Comment Writer Kit Parsons continues his series of interviews with congressional candidates. This time, he meets Aarika Rhodes who is running for Congress in California’s 30th district
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the great Rev. Wendy Hamilton who is running for US Congress in Washington D.C. From this conversation I learnt a lot about Rev. Wendy and what it is like to run for Congress. This inspired me to speak to a similarly inspirational Congressional candidate. This time around, I spoke with Aarika Rhodes, who is running for Congress in California’s 30th district. We discussed many topics, ranging from how Aarika got involved in politics, to why people should trust her, given the overall low trust in politicians. I hope you find our conversation interesting and that it brings greater light to what it is like to run for federal office in the United States of America.
Kit Parsons: How did you get involved in politics?
Aarika Rhodes: I’ve always been a voter and always active in the political process, but when Trump got elected, I decided to be very active in the Democratic primary. Beyond just voting but actually picking a candidate and really really giving my heart to supporting them. Initially, I was supporting Kamala Harris, and then I heard about Andrew Yang on the Breakfast Club. I thought he was presenting very innovative, creative, new ideas and he was non-divisive. So, I got involved in helping him! And then after he was suspended, my dad was like ‘You are really passionate about this, you should keep going and see what you could do to keep helping your community and country,’ and he said ‘maybe run for office?’ And I was like, ‘Ok!’ I thought about it for a couple of months. I was reading books, talking to people in my community and I did get the sense that there was a desire for change. When I got the sense that we could win and make a difference, I filed and our campaign just blew up, just completely blew up. I still work full-time as a teacher while running and I think that makes it even more significant. Working in a pandemic, earning the support of the community and the country. I think it’s just like the best underdog story in the world!
Kit Parsons: Yeah, exactly. I mean move over AOC!
Aarika Rhodes: I get compared to her a lot in terms of the story. I think my personality, or how I envision myself being in Congress is more like Katie Porter.
Kit Parsons: Oh ok. So maybe a bit more fearless?
Aarika Rhodes: I’m fearless. I’m fearless because we have so much to lose and I’m fearless because there is so much at stake. I don’t know how much longer our country can sustain this level of divisiveness. But with her [Katie Porter] in particular, why I admire her is that she really focuses on policy and on being in her community. She clocks in a lot of community service hours. And I think it’s important for people to see their congressperson as a public servant. That means serving people that can’t even vote for you. Go back to before Biden was elected, I was registering people who were experiencing homelessness, I was registering them to vote. And I would say that four out of five people couldn’t even read. So, are you going to disregard them because they can’t read and are not going to vote? That’s a really foolish mindset to have. People don’t hear those things, they don’t think about those things, and I think that’s the point of why we need education reform, mental health and foster care reform and things of that nature, because there are a lot of people in that position. Not a majority, but there are hundreds of thousands of people.
Kit Parsons: I think that is really insightful. I know you speak to being a teacher, so, how would you say your background as an educator influences your more general approach to politics?
Aarika Rhodes: I would say that because I couldn’t read until I was in the third grade, I come with a level of compassion when it comes to education and even when I approach my teaching. I also would say that I’ve worked all the jobs of the people that I am trying to serve and represent. I’ve worked as a waitress, I’ve had two jobs, I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. And I think when you have these real-life experiences and relatability, you approach your politics that way. I am really, truly the average person. I was stood on the sidewalk talking to a constituent for fifteen-twenty minutes, answering every single question. And this boy came up and said ‘I’ve never seen anybody running for office ever sit on a sidewalk before.’ You know? I think that’s how I approach my politics right, at the most human level. And it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is because I really believe that when you go through all the labels and you just have a real honest conversation, we want the same things. Our approach to wanting those same things is just different. That’s where we need to find common ground. Can we just admit that we want the same things, and just figure out where do we agree and then work towards that?
Kit Parsons: I think that’s great. I mean correct me if I’m wrong, but I doubt people are going to be seeing Brad Sherman [Aarika’s opponent and current incumbent] sat on the pavement talking to voters?
Aarika Rhodes: He will not sit on my sidewalk!
Kit Parsons: Exactly! So, I guess moving on, what would you say have been the biggest obstacles you’ve faced during your campaign, and how have you tried to overcome them?
Aarika Rhodes: There are two equal things, which are building name recognition and raising money. Those are the two most challenging things. The name recognition is, we have the biggest restriction, even though I’ve lived in the valley my entire adult life, I haven’t met every single person. That’s not possible. I’m not a celebrity, I’m not anything. I’m a woman that teaches. So, that’s been a hard thing. The second thing I would say with the money is that people don’t have money. And could I sell out and get money from corporations and big banks? Sure. But then what’s the point in running and not just keeping Brad [Sherman]? That doesn’t separate me from him. I also really believe that we have to get big money out of politics, in order to get change, to help the everyday person. So, those have been the challenges of how do you keep the integrity of your campaign, while trying to raise the money that you need to win your race? I have students that are watching my campaign and former students that volunteer and work on my campaign. I think for me it’s that if we have to go the longer harder route then so be it because if we win and we do it with our integrity intact, having been moral and just, that would mean something. And it would also show other people that are running for office or running for re-election or wanting to run for office that they don’t have to do the tit for tat, because at the end of the day, the tit and tat, the back and forth, gets us nowhere. And Brad Sherman’s Brad Sherman. There’s nothing I could say to him or attack him on that is going to make him acknowledge me, to get him to move on a position. It’s just not going to happen. So, I just focus on the community.
Kit Parsons: That’s great, it’s nice how you are taking the high road. I definitely seems like a very difficult balancing act. But I guess on a more positive note, what would you say has been the highlight of the trail so far for you? Does anything stand out specifically?
Aarika Rhodes: Absolutely the kids. The students watching my campaign, former students working on my campaign. There was one former student, I was doing a speaker drive for foster youth and she said, ‘you know, I want to participate in this one!’ and I was like ‘Ok, so what’s your goal?’ and she said ‘I’m going to try to collect five pairs of sneakers.’ Sneakers are like $20, even if you go to Target. And then she comes back and is like ‘I think I’m going to do ten, I think I’m going to collect ten.’ And then the day of the event, to make a long story short, she had twenty pairs of sneakers. She organised in her community, with her soccer team, and got twenty pairs of sneakers. To me, she learned how to be a community leader, an organiser, a problem solver, a fundraiser, she learnt all these different skills, by her parents being supportive, and her deciding that she wants to do it. And I think if anything comes out of this, is that maybe even if five out of the twenty five kids that have helped throughout the campaign, do something with what we’ve done, that’s significant. And I’m very proud about that.
Kit Parsons: That’s really nice. I mean who knows, maybe when you retire from Congress, she can come and take your seat!
Aarika Rhodes: Or she could do something bigger, like Senate or President!
Kit Parsons: Moving on, lots of people seem to be quite apathetic towards politicians. They seem quite tired with politics as usual, and obviously that contributed somewhat towards Trump. So, why should people trust you?
Aarika Rhodes: I think people are tired because they don’t see a difference in their daily lives. And I’m not naïve. I cannot change this big broken system. But people can trust me to fight for them. People can trust me to give it my all. I think I have proven that just through my campaign and how hard I go. I think people can trust me in that although I may not be able to deliver on everything that I want, I will give it my absolute all and go for it. And I think people can trust that I know that there is value in doing things for your community beyond just legislating. They can count on me to show up to the food banks, to show up for our youth and participate, and I talk to everyone. I don’t care who you are, if you want to have a conversation, I will absolutely have a conversation. I think people also just want to feel heard, and they can trust that I will make it, so they feel heard. I can respectfully agree to disagree, but I’m not disagreeable just to be disagreeable. Like I always will consider things. I think that is what makes great leaders, that change things for the better. I also think that people can trust that I can organise the inner community to have something tangible, even if it isn’t done legislatively. I feel very confident about the relationships I’ve built and my collaborative skills. I think that if they will give me a chance, they will be pleasantly surprised.
Kit Parsons: I really hope they do! Now, I know your election isn’t until next year, but for everyone reading this, what’s your closing argument, what’s your final pitch?
Aarika Rhodes: That’s a really good question [Aarika takes a moment to think]. My final pitch is that if you cannot say three things Brad Sherman has done to make our community better and your lives better directly, give me a chance. Give me a fair shake. Because, my favourite quote is from Albert Einstein, saying, we cannot do the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome. So, when you go to the ballot box before you select your candidate, ask yourself, what has Brad Sherman done for me in the twenty-five years he’s been in office? How has he made our community better? If you can’t give three answers, press my name and give me a chance. That would probably be my final pitch. If he still comes out victorious, we’ll try again!
Kit Parsons: That’s good! I feel like I could speak to you for ages, but I’ll limit myself to just one more question. I want you to do well, so where can people find you and help support your campaign?
Aarika Rhodes: So, people can visit aarikaforcongres.com. They can follow me on Instagram, which is @aarikaforcongress, or they can follow me on Twitter, @AarikaRhodes. And if you live in the United States, and you are of eighteen and a citizen, then please consider donating, even if it is a dollar, it all adds up! And if you know people in my district, please ask them to vote for me.
Kit Parsons: Thank you so much for your time, I’m rooting for you!
Aarika Rhodes: Thank you so very much, have a good day!
I enjoyed my conversation with Aarika. I think that she genuinely cares about the people. I think that she wants to serve her community because she is passionate about the people and the policies that can help them. America needs more people like Aarika in Congress, so I wish her the best. Her campaign is generating a noticeable amount of attention, and they are pushing to raise as much money as possible. I look forward to seeing how she does in her election next year.
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