I keep hearing the same things on repeat: The system favors the incumbent, your opponent is a “good guy”, I’m not sure we’re quite ready for <insert word of the day: change, anti-racism policies, progress>. As I run for a seat on the Omaha City Council, in Nebraska, the middle of the heartland, where 92% of my district voters are white, who show up at the highest numbers to vote, are a majority Republican and have the highest income and home values, we could not be more ready for new leadership.
There are so many intersections of values in politics these days. We each want desperately to have belonging and community, and sometimes the default place to seek that alignment is inside of our registered political affiliation of Democrat, Republican, or Independent / Non-partisan. The biggest lesson I’ve learned as I campaign and step into the space of being a candidate is that we strip away identities and values, and lived experience when we relegate ourselves to simply being a member of one party over another.
My husband and I belong to two different parties: Republican and Democrat, respectively. But for the most part, when we go to cast our ballots, what we’re actually choosing is our shared values. The experience of having grown up primarily with my conservative Republican white family gives me a unique perspective into the deeply embedded notions of loyalty, work ethic, and integrity that I see existing as core values of the party. As I reconnected with my Black family, who are collectively much more liberal-leaning, I can clearly see the nuanced, justice priority and caretaking elements that exist as the foundation to their political beliefs.
Today, my reality is constantly navigating my visible ambiguity as a Black biracial woman, one who no one is quite sure of ethnic heritage. My reality is a commitment to always speaking out against racism. Sometimes, my reality is to simply publicly name our systemic racism as fact here in our little city even when it may, in the end, cost me votes.
I’ve also been presented an opportunity to find the right language within my campaign messaging. I have the distinct pleasure of crafting a platform that honors both my very strong opinions on equity and anti-racism work and also holds space for what must be generous and gracious intentional steps of awareness and allyship. One reality I rallied around very quickly was the need to authentically build trust with specific communities and individuals, as I announced my candidacy. It became a carefully navigated and intentional effort that on some days feels insurmountable, but crucial to running my campaign.
Another intentional practice during my candidacy has been to determine the pace of the campaign - on purpose. We call it a “slow campaign” which in practice means that we have a 48-hour rapid response policy, enabling me to gather as many facts as possible, learn from different sources about the news story I’m being asked to respond to, and thoughtfully reply with my statements. Another slow campaign model we’ve embraced is allowing volunteers and staff to stay accountable to their commitments, but inside of deadlines and workflow that align with their needs - whether that is due to any physical limitations, life balance with other jobs, family or obligations, or simply preference and environments that are meaningful.
Not uncommon, my apparent lack of political know-how automatically disqualifies me for public service, according to some. I have been called a newcomer more in the past six months, than ever before in my life, even though I thrive in spaces where I am considered “fresh on the scene.” I was recently asked by my campaign manager to tout my leadership history and share more publicly about the work I’ve done. As I put together a bullet point list of those accomplishments, I realized that while men are traditionally “suiting up” to go to work in places that have been intentionally built for them, women are simply rolling up their sleeves and getting to the business of providing community care and affecting real, immediate change..
In that list of accomplishments: I founded an online international platform that grew to be 17,000 members strong! I know a thing or two about building community, online and in physical spaces as well! I founded a real estate business that exists today to match families with Realtors across the country. I navigated a partnership with our local Housing Authority to transition properties into homeownership opportunities and built a youth workshop for children of new Habitat for Humanity homeowners. During COVID-19, I implemented an eviction prevention / rental assistance program, and currently, I am developing non congregate shelter with hotels, to provide emergency housing to our neighbors in need. It’s the first of its kind in Omaha of this scale and impact, and I’m proud to be a part of this impactful project.
The communities I have lived in and served, have been positively impacted because of my presence. I stand on the shoulders of so many incredible women who have come before me, and while the door to local politics isn’t wide open for me, I’m here to do my part to get a foot in, as the system tries to slam it shut with every possible mechanism.
That door slamming looks like endorsement groups blindly supporting the incumbent out of fear of retribution. It shows up when folks with access to networks and financial resources hedge their bets, waiting to “see how this thing plays out.” The door slams when the media refuses to think outside the box when covering candidate stories. It’s also apparent in the way local civic engagement groups (and political parties, if I’m being honest) fail to work together to build candidate pipelines and bench strength of well-equipped campaign staff while ignoring others that have raised their hands to jump into the political fray.
In February, I highlighted local Nebraska women who had contributed to civic engagement, policy and legislation, and the furtherance of progress for all who live here. The list was incredibly long and diverse. Their challenges, and struggles, and the nuanced and difficult path to public office and leadership, was also long and diverse. We can’t wait any longer to start redefining some basic terms, and their place, in politics and civic engagement. Radical, visionary, leadership, proactive, community care, healing, anti-racism, nuance, integrity, and intentionality. When I imagine more welcoming spaces inside those terms, the vision I see always includes more Black and Brown women. I’m here for it, and can’t wait to be a part.
Naomi Hattaway is the founder of I Am A Triangle, an online community with thousands of globally located ex-pats, She also owns 8th & Home Real Estate and Relocation, a nation-wide referral network matching families on the move with real estate professionals who chase communities and not commissions.
After growing up in North Platte, and then Omaha ... and then living in several locations in the United States, her family (three kids, now 26, 17, and 14) moved overseas to Delhi, India where she learned to thrive in the midst of chaos. Following a one-year stint in Singapore, they are now back in the United States, and she has traipsed her way from Florida to Virginia to Ohio and has now found her way back home, to Nebraska. Naomi is passionate about community building and empowering others to thrive, not just survive, in the places they call home.
Naomi now consults for nonprofits and organizations on inclusive program design, mutual aid, and housing solutions. In 2020, Hattaway led efforts to design eviction prevention and rental assistance during the pandemic in the Greater Omaha Metro. In 2021, Hattaway led the winter plan efforts of the homelessness system to develop non congregate housing as a result of COVID-19. She serves on the Board of Directors for RISE and the POC Collaborative. She previously served on the leadership team at Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, and currently volunteers on the leadership team of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
In addition to raising three amazing humans, and providing a home to five four-legged rescues, Naomi is also running for City Council in Omaha, with a bid to represent District 6, the central section of West Omaha.
You can find her on Instagram via @naomiforcitycouncil and Twitter via @naomihattaway.
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