An Interview with Nadya Okamoto: Candidate for Cambridge City Council and Harvard Student
We recently interviewed Nadya Okamoto, a Harvard sophomore who has dedicated herself to important causes since she was a teenager, and is now running for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. Okamoto is clear proof that youth are capable of having a tremendous impact on their communities and on the world.
Image Courtesy of Nadya Okamoto
Can you provide some information on your background (hometown, education, etc)?
I am running for young people to have direct representation and trust in their government, for family struggling to secure affordable and stable housing, for equitable opportunities in education and employment, and progress towards more sustainable living.
I am a sophomore at Harvard College and current candidate for Cambridge City Council. I am the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD, a global organization providing and celebrating menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education, and service. I founded PERIOD when I was 16-years-old after our family experienced living without a home of our own. Since its founding in 2014, the organization has addressed almost 110,000 periods and have registered over 100 campus chapters. I am also the co-founder of E Pluribus, a post-partisan media platform that engages young people in discussions around issues that they truly care about, and pushes them to take action.
I grew up thinking of Cambridge as a home since my godmother lives here (I was born in NYC), and growing up we visited at least once or twice a year. Cambridge was a home when I wasnʼt really sure what home was, especially with growing up with a bit of housing and financial instability, and domestic violence between my parents.
Cambridge is facing issues now that are challenging this city being a stable “home” for many of its residents — because the city is too expensive to live in and its localism is constantly being threatened. I want to fight for this city to be home to whomever wishes to call it that, regardless of their socioeconomic status, racial identity, or place of origin. My personal connection and commitment to the issues that this city faces, paired with my belief that I add a very unique and much- needed perspective and energy to the City Council is what has pushed me to run for office here in 2017.
Why do you believe it is important for students to be represented on local city councils?
I am running for City Council in a city where over 35% of the demographic is under the age of 25 and over 34% of the adult population is enrolled in university, yet we have never had student or youth representation on council — and I think it is time for that to change.
Representative democracy is important because we need to have elected officials that can truly empathize with their constituents — I believe that this applies on a base of race, gender, socioeconomic status, and even age. In a world where over half of our population is made up of women, we need to have more women in politics — especially surrounding discussions about reproductive rights, family health care, parental leave, and equal opportunities. It is unacceptable that right now, less than 20% of government positions are held by women in the United States, and by encouraging more young women to see a career in politics as an option, and not only pushing women to run, but also supporting them to win, we can change that.
How have you balanced your responsibilities as a student with the demands of running for office?
I have been able to find balance in everything I am involved in because I truly believe in all that I do – from the Menstrual Movement to this fight for economic diversity in Cambridge, my heart and soul are in this. This does not even feel like work to me most of the time. I believe so wholeheartedly in these causes and this platform that this feels like what I am meant to do with my voice.
What are some of the main issues you hope to address if elected? How do you believe your unique perspective as a student will help you in achieving these goals?
My top three priorities are housing affordability, education equity, and sustainable living — with an overarching goal to fight to protect economic diversity. I truly believe that on all issues Cambridge is facing, with a need to fine solutions in urban planning to climate change preparedness, we have a huge opportunity to work more closely with community-minded university relations. I believe that as a student, with that fundamental relationship with the university here (including Harvard and MIT and Lesley), I am in a unique position to do this very effectively while also engaging an unprecedented level of civic engagement from this city’s younger demographic.
If I were to be elected, my top priority would be housing affordability. I would do this through multiple pathways: (1) through enforcing the 20% inclusionary zoning of affordable housing units in new real estate developments; (2) pushing the council to actually invest in building more affordable housing for the purposes of affordability – we have an Affordable Housing Trust that we could be improving much more; and (3) really pushing forward more community-minded university relations in this well-known college town. This starts with advocating for universities to meet 100% of the demand for graduate student housing since the majority of them currently live off-campus due to the affordability, accessibility, and availability in the first place. Doing this would open up over 9,500 units that are currently short-term rentals to students, to instead be long-term solutions for Cambridge families.
Connect with Nadya Here!