Asya Howlette has spent the past decade working in schools to provide academic and social emotional access to students. After graduating from Hampton University, Asya began her journey as a math teacher in rural Louisiana and soon after earned a Master of Education from Johns Hopkins University. With her continued love for educating students and her depth of knowledge about child development and academic expectations she took on the position of being the upper middle school principal and director of mathematics and science for a k-8 school here in New Orleans. Having context for teaching in schools, working directly with curricula, and leading teacher development within Orleans Parish and across the United States, Asya has been influenced to pursue her next phase of leadership. This has not only included running for public office, but now working to support political candidates and supporting all of New Orleans having access to election information.
Dismantling systems that propagate voter suppression has produced unprecedented outcomes for our country, and, for that, we thank powerhouse women like Stacey Abrams and the countless Black people and allies that have contributed to reforming a broken system. What we often fail to address is the voter suppression that starts long before election day, including the silencing and mischaracterization of women of color who dare to enter the political arena.
I offer this perspective as a Black woman and former candidate who values voters getting the information they need to make informed decisions and to build a progressive Louisiana that equitably serves all members of our community. I offer this perspective in service of a community that is desperately working to change the narrative of who holds, exercises, and maintains power that disproportionately harms BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) communities — my community.
For the past 30 years, we have known who was going to fill this congressional seat in each election cycle— a problematic truth in our local political landscape. Going into this election, I was looking for a new candidate who would be beholden solely to the community and our interests, as well as a candidate with a vision for what could be true for Louisiana and a clear pathway to actualizing that vision. Equally important was a candidate with shared personal experiences navigating a system that is relentlessly oppressive to the economically disadvantaged and BIPOC citizens of this country. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many candidates step up to fill this seat, signaling that I was not alone in my desire for a change, for new energy.
I found Desiree Ontiveros to be a candidate in whom the above characteristics were not just hopes, but a reality. Desiree is explicit in naming the impact of racist economics that underpin the disparity in opportunities we see in our region and across the country, because she is constantly navigating them herself. In fact, her clear and candid statements in the early forums reshaped the central narrative as one of local economics and small business recovery. She is intentional in her policy priorities, which focus on dismantling root causes of poverty and discrimination. She has a unique ability to follow through on those priorities because she has been and remains the only major candidate unbought and unbeholden to funders, PACs, and politicians who live well off our community’s continued suffering.
From the moment Desiree stepped up to serve and made herself vulnerable, she has faced the same silencing and mischaracterization of candidates (especially women of color) that I believe is the beginning of voter suppression. While our careers and livelihoods are being threatened and we’re told to “wait our turn,” we are met with a press that is able to cherry pick which candidates to highlight and to spew inaccurate information to the community. Despite — or perhaps because of — running a formidable campaign and breaking through a field of 15 to become a top candidate, Desiree has been left off of local network debate invites and elsewhere labeled an “opportunist” for building a successful business.
This is not just absurd, it is white-dominant culture in action. It is eerily reminiscent of ideology that discourages people of color and women from moving beyond their “station”. What’s worse is that these entities are diminishing the critical knowledge she has gained from being a Latina business owner that are directly related to her ability to enact meaningful economic recovery as a congresswoman. Her experience is what makes her a truly viable candidate.
The bottom line is that our system will continue to replicate the same self-serving politics if we don’t make accurate and insightful information about the candidates widely accessible.
On March 20th, I ask that you vote for Desiree Ontiveros — a progressive candidate with a clear plan for actualizing the vision of what could and should be for Louisiana. We cannot let the current political establishment silence new voices seeking to serve our community in much needed ways. We know what we get if we elect the same old, tired politicians… nothing. And, nothing for BIPOC communities means increased food and housing insecurity, barriers to opportunity, and inequitable justice systems. Have political courage and take a stand against those that would silence us so that we can have true change in Louisiana.