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Making A Difference:' These Westchester Women Are 'Indivisible'

Indivisible Westchester members at a June 2017 rally. Photo Credit: Farah Kathwari
Svetlana Tsalik writing postcards at The Voracious Reader in Larchmont. Photo Credit: Submitted
Some of the brochures and documents from Indivisible. Photo Credit: Farah Kathwari
Postcard writing organized by Svetlana Tsalik. Photo Credit: Svetlana Tsalik
Westchester activists writing postcards as part of a push by Svetlana Tsalik and her organization, No Democrat Left Behind. Photo Credit: Svetlana Tsalik

Svetlana Tsalik had never thought much about local politics. The Larchmont mom of two was busy shuttling her kids around town, volunteering at the Sheldrake Nature Center and hosting weekly tango sessions.

Then Donald J. Trump was elected president and she knew she had to do something.

She wasn’t alone. Across town, Farah Kathwari, Verena Arnabal, and Shannon Powell were just as enraged, worried, and stunned about how the world around them would change for themselves and their children.

“I was devastated,” said Powell, who would later become one of the leaders of Indivisible Westchester (IW), a progressive Democratic grassroots campaign.

"[The 2016 election] was unlike anything I had ever experienced, so I think that was one of the motivating factors."

For many of these PTA moms, their activism began with the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017. Many marched again Saturday, Jan. 20, but this time, they felt victory – and optimism.

Since their first meeting on Jan. 29, 2017 they've been canvassing, calling, recruiting and protesting.

Some would argue it was these activists -- and the force they’ve become (their group includes many men as well but women have been the driving force) -- that helped propel George Latimer to defeat Rob Astorino for the Westchester county executive office this past November.

Astorino, who many referred to as “Trumparino’" for his close association with the White House, was someone the women say they couldn’t have let take office for another term.

“Trump wants to have that wall, but we need to have that wall of resistance and the best wall of resistance you can have is the one in your own backyard,” said Powell.

“[Local government is] the one you can effect the most change hyper-locally because it’s the government closest to you and it’s the one you can impact.”

In rallying support against Astorino the group met and discussed their next course of action numerous times, arming their fellow PTA moms to rally, protest and educate their neighbors about the County Executive race.

'Many people really didn't know that much about Astorino and had no idea he was a close ally of Trump's," said Tsalik.

"Our calling and canvassing helped change that."

IW members were also very involved in other activities such as the No Democrat Left Behind postcard campaign organized by Tsalik and #OurFlag created by Kathwari, also of Larchmont.

Tsalik’s campaign involved her and colleagues writing and sending handwritten postcards around Westchester while Kathwari’s #OurFlag movement centered on patriotism and the flag’s initial values.

“Thousands more of us understand now that things start at the hyperlocal level and that if we want our society to be just, equitable, progressive, and non-violent, that we have to vote, and get out the vote, for each and every election,” explained Kathwari, who deals with IW’s communications, fundraising, and coalition building.

“What is still driving us at Indivisible Westchester is to advocate is our love for our country, and wanting it to be the best it can be for all Americans," she stressed.

For Tsalik, that meant printing postcards and recruiting volunteers to send handwritten messages to Democrats throughout the county urging them to vote progressive last November. Together, she sent over 14,000 postcards.

“I was confident that if we could just get more Democrats to the polls, we would win in the local and county races," she said.

Latimer county executive’s office victory was IW’s main goal but like many politically inclined organizations, their job isn’t done.

According to Powell, there are presently four campaigns—endorsing Latimer’s replacement for state senate, flipping the state senate seat held by Terrance Murphy’s in Yorktown to the Democratic party, continuing the anti Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) movement, and adopting a neighboring congressional district—that IW will advocate for in 2018.

"There is work to be done at the local, state and national level," added Arnabal, another IW colleague.

"We all want the Democratic Party to stand up for progressive values of inclusion and diversity and be better, stronger, more united, more organized and engage its base -- all of its base --including the working class, people of color, women and millennials to effectively win elections."

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