Activist Spotlight: Mary Vandezande

A new series interviewing the activist leaders who make our movement possible.

Image for post
Image for post
Mary Vandezande is an activist and community leader with Citizen Action of New York’s Hudson Valley Chapter.

What was the moment that propelled you to get involved in community activism?

I lived in Colorado for 18 years. It was a somewhat conservative town. I had lived on the east coast for many years and moved out there in the 90s. The moment that activated my sense of civic duty was when George W. Bush was reelected. I was shocked and upset, because many people at the social service agency where I worked were happy with the result. This was not a place where I could live and not do something.

What keeps you motivated to keep going in the face of obstacles and challenges?

I guess I have an underlying hope and optimism about the grand experiment we’re involved in — which is how to govern ourselves. When I’m fearful or doubtful, I remember that the long arc of history has moved away from injustice and toward justice. It hasn’t happened overnight. But there are movements in this country that are working to address problems like racial injustice. I want to be a part of those movements.

You’re a member of the endorsement committee for our Hudson Valley chapter. What are some of the qualities you look for in a candidate?

I think the role of government is to take care of its citizens, so I’m looking for someone who has a passion for the kinds of policies and actions that will put people first. The greatest resources we have are our children. If we have a country that takes care of its children, then future generations will do so, and that will continue a legacy of caring. I don’t think that the government should put the needs of the military in front of the needs of its citizens.

Why do you think others should get involved in community organizations like Citizen Action?

We’re living through a period right now with the election of a proto-fascist that shows that if people don’t get involved and know what’s at stake this kind of thing can happen again.

I started with Citizen Action by getting involved with phone banking, and gradually became aware of the other parts of the organization and Citizen Action’s role in the civic life in New York.

Some of the issues people brought up when I called were the lack of funding for our public schools and the need for restorative justice practices. I connected with other volunteers at Citizen Action who were very concerned about voter registration. That’s my passion right now. The way we can take back our country is by electing officials who recognize the true values our democracy should uphold — not the false, divisive narrative being peddled by the Trump administration.

What types of voting reforms would you like to see passed in New York?

I would like to see the state of New York make voting so much easier. I came from a purple state. But Colorado has early voting and mail-in ballots. That allows for people who can’t make it to the polls to vote, because they have alternatives to the narrow window voters in New York are provided.

The ways in which people are informed about their opportunity to vote could be expanded. I had a conversation with the County Executive in Ulster County about not just handing people a packet of information, but letting them know that there’s someone who can assist them with registering to vote. If I’m handed a packet of information, I’m not pawing through it to find a form to fill out. It should be the role of the office to walk people through the registration process — especially the poor, working class, and people who have become disaffected with politics. We need to make sure people understand what’s at stake and that their vote matters.

Get involved with your local Citizen Action of New York chapter.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store