The Year of the Woman: Adding a Unique Perspective

Regina Malveaux, JD, Chief Executive Officer
YWCA Spokane (Spokane, Washington)

Though I have never met Ms. Malveaux in person, I was encouraged to speak to her about my “law school dreams”. We eventually became friends on different social media platforms and I have often asked her for advice about different career paths and opportunities. While seeking her wise counsel, I gained a wealth of knowledge about her work around women’s issues.

This interview was conducted to explore why women’s issues were so important to Ms. Malveaux and to gain a better understanding of the path she took to tackle these issues.

Q. Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I am originally from San Diego, California but attended high school in Huntsville, Alabama. I a proud graduate of Oakwood Academy and also have an undergraduate degree in Social Policy from San Diego State University and a law degree from Howard University School of Law. I am currently the CEO of the YWCA Spokane, a $3.5 mil social service and social justice organization.

Q. Do you think civic engagement is important?

With the growing income, class and racial divides in our nation today, civic engagement is more important now that ever. Our clients and communities experience a direct impact when policy priorities shift based on which party is in power in Congress and the White House. It is only when citizens are actively engaged in ALL elections (not just the Presidential year elections) AND regularly holding their elected officials accountable that the change we seek in these areas will happen.

Q. Do you think it is important for more women to become involved in politics/advocacy? Why or why not?

I have the very good fortune to have come into political life as a young woman during what was then termed “The Year of the Woman” – when a large number of women were elected to the US Senate. During my lifetime I’ve seen how policies that impact women and children, particularly those we consider the working poor, have been given more voice and support by virtue of women in leadership positions.

Women have a unique perspective as mothers and, all too often, the primary caregivers for a family. We are tuned into issues affecting families in a way that other politicians often aren’t. Further, I believe that in general women’s leadership styles tend to be more collaborative. We tend to seek solutions through relationship vs. conflict.

Our nation clearly needs more of this.

Q. How did you get into advocacy/politics?

My entry into advocacy/politics was very personal. I’d grown up in a comfortable, middle class environment, attended private schools and had a relatively privileged upbringing. During my early college years I met, married and had two children with a man I deeply loved who turned out to be incredibly abusive. I left the marriage when my children were 1 ½ and 3 years old. The abuse and subsequent trauma led to my inability to keep my full time job. In the first two years following my divorce I supported my children with a combination of student financial aid, part time work and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. I was on a long wait list for subsidized child care which was absolutely necessary to be able to both work and go to school. Moving from “private school princess” to struggling single mom showed me the significant difference between the opportunities and respect afforded to those in different socioeconomic groups. I also learned how challenging it was to navigate difficult systems which families often must rely on in order to receive benefits to assistance with basic needs like food, shelter, etc.

A role model who was instrumental in my career path was Marian Wright Edelman. Mrs. Edelman is President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, an organization dedicated to being a voice for poor women, children and families. She was the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association while working in Jackson, Mississippi, the epicenter of hate during the civil rights movement. I had already been an admirer of her advocacy and civil rights legacy, but when I began to experience the difficulty of raising two young children as a single mother on a limited income I came to realize how important her work on behalf of families and systems change really was.

I met Mrs. Edelman when she came to speak at the dedication of the Thurgood Marshall College at the University California San Diego. I was very inspired by her message of being a champion for children and families living in poverty.

Over the coming months, I reached out to the Children’s Defense Fund (somewhat relentlessly I have to admit) and inquired about doing an internship in their Washington, DC office during spring break. That was the spring of 1995 and I’ve been an advocate/activist ever sense.

Q. Could you give a brief summary of your journey?

I started out my college career as a journalism major at Alabama A & M University, later declared as business major before ultimately finding my passion in social work and social policy. After completing my internship at the Children’s Defense Fund in my junior year of college (8 years after my graduation from high school) my passions crystalized into a plan.

I took advantage of a unique program that allowed you to craft your own major if you could articulate why no existing major met your career goals. After completing an interdisciplinary degree which included political science, social work and child and family studies, I went on to help implement several Children’s Defense Fund projects before entering law school at Howard University.

My children were 5 and 7 when I entered law school. First year law school is difficult under the best of circumstances, when you are a mom with two young children, a limited financial aid package and no-child support the journey is even more difficult. That year certainly stands out as one of the most difficult of my life, and though I’m honestly still in awe of how I actually got through it, I am always grateful for the ability to have persevered and pushed through.

I’d chosen Howard University because of its civil rights/social justice legacy and the community of support that I knew I would find there. Its Washington DC location was also key as I knew that I was interested in putting my law degree to use in the public policy arena. During my time in law school I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund, had three unpaid internships and one paid fellowship. My internships including working for Judge Zinora Mitchell Rankin (then Chief Judge of Family Court), Congresswoman Maxine Waters (then Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus) and then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

My last year in both law school and Washington included receiving 1 of 10 national policy fellowships within the US Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. These experiences woven together with what I learned about the law and law making gave me the background needed to be not only a passionate, but a skilled advocate on behalf of women and children.

Though I loved Washington, I came to realize that the high profile career I was striving for was not consistent with what my children needed from me during that season of our lives so we returned home to San Diego and I went to work in the non-profit sector. I have worked in the non-profit sector for over 15 years in positions of increasing responsibility.

I currently work for the YWCA where our mission is eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

I began my career with YWCAs as a Legal Advocate at the YWCA of San Diego. I took my first executive job as the Executive Director of the YWCA South Hampton Roads in 2010 just as my daughter was graduating from high school. Currently I am the CEO of the YWCA Spokane where we provide support services for victims of domestic violence and their children and help prepare 4 year olds from low-income families for kindergarten.

On average, we provide services to approximately 17,000 women and children annually. Our programs help women escape from domestic violence, get access to legal support, provide a safe place for healing and growth, grant opportunities for women to learn new skills, increase employment options, and provide access to resources for their children’s education and well-being.

I am exceedingly proud of the opportunity to lead an agency which plays such an important role in supporting women and children in moving from what is often the most traumatic moment in their lives to a new life of hope, healing, stability and empowerment.

I’d like to think that my own experience as a struggling mother and domestic violence victim helps inform my leadership and the work that my agency does both at the direct services and systems change levels.

Q. Looking back at your journey, which role did you enjoy the most and why?

I can honestly say that the role I’m in now is the one I was “born to play”. I believe that EVERY job and internship leading to this one helped me gain skills, confidence and content knowledge that allow me to be an acknowledged expert in my field. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a CEO and not only provide services to those who need them, but to provide opportunities for young women entering the fields of advocacy, activism, human services and the law. It is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Q. Which role taught you the most, whether about yourself, about politics, about advocacy, or about something else that you deem important?

My time working in the White House was a turning point in my career. I was young and idealistic and SO grateful to be working there, even in my small capacity as an intern in the First Lady’s speechwriting office. But my internship semester coincided with the timing of the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. To that point I had been firmly committed on a path to public service and planned to eventually run for public office, I even have a photo of myself on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with a caption in my scrapbook which reads “Senator Lockett” (my name at the time). After watching several years of gridlock and what became known as “the politics of personal destruction” I came to see that Congress was no longer something I aspired to. I’ve been very sad to watch in recent years as the institution has been further eroded by an even deeper culture of antagonism and divisiveness. We deserve better of our elected officials.

Q. What challenges did you experience when trying to break into the political arena?

Trying to get a paid!

As I said, I committed many semesters, spring breaks, summers, evenings and weekends to various political internships, initiatives and organizing efforts, almost all unpaid. I was so grateful (and relieved) when I was offered a paid position on the Victory 96 coordinated campaign in Southern California and had the good fortune of working as part of the Clinton/Gore campaign. While it wasn’t a large amount of money, it felt good to have my time and talents respected with compensation.

Q. Is there any one thing you wish you knew before you dedicated your time and effort to this work?

It would have been good for me to have known early on that most “opportunities” for young people on political campaigns and within Congress and the Administration are unpaid internships. I had a very specific roadmap to the future that I wanted to create and it included obtaining experience in the field and in the halls of Congress and the White House. I didn’t realize however that those opportunities were by and large uncompensated. This was a real challenge as I had not only myself to support, but two young children. I came to recognize that there was a distinct advantage for those who had the financial freedom to commit to internships or volunteer positions without competing work obligations. This system seemed exceedingly unfair and stacked against those without family support or independent means. In my own agency now I work hard to make sure that the young people who come to work for us can be compensated, if not by the agency directly than by work study, service learning fellowships or other support sources that we help find to underwrite their work. Large institutions should not run on the backs of hungry interns ☺.

Q. What do you hope to do in the future?

I love the work that I do and hope to compliment it by completing my book and perhaps sharing my story with others as a keynote speaker for conferences and fundraising events that support victim’s services or young women’s organizations like mine.

I also wouldn’t be averse to serving in the Office of Violence Against Women in the next Clinton Administration ☺

Q. Is there anything that you think is missing from politics that in a perfect world, you think should be present?

Civility, humility, more concern for the common good.


Making the World a Better Place: The Campaign Life


Eva Carafa, Adjunct Professor
Onondaga Community College (Syracuse, New York)

I first met Eva Carafa in 2014, while working as a Field Organizer for the New York State Democratic Committee in Syracuse, NY. She is a former Assistant District Attorney of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office. Though we were coworkers, I enjoyed talking to Eva about my “law school dreams”. I admired how honest she was about practicing law, politics, and being a parent.

This interview was conducted to find out more about what drew Eva to the campaign life and to explore her experiences.

Q. So tell me a little about yourself:

I grew up in a working class town in New Jersey. (You can listen to any Bruce Springsteen song to learn more about what it was like.) My parents were immigrants from post WW2 Europe: my mother from Germany and my father from the Soviet Union. I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown, and college was my ticket out. When the time came, I got as far away as I could without having to fly. I ultimately attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When I was about to graduate the economy was in a deep economic recession, and jobs were scarce, so I decided to go to law school. I graduated from Rutgers School of Law three years later. After law school, I joined the Kings County District Attorneys Office in Brooklyn, NY, and realized my lifelong dream of moving to NYC.

Q. Do you think civic engagement is important? Why or why not?

I have always believed strongly in civic engagement. My parents took me with them to vote every Election Day and told me it was my solemn obligation as a citizen to vote. They were news junkies, and I grew up thinking that was normal. As a young child in the 1960s, I was keenly aware of the turmoil of the era. I believed, always, that it was my duty as an American to make this country even better than it already was (which was pretty darn great).

Q. Do you think it is important for more women to become involved in politics/advocacy? Why or why not?

Again, growing up in the era I did, I strongly felt that it was absolutely crucial that women should become involved in politics. At that time, it was more about proving ourselves capable to govern. As far as advocacy goes, I grew up believing that all Americans were obligated to participate, to make our country better. The idealism of American values was far stronger then than it is now.

Q. How did you get into politics?

Politics wasn’t really my thing until after I had kids. I was very knowledgeable, and I always voted, but the nitty gritty of politics never really appealed to me. I was much more motivated by the idea of making the world a better place, and at the time, making communities safer was important. The crime rate was much higher and getting worse every year, and the news was constantly reporting about the daily slaughter of innocent people. If I were in college in 2001, I probably would have been drawn to the fight against terror. But then, it was crime.

After my kids were born, I became much more conscious of politics as a practical matter of allocating instead of lofty goals. For example, I thought much more about school funding than I once might have thought about desegregation. And I really began to worry about the kind of world my kids would inherit (I still do). I also became much more frustrated with the lack of participation in politics, by which I mean the fact that voter turnout is so low. I have never missed a vote since I became eligible to vote. When my daughter was in the ICU after being born with pneumonia, I waited in line to vote for Bill Clinton over Bob Dole. It really kills me to know how many people, especially young voters, skip voting.

Q. Could you give a brief summary of your journey?

I first got involved in the Maffei campaign in 2012, as a volunteer. As you know, he won in 2008, when President Obama was elected. And then, in 2010, liberals were all apparently taking a nap and Democrats lost control of Congress. Here in CNY, we elected Ann Marie Beurkle. I still remember getting the newspaper from my doorstep, reading that Maffei lost, and sitting on my stairs, stunned at the result.

Of course, that was a depressing time. The economy was still shaky, and POTUS could no longer get anything passed. And Beurkle was just an embarrassment as far as I was concerned. When 2012 rolled around, I volunteered, both to role-model for my kids, aged 16 and 12, and to get rid of that Tea Party horror show, at least in my neck of the woods. I am convinced that the Tea Party is mainly a reaction to the first black POTUS, and it offends me deeply.

When 2014 rolled around, Chris Alexander, the newly appointed Field Director, called me very early on, in March, to begin the process of recruiting volunteers. I didn’t have a job at the time, so I convinced him to hire me as a Field Organizer (FO). I really wanted to understand and combat voter apathy, and thought I could make a difference.

Q. Could you describe your campaign experience?

Frankly, I found the whole process distressing. The low pay was ridiculous, given how much money is thrown around in any given election cycle. The hours demanded of us were illegal. And this is the Democratic Party, allegedly the champion of the working class! The stink of that hypocrisy was appalling.

Worse still, the voting public lacked anything but the most superficial information about the candidates and the issues. The things they cared about – like where the candidate lived – were so silly compared to the issues this country is facing. And the notion that Representatives had to be reelected every two years – so that fully half of their time was spent just trying to keep their job-struck me as incredibly wasteful.

My favorite thing about the experience was truly getting to work with people like you and Chris and all the other FOs. It really gave me hope for the future to meet such amazing young people who are so committed to making the country better.

Q. Why did you get involved with Dan Maffei’s Campaign?

Getting involved with the Maffei campaign as opposed to other campaigns was really all about practicalities. I liked the candidate, and this is where I live. In 2012, it was a microcosm of the whole country-the Tea Party vs. President Obama. In 2014, it was about proving that liberals could be counted on to vote come Election Day. On that score, sadly, I was sorely mistaken.

Q. What challenges did you experience on the campaign?

The biggest challenge was the time commitment and it speaks to a bigger issue: how are you going to involve more women, more less advantaged people, when the commitment is so ludicrous? It’s just like expecting all students to work unpaid internships. Sure, they are getting a great experience and the internship could open doors, but how are you going to do that if you aren’t financially advantaged? You can’t. And how can you work 14 hours a day or more if you have a family or any other responsibilities? You can’t. So it’s just another example of a system that limits participation. And, let’s face it, that’s how most people get jobs on a Member’s staff – by working on the campaign.

Q. Is there any one thing you wish you knew before you dedicated your time and effort to this work?

I wish I knew the answer to how to motivate people to vote in non-presidential elections. Still do. I’m becoming convinced it involves magic.

Q. What do you hope to do in the future?

Start a business. I’m really very disenchanted with the political world.

Q. Is there anything that you think is missing from politics that in a perfect world, you think should be present?

There are so many things missing from politics. I’m really discouraged about the state of our democracy. Low-information voters call the shots, it seems, and no one wants to make the effort to become better informed.