Angela Kirkland’s run for Harrisburg City Council shows how an electoral campaign can transcend expectation. As an organizer, she pulls no punches about the need for radical change at the local level. Those following her campaign’s social media presence are likely aware of the expressions of racism and sexism Angela has been facing. It’s safe to say that they have also been inspired by Angela’s message and approach. She was gracious enough to grant us an interview to discuss her choice to run and what she seeks to achieve throughout her campaign.
Mimi: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and the factors that led to your decision to run for Harrisburg City Council?
Angela: I was born in Bradford, PA, raised primarily by my black father. Bradford is a small town that’s had its heyday, and it was alienating to say the least, as it’s nearly all white. Immediately after high school I headed to York College of PA and dithered for five years before leaving without a degree. I moved to Harrisburg in April, 2011, and have been here since. I became involved in activism here, specifically Black Lives Matter. I decided to run for City Council in the wake of the presidential election, particularly after the Women’s March. I thought that while what I was already doing as an activist was and could continue being effective in enacting change, I wanted to shake things up further. While the ultimate goal is to win a council seat, I also find it crucially important to run my campaign in a radically transparent way — which is the very least thing I hope to achieve, to serve as a model for others and hopefully impact the way the game is played.
Mimi: What’s the political climate like right now in Harrisburg? Do folks seem to be grasping the way you are approaching your campaign?
Angela: The climate feels divisive. I realized that many people who call themselves liberals are not particularly accepting of more radical viewpoints. I have been lambasted by liberal people for my views regarding law enforcement, and have seen liberals worship Obama like he didn’t deport millions of immigrants and drop bombs on countries that killed innocent people. I realized that Democrats and Republicans tend overall to be two sides of the same coin. That’s what I’m seeing here in the Burg. I feel that people who know me and have supported me understand what my goals and intentions are when it comes to how I am running my campaign. Anyone else, I am not sure. I would hope that I come across as honest and willing to say things that few others would because they may fear the establishment or respect it and trust it without realizing why so many others can’t find it in themselves to do so.
Mimi: How do you think you might resonate with the “liberal” folks who have lambasted you? Do you think that’s a battle worth fighting?
Angela: I struggle with this exact question constantly. Overall I do my best to stay above the fray, as I’m not a very patient person and engaging could be a catalyst for conflict and a resounding “Well, fuck your side.” I want to come to a point where we can agree. I usually don’t find myself entertaining individual perspectives as that gets exhausting rather quickly. I just continue on my merry way and hope that more people see the forest for the trees. In politics, as in much of life, you can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. It’s better that they come to you thirsty.
Mimi: That brings me to my next question: How are you holding up throughout this? How do you manage the stress as a candidate?
Angela: The stress … it’s been somewhat manageable. I have learned that self-care must be perpetual; I find myself going and going and then spending a day or two in bed not moving because I’m so burned out and I haven’t taken enough time for myself. It’s tough to remember to prioritize things that maintain wellness when you’re an activist and preoccupied with the world burning. The vile backlash from my quote about cops did get me down — it’s hard to not get depressed when people are openly and gleefully calling for your death. I’ve felt anxious and been fearful of abandonment — like, what if my friends can’t take the heat? My comrades and loved ones are jewels beyond price. They are always looking out for me and asking if I need anything. They are always right there with me. I couldn’t keep this up without them. I am forever thankful and make sure they know it.
Mimi: Definitely hearing you. Some of the words you are using are pretty powerful. Anxiety, abandonment, depression. I just want to take a moment to express thanks and respect for what you are doing. I also wanted to ask, have there been any moments yet where you’ve felt like “this is why I ran” that you’d be willing to share?
Angela: I had seen a couple of articles in the news after the election about the surge in the number of women running for office in this country. I dismissed it initially, as I thought being an activist and running for office wasn’t very congruent. But then I attended Harrisburg’s “sister” Women’s March, and became incensed at how I was treated when I suggested, on the megaphone, taking the streets to march. Everyone had been sticking to the sidewalk, presumably because they feared getting arrested, but there were only a few cops and over a thousand attendees at this march, easily the largest one I’d seen so far in Harrisburg. I merely suggested doing the same thing everyone else attending women’s marches around the country and the world were doing, and I was swiftly cut off by a small group of white people, who quite literally said “This is not yours” and “You can’t do this.” I kept thinking about that. “This is not yours, you can’t do this.” It was quite a powerful allegory for the life and times of black people in this country. In the wave of rage following that moment was when I decided to run. I want to change that narrative. I want to contribute to the silencing of the voice that keeps telling my people, “This is not yours, you can’t do this.” I want to raise the volume on the voice that says, “This is yours. This is your moment. Take it.”
Mimi: So many thoughts popping into my head reading that. How are white folks going to grasp the concept that the floor is not theirs to control? And why should people of color be expected to have patience until white folks get with it? Are you seeing any evidence of progress in Harrisburg in this regard?
Angela: It is SO HARD for them to realize that not everything is theirs, and not everything should be theirs. So very hard. This is what white supremacy does. It convinces white people and even many people of color that white people are entitled to be the very center of the world. People of color absolutely should not have patience for white people who continue in their ignorance, willfully or not. No oppressed person gained their liberation by asking nicely and waiting. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much progress along this avenue here. I feel that there are people who are willing to speak their minds but only to a point that stops just before taking action, but I don’t feel the blame should be placed on them for not doing so. It’s those in power who have created an atmosphere that poisons the ability to feel that your words and actions to make a better world matter at all. So action takes the type of people who will not just say “Fuck you and fuck your system” but who will ACT like it, too — people who act in spite of any fear they may feel.
Mimi: Being intentional with their words. Hell yes. So, I think that just running is already a victory of sorts. This takes a lot of courage and effort. And it’s inspiring as fuck. But, if you win, what would you like to accomplish while in office? Is there a specific platform that you are promoting with your campaign?
Angela: I want to accomplish significant police reform. I want to see competent training that promotes de-escalation, promotes anti-racism and sensitivity/awareness of physical disability and mental illness. I want more money to be allocated to those things instead of military-grade gear. I want police officers that serve the city of Harrisburg to LIVE in the city of Harrisburg — because how will they know how to protect and serve residents of HARRISBURG when they choose to not reside here and flee to the suburbs? I want to foster serious conversations and proactive responses to the segregation in Harrisburg. This is very important to me. I find appalling the clear gaps in access to resources, overall conditions, etc between certain. There is significantly more blight in neighborhoods with majority black populations: all the best-stocked grocery stores are in white suburbia, the farmers markets are in areas heavily populated by white people (midtown Harrisburg and Lemoyne, across the river), 3rd in the Burg (events scheduled for the third Friday of each month) seems to think midtown and downtown are the only parts of Harrisburg. Downtown establishments try to attract wealthier white people from across the river by posting “dress codes” that clearly target black and brown people. They also refrain from playing certain types of music that is perceived to promote “rowdiness”. Mayor Papenfuse has attempted to close the Third Street Café — a bar that is, despite surrounding gentrification, still a bastion for black people — deeming it a “public nuisance.” I want to foster the creation of initiatives that even out these disparities and help eliminate hateful bias that routinely shuns and excludes the black and brown people in this city. I’m not a politician, I’m an activist — I say this all the time — so I am not clear on what those sorts of things would look like in legislative terms.
Mimi: You mentioned that you aren’t a politician, that you are an activist. It seems a lot of “progressives” see activism primarily in terms of electoral politics. What suggestions might you have for folks who might have an interest in organizing work beyond electoral politics?
Angela: Working solely within electoral politics isn’t going to enact radical long-term change. There must be disruption of the current status quo; people who are in power and those who feel powerless (because you must have a force with which to push those in power) must be made uncomfortable enough to seek change, and how that looks can vary widely depending on the issue(s) at hand.
Mimi: To help our readers get to know you a bit better, can we shift directions for sec? What pops into your head when you see these questions? Favorite musical artist/band? Favorite movie? Favorite food? First thing you’d say to Donald Trump if you had the chance to meet him? First thing you’d say to Barack Obama if you had the chance to meet him?
Angela: Favorite musical artist/band: Favorites in this category change often. Currently it’s a tie between Solange and Frank Ocean. Favorite movie: Mean Girls. Earlier this year I started a hashtag called #MeanAntifaGirls that altered quotes from the movie using antifascist content. It didn’t go very far at all but it was fun. Favorite food: Thick, crusty bread slathered in real butter. Thing I’d say to Trump: “Fuck off.” Thing I’d say to Obama: “Yo where’s Michelle?”
Mimi: Last question! How can people help support your campaign?
Angela: I just want to see greater involvement in local politics. I want to see more civic engagement. I want to see long-term change from the bottom up. If people see me as a conduit for these things, then great. Hold me accountable. Talk to me. Talk to people about me and what I’m doing, and get involved if it feels right for you. I’m about getting people to support each other rather than supporting me as a leader. We all have power, and it becomes greater when we stand together in a common cause and focus not on serving ourselves, not on our own ambitions, not on our own glory, but for the greater good of all.
Photo Credits: Capitol Police – Ely Taylor/Eating Lemons Photography. Megaphone – Billy Hicks. “Fuck it up, sis” – Angela Kirkland.