I am State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, and I was first elected on November 8, 2016.
I am a high school English teacher here in Rhode Island for the last 17 years. Prior to teaching here in Providence, I taught in Kingston, Jamaica for 4 years. I had never ran for political office, in fact, I had never had an interest in running for office. All that changed on June 20, 2016 when a young high school boy who played on my son’s high school basketball team was shot in the head and died a few days later. I knew Kip, he was a loving and joyous young man. He was not a trouble maker. He was a new father and a promising young man.
When my 20 year old son came home and told me “mom they shot Kip ” I didn’t know what to say or do. I was dumbfounded. My son, all of 6 feet 3 inches stood before me, a helpless mother of three sons (23, 20, and 20) and I could not respond to the words that my son had just uttered. Eric just stood there fixed in space with tears rolling down his eyes. I could not and did not say a word to my son. I had no response. I didn’t know what to say to my son. I had no words that would make sense. I remained silent. Speechless.
But, at that moment I started to think that in my 17 years of teaching , I had so many boys that I had taught English who were shot and killed- they sat in my class, I corrected their papers, I met their beautiful families, they ate my jolly ranchers . I didn’t have an answer for my son but at that moment I realized that I had to run for political office. I knew if I ran then maybe I could help to put an end to senseless killing by helping to pass good commonsense gun safety laws.
On the morning of June 27th, I got up, got dressed and headed to City Hall; I was ready to declare my candidacy. I, yes I Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, a mother, teacher and wife, I, who had never ran for anything, I declared my candidacy for State Representative House- District 5 on June 27th 2017. I was all in for my students’. I was tired of hearing the news of my students dying in the streets. I could make a difference, I thought through smart, thoughtful legislation.
When I threw my “high heels” in the ring, I didn’t really have a full grasp of the political implications of my candidacy. I was now a newcomer who was running a Primary race against the status quo House Majority Leader. I soon realized that my opponent had taken contributions from the NRA, he had also voted against raising the minimum wage for Rhode Islanders. I was also running against my Providence Teachers’ Union Lawyer (he still is). It didn’t matter, I was running for my students who are literally dying in the streets.
My modest home was campaign headquarters! I was running a campaign with little or no money on hand. My campaign was fueled by energy and passion for change. My tag line was simple….. Fighting for all of us!
I worked really hard knocking on doors every day, all day and into the night-every night, rain or shine. I told my neighbors why I was running. I told them my story, I wanted to pass good commonsense gun control laws. I wanted to raise the minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour by 2022 and I wanted to pass legislation that would dismantle the school to prison pipeline that sends children straight from my classroom into prison. Everyone who volunteered on my campaign met me, they had to pass the litmus test of believing deeply that we needed to change the trajectory of children and their families’ lives.
I didn’t get support from the Providence Teachers’ Union, they immediately endorsed my opponent. I was devastated. I really was. Then the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers’ endorsed him. I was once again devastated. But, alas! Classroom teachers supported me, they came out and knocked on doors with me, they told others to vote for me; they donated to my campaign. They believed in me and what I wanted to do for our students. I believed that they would help me cross the finish line.
I was endorsed by some of the most inspiring political organizations and groups including The Working Families Party and Young Democrats! I was thrilled when I received my first big union endorsement- The Providence Fire Fighters! Then, I got a huge boost from Bernie Sanders “Our Revolution". At that point I began getting in smaller and more frequent donations. That helped in a big way.
I won the Primary Election by 7 votes! My opponent asked for a recount. After the recount, I gained 4 more votes! I thought I had won fairly and squarely when my opponent launched a “Write In” campaign. It was a very tough campaign, bruising and racially charged. My opponent dismissed me as “some woman from Jamaica”, he never referred to me by name. I continued knocking on doors once again. I now had a Republican opponent as well as a “Write In” opponent.
I continued knocking on doors until November 7th late into the evening. I along with hundreds of volunteers mostly women, who had never volunteered on any political campaigns-ever, had knocked on thousands of doors, spoke to thousands of constituents and told them why I was running. I was very confident going into the election.
November 8th was D-Day! I was not nervous, I was confident that my neighbors wanted a change from a State Representative who had been in office for 24 years but had only served himself and his well -connected friends.
After all the ballots had been counted, I won the election with over 60% of the vote. My opponent spent over one hundred thousand dollars and I spent about fifty-thousand dollars. And, I won convincingly. The news of my win hit every news outlet across the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe and Huffington Post!
These days, I am extremely busy; I teach full time then after school I go to the state capital to work on legislation that will impact my students and their families. Included in the bills that I have introduced include bills to raise the minimum wage, reduce the number of out of school suspensions, end lunch shaming, and increase the age from 18 to 21 whereby children can “age out” of state care. I have also respectfully requested that the Rhode Island Department of Education create a commission to look at the needs, impact and outcome for children with one or both incarcerated parent. I have co-sponsored bills to reduce the number of rounds that a gun can hold to 10, as well as legislation that will take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
It’s hard to believe that the legislative session is over. I am glad I ran and won. I am a fighter and will continue fighting to save my students’ and to help improve the lives of all Rhode Islanders. It makes perfect sense that we elect people who know the struggles and understand how elected office can be meaningful to create sensible change in policies that affect real people with real stories.