Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Select Board candidate Raul Fernandez emphasize importance of voting


Tina Little

Select Board candidate Raul Fernandez and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak at a rally at the First Parish Church in Brookline on May 5, 2019.

Tina Little and Emily Trelstad

Do you know who is running for town-wide office in the Brookline elections on Tuesday, May 7? Did you even know there is an election? Brookline has had problems with low voter turnout in local elections, but candidate for the Select Board Raul Fernandez is trying to change that. And Congresswoman of the 14th District of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is supporting him in that effort.

On May 5, at the First Parish Church in Brookline, Raul Fernandez held a rally in order to gather people to canvas for his campaign. Local candidate for Housing Authority Deborah Brown and prominent Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were there to help him rally support.

Brown introduced Raul Fernandez by discussing her own candidacy for Housing Authority as well as the work that Raul Fernandez has done in the Brookline community. This work, according to Brown, is heavily focused on racial justice and equality.

Also in attendance at the rally was Ocasio-Cortez, who has known Fernandez since she was a freshman at Boston University. Ocasio-Cortez admires Fernandez’s commitment to the community, starting with his work in town meeting and continuing into his run for Select Board.

“It shows that his passion for this community is comprehensive. He cares about everything from the environment to making a point that we can fight for equality no matter what compromises this district,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Fernandez, the first in his family to graduate from college, is an Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Boston University and a Brookline Town Meeting Member. Earlier this year, Fernandez announced his plan to run for Select Board in Brookline.

Fernandez spoke about the importance of working to fix systemic issues in Brookline that prevent the community from being as equitable as possible and the importance of all residents having a voice in their government.  

Fernandez said he rejects the idea that politicians cannot reach out to everyone in the community, referencing the 6 percent voter turnout for town meeting elections that Brookline had when he ran. He hopes to have an increase in voter participation.

“When you have 6 percent of the people that are actually registered to vote that are participating in a democracy, well it’s not a particularly good democracy,” Fernandez said.

To ameliorate this problem, Fernandez hopes to bring new voices to the table, as he believes the current group doesn’t represent all of the town.

“People think they’re addressing issues and they’re missing a whole lot,” Fernandez said. “You see the issues that are in front of you and you understand those issues because you live them, but you don’t see the issues that you don’t live.”

Part of Fernandez’s plan to increase awareness about participation in local government is through a video on the town website and mailing packets of information to new residents. Additionally, Fernandez said he believes contested elections increase awareness about local politics.

“I think that’s going to get more and more people out to vote because people have to have someone to vote for. People need choices, and they need choices they can be proud of,” Fernandez said. “That’s what we’re trying to do this election, is have people come to the polls and be proud of the vote that their casting, and feel good about it and feel like its actually meaningful.”

Brown is running in a contested election for a spot on the Housing Authority, which, according to her, is one that very few people knew was a competitive position.

“Usually somebody runs and then they get the job,” Brown said. “People in public housing didn’t know that it was an elected position. And that’s a problem, so I think we can do better.”

If elected to the Select Board, Fernandez hopes to focus on issues such as access to childcare, climate change and the development of Brookline’s commercial economy as relates to small businesses. But one of the main problems he addressed is that of racial justice.

“I think the Select Board needs to show leadership because there are people in town who would take cues from a Select Board,” Fernandez said. “The Select Board is allowing issues of racial injustice to just go by unchecked and that sends a message to people in our community.”

Brown also thinks racial justice issues in Brookline must be addressed and believes Fernandez is the best candidate for this job.

“He understands why it’s so important to include people that have been traditionally excluded from the conversation,” Brown said.

Fernandez hopes to bring these voices into the discussion through his grassroots campaign. Ocasio-Cortez also spoke about the importance of organizing local grassroots campaigns as part of something that is greatly beneficial to the community.

“If we’re consistently having conversations about what is good, how we should be adapting, how we should be changing, every year, every couple of months, our community gets healthier and healthier,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Fernandez admits that while having Ocasio-Cortez come for an event might have been grandiose, it shows the broader importance of this type of local campaigning.

“I know it was super flashy bringing a congresswoman to town in a Select Board race, but what I hope people saw was what we were focused on,” Fernandez said. “Not just her presence there but the conversation that we had was really about the grassroots. It really was about this idea of reaching out to people that frankly other campaigns simply dismiss.”

Ocasio-Cortez also said that a lot of support for grassroots and local campaigns can come from high school students, even if they can’t vote. In her campaign for the 14th district of New York, she had invaluable support from high school students to help get her name on the ballot.

“Don’t think that just because you cannot vote, for whatever reason, whether it’s because you are younger than 18, or because you are not a US citizen or you cannot vote for any other reason, you should count yourself out,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

While Fernandez recognizes the importance and impact of rallies with big name people like Ocasio-Cortez, he understands that the volunteers who make up grassroots campaigns are vital.

“Elections are won by people who are out there knocking on doors and making phone calls, and by people who are reaching out to their friends and enlisting their support,” Fernandez said. “That’s how elections are won.”