In the Running in Santa Monica

A community organizer, trained social worker and public administrator, explains why she decided to run for office in 2018.

By Ashley Powell

You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.
— Zig Ziglar

The Jewish value of tikkun olam has shaped my dedication to social justice from a young age. Going to school in downtown Santa Monica, I walked by homeless people all the time and I remember volunteering in elementary school on Venice Beach feeding the homeless. I started to question systemic inequality at a young age, but it was not until I attended Occidental College from 2008 to 2011 that I actually began to study it.

This past spring I made a decision: Frustrated with the slow pace of change on issues impacting my community, I decided to join the hundreds of women across the country running for elected office in 2018. In my case, I have chosen to run for Santa Monica City Council. I noticed that no other young people are running in this race and I want to be a voice for change. I feel people of my generation—the millennials—are smart and talented and need to step up, to bring our ideas and energy to the problems that plague our communities.

I have a Master’s of Social Work (MSW), as well as a background in workforce development, housing, and human service agencies that I feel makes me uniquely qualified to serve my community. A lifelong resident of Santa Monica, I am somewhat new to politics—but not to public service. In Los Angeles, I am a board member for United in Harmony and advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women, Anti-Defamation League, and Planned Parenthood. I have worked for several nonprofits, including the LA Conservation Corps and Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services.

I also interned for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) through USC from 2013 to 2014. HACLA’s policy and planning department worked in the field in Jordan Downs (Watts aka South Los Angeles). HACLA has contracts with nonprofits who serve that community to provide free programming such as Project Fatherhood (parenting workshops), legal workshops, and mental health services. In Jordan Downs, I saw firsthand how social service programs change lives.

I also worked at the Department of Public Social Services through JVS-So Cal (formerly Jewish Vocational Services) where I learned what aspects of welfare are beneficial and what needs to be changed.

In 2012, when I was 22, I joined members of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the USC School of Social Work for my first lobbying trip to Sacramento, the state capital. At my first Capital rally, Susan Talamantes Eggman, MSW, an assembly member from San Jose, Calif., addressed the NASW crowd with a speech that I’ve never forgotten. What Eggman said, in fact, is what now motivates me to run: We should run for office because communities need more MSWs to run and win.

Eggman, who is up for reelection this year, continues to be my inspiration. The first openly gay assembly member, she is a trailblazer in the LGBTQ community in California.

JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network connects young women across the country with incredible speakers, networking opportunities, and advocacy issues.  Learn more.

JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network connects young women across the country with incredible speakers, networking opportunities, and advocacy issues. Learn more.

When I read the NASW Code of Ethics, I understand what Eggman was saying. “The primary mission of the social work profession,” the NASW code reads, “is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty….Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.”

These words inform my philosophy of what I think government should do as well.

The process of running has been a whirlwind, to say the least. I actually pulled papers on July 16th and I was early. However, I was late in expressing my intent to run: Another challenger in the race began his campaign in January.

My family is proud of me but my decision to run has come during a difficult time. My grandfather, Larry Powell, was ill and passed away on August 16 at 94. I know that he and my grandma Joyce were proud of me for running. Their example of community involvement is the reason why I want to be a community activist.

Despite this loss, I intend to persist because I believe that this is an important turning point in my career and I want to help people.

Since I started campaigning over a month ago, I have slept at most five or six hours a night and find my days packed with meetings. Fitting together a campaign team is like a puzzle and the number of political events to attend is overwhelming.

But, I have to say, I am also having a lot of fun. In fact, it reminds me of when I started graduate school at USC back in 2011. At that time, I spent several days in Venice, Calif., interviewing homeless people. Working with the homeless and writing about the issues facing the homeless population in Los Angeles is an important component of my qualifications. The key to helping the homeless is to provide resources that connect them with available services and organizations. Mental health, an issue I've written about for JWI before, is also a major issue that I want to address in my community.

I was born in Santa Monica—and have voted here for 11 years. I want to represent this community on City Council. I am learning every day from the residents I meet and from community websites about the issues that are on people’s minds: disability rights; energy/sustainability; housing; cradle to career; gig economy; housing; and homelessness.

My hope is that my passion for serving this community will help to propel me to success so I can use my insights and knowledge as a social worker to tackle these issues and thereby improve the lives of our citizens.

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A native of Los Angeles, Ashley is a passionate social justice advocate with a decade of experience in non-profit programming, fundraising and event planning. Currently working on political campaigns, she previously worked in children’s mental health and also serves on the board of a nonprofit that provides summer camp for homeless and underprivileged children. She earned her BA from Occidental College where she was head of Outreach for Hillel and a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Administration from University of Southern California where she worked on the Jewish Caucus. She is excited to write about Jewish women’s issues for the first time!