are newer for the far NW side of Chicago and drew significant support, and some disdain. As an elected official, I felt it was important to show up physically at events in the neighborhood to show that community leaders know we have long standing systemic racial injustice, that community leaders believe in the need for police reform, that community leaders value black lives, and that importantly, community leaders also support the police. In our area of the city where many first responders live, these issues can be extremely divisive, in large part, because we fall victim to the myth that standing up for black lives means we vilify all police officers (it does not). I show up at events and use my platforms to communicate that changes to policing do not have to be one side vs. the other. Through my many conversations with current and retired first responders, I continue to hear that the status quo is not working for anyone: police, our communities with the highest poverty and violence rates, taxpayers (that’s all of us), families who have lost to violence, and everyone in between.
How will you ensure that women and femmes sitting at intersections of oppression are prioritized for policy that will help their quality of life?
Just like there is a reason the life expectancy gap between Streeterville and Englewood is 30 years, there is a reason the number of women of color in the criminal justice system is growing. There is a reason that Black women in Illinois are six times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women. And there is a reason that suicide attempt rates among our LGBTQ youth are five times higher than heterosexual youth. These things are all changeable if we target resources toward our most vulnerable — often those sitting at the intersections of oppression — and create responsive systems of care for basic human needs.
If we cannot provide equitable access to opportunity when it comes to food, shelter, and education, then we are failing. In addition to creating a long overdue foundation for opportunity through targeted investment, I believe in creating responsive systems of care that reflect the populations it serves. This stands in sharp contrast to most of our current systems which are built around a male model, or a medical model, on the false assumption that “if we build it, they will come.” In behavioral health, for example, this means using my legislative toolbox to create pathways for women of color, LGBTQ women of color, and women with disabilities to enter the field and expand community behavioral care and peer support. The more our behavioral healthcare workforce reflects the experience of clients, the more effective it will be. And if we can be more effective with things like peer support and trauma informed care in behavioral health for women sitting at the intersections of oppression, the less we use the criminal justice system as a misguided and harmful stop gap for the human needs we have failed to address.
What do you wish you had known before you decided to run for office?
Running for office is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it’s also been one of the biggest learning experiences of my life. The act of running for office has made me a better representative, which I consider more of a job description vs. a job title. I know I’ll become a better representative with every campaign. I am both a natural and trained listener, and from the beginning, I have listened more than I talked which went a long way in building relationships with the constituents of the 19th District.
I wish I had known that my relatively younger age and relatively short tenure in politics would be an asset instead of a liability. Although I began my campaign acutely aware of my younger age and anticipating that some wouldn’t take me seriously, constituents of all kinds were thrilled to see a younger and fresh person like me step up to the plate to change government and politics from the inside out. Younger women were surprised and thrilled to see a young State Representative who also cared about equal pay and college access while older people saw me as a breath of fresh air in contrast to the years of government and politics they had grown disillusioned with.
My ultimate goal has long been to create more opportunities for people and this drives me as a legislator, a leader, and an organizer. My unique background, first in social work and then in policy/advocacy, has put me in many spaces and exposed me to many people across Illinois — from counseling people in homelessness at rock bottom to convincing a State’s Attorney in rural Illinois to start a drug court to long living room conversations with frustrated Chicago Police Officers.
The goal remains to truly listen to people, expose people to new ideas and create real opportunity. In the organizing and policy world, this means removing barriers to access, and lifting up communities and voices that have been excluded from the process. Today, in the late summer of 2020, this means remembering my own frustration with Illinois state government and politics that sidelined me for too many years and standing up for leadership change and ethics reform to restore trust and invite people in. It means responsive constituent services and meaningful virtual events on food accessibility, police reform and violence reduction.
It has been the honor of my life to serve the 19th District at what I consider a critical rebuilding moment for Chicago and Illinois. 2020 has brought incredible new challenges as my district is still grappling with a lack of access to affordable healthcare, including mental and reproductive healthcare; strong neighborhood schools; a fair tax system; and an end to toxic political nonsense and corruption that degrades our democracy and keeps people out when we should be inviting them in.
I have been incredibly inspired by the newer and young people engaging in our government and politics. I am one of those people and I am look forward to leading my district out of the trials 2020, with all of us stronger, wiser and and more compassionate.
If you would like to learn more about Lindsey LaPointe and her platform or volunteer for her campaign, please check out her website at lindseylapointe.com. Don’t forget to follow her on social media at @LaPointefor19. Reach out today and help make a difference in the upcoming 2020 election.
(The information contained in this post is provided only as general information and does not imply an endorsement by She Votes Illinois.)