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From Director of the Amherst Survival Center to Massachusetts Politician: Mindy Domb’s Journey
Even as a child, Mindy Domb was interested the what was going on in the world and how she could make a difference. Now, as a strong woman who has worked in many jobs and currently represents the Hampshire District in the Massachusetts Statehouse, Mindy continues to fight for low income people, access to higher education, women’s and LGBTQ rights.
Domb’s interest in politics started as a child. She recalls stories about the many news sources that her father had subscriptions to, encouraging her to learn about her world. She also remembers watching many old movies with her parents that had good morals. As she grew up she wanted her parents to become more politically involved and that inspired her to join a campaign. She distributed flyers and made phone calls to elect someone for mayor of her town. One thing she points out as being particularly important is that her parents never stopped her from doing what she wanted, even if they didn’t agree with it.
Domb went to school in New Jersey enjoying social studies and English. In 1977 she went to Barnard College in New York City majoring in political science and women’s studies. She graduated in 1981 and met her husband Matthew Sadof only two weeks later.
After college Domb went straight into the work world as an aide for Representative Ted Weiss of New York. In 1987 she switched jobs and began working for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as an HIV education program advisor. In 1990 she co-founded and became the first chair of the Berkshire Aides Coalition until 1994. (year she went back to graduate school). Beginning in 1999 she worked as the program director for HIV Integration Programs.
In 2012 Domb worked hard to elect Elizabeth Warren for Senator. She supported Warren stance on helping low-income people. Domb says that she feels like as a country we’re ready to start addressing income inequality and helping people who don’t have a fair shot.
Domb tells and interesting story about becoming the director of the Amherst Survival Center, a basic needs organization that supplies food, clothing and other necessities to homeless people. in June 2013. She had been working in HIV Integration Programs for fourteen years and was ready for a change. So when the position opened up her husband Matthew encouraged her to apply, even if she didn’t get the job. The possibility of working at a basic need organization intrigued Domb, appealing to her background in public health. She said, “I’m really committed to addressing inequality and that would be a great place to do it from. And so I applied. And then I fell in love with the Survival Center.”
When Domb talks about the Survival Center there is a lot of feeling in her voice. She says that working in basic needs has deeply affected her life. She feels that when you work in basic needs, you get to see another side of people that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. From the people who are receiving the services, to the people who work there and so many members of the community work to support others. Domb remembers hearing people say that it must be a thankless job, but she describes it as anything but thankless. She says that there was a lot of generosity in the Survival Center, from everyone.
I asked her about her decision to run and how her background in basic needs affected that decision. She said that if I had asked her a year ago she never would have guessed that she would have run for State Representative and won, calling it an example of how life can change in an instant. Domb told me that she started thinking about running when her predecessor Solomon Goldstein-Rose unenrolled from being a Democrat. She felt that that took away credibility from the position, undermined the ability for the Hampshire District to be heard, especially for low income people whose voices are already muffled. With this realization, Domb started making a list of things she wanted from a State Representative, and realized she could do some of the things on that list. This was confirmed when a friend called her and asked her if she was thinking about it, which got her thinking that she could do it.
Domb said her advice to someone else who wanted to run would be to think about why they’re running and how they’re going to use their power. She feels that if you want to run, your stance should align with that of your constituents, so you can better represent them. She stated that the hardest part of running was making the decision to run, and that the indecision was the hardest part. Diving into a pool is a good metaphor. It’s really cold when your standing on the diving board, but once you get into the pool, it’s not so bad. It’s the same way with making any hard decision. She thinks that making a decision is the best thing to do, and if it doesn’t feel right, you can change your mind. A key piece of advice she gives people is that being nervous is okay.
Domb has many pieces of legislature she is working on. She opposes putting a fee on fossil fuels, because even though it would help the environment, the rebate isn’t fast enough for poor people. Many people in America live paycheck to paycheck and getting money back on an annual basis isn’t fast enough for them to keep up with the more expensive costs. This is a good example of how something may seem good, but it doesn’t work for everybody, and we need to include everyone in our decision making.
She is also co-sponsoring a bill for a diaper pilot program that would give basic needs organizations like the Survival Center discounts for diapers so they could give them to low income families. There are many other programs for families such as Snap and Wick, but they only give donations for food and not other essential things like diapers. When a family is struggling with getting enough money for things like food, rent and doctor’s visits, they can’t get enough money for diapers either. This piece of legislature would set up an experimental program across the state to provide money for diapers.
Another piece of legislation would make sure that all official documents had a place for gender non-binary people to identify. Rather than just having options for male and female, there would be an option to identify as both or neither. This is the easiest way to support people and give them a place to identify, and without it, we’ve made them invisible.
Also, Domb supports banning gay conversion therapy. Often she is asked if that really happens in Massachusetts. She replies that even if it doesn’t happen, it isn’t because we’ve said it can’t happen. Gay conversion therapy is a fraud and we should ban it to support our gay community.
I asked Domb about what her key issues were and it was very interesting. She said that her top priority as State Representative was making sure that UMASS Amherst was funded properly. She said that UMASS was a lot bigger than just education; it also is a big source of economic development for the area. However, she said that if she wasn’t State Representative, her key issue might be low income people. But the university affects a larger number of her constituents. Interestingly though, the two issues are intertwined. The large cost of higher education often contributes to student debt and food insecurity, especially in families that were already low income. Domb comments that if any other state representatives introduce any legislature regarding student debt or food insecurity, she’ll be signing on to that.
Another issue that Domb is interested in is funding and revenue. Raising money for all these projects that will help low income people. She feels that we need people on the revenue committee that are invested in raising money to support low income people. This brings Domb to the issue of flat tax. In Massachusetts, almost everyone has to pay the same tax. A progressive tax would allow the state to raise the same amount of money but would charge poor people less and rich people more.
A connected issue is that in order to get a Massachusetts ID card, which you need to vote, you have to pay $25. That might not seem like a lot to an average middle class person, but when people are struggling to put food on the table, asking them to pay anything big and extra is like making them pay a fine.
Some other issues that Domb is working on include affordable transportation, health care, and eliminating bail with the Massachusetts Bail Project. She hopes federal discussion about all the people in America who are living paycheck to paycheck will help increase awareness of the people in our community who are living that way. She says a lot of the work she does is increasing awareness.
Domb describes working at the Statehouse like “drinking from a firehouse.” She says the first couple weeks are challenging because there are a lot of deadlines you have to meet. If you’re a state representative, you have two weeks to introduce legislation, two weeks to co-sponsor what you want to co-sponsor and then the window is shut. She comments that this system seems like it’s designed so that people new to government can’t participate much. What’s got her through this time is remembering that her priorities are, “constituent service, community advocacy, and progressive policy.” Some things Domb likes about working at the statehouse are meeting other elected officials and their staff, hearing from constituents, and community advocacy.
When I asked her about gender issues in the statehouse, Domb responded that she hasn’t seen problems yet, and she thinks that is because there are a lot of new women who have recently been elected. She said that right now she’s been asking a lot of questions because she is new to the job but she is interested to see, “At what point do women expect other women to know it and the men expect that women don’t?”
On January 8th 2019 the state senators and representatives submitted their preferences for committees. Domb asked for: public higher education (because of UMASS), public health, revenue, tourism, arts and culture, but also added that anywhere was fine. I think Domb’s open mindedness and willingness to meet new people will help her in the Statehouse and anywhere she goes.
I asked Domb how her experience at the Survival Center has affected her new position as state representative, and if she feels that her extensive community service helps her bring a new perspective to the Statehouse. She told me that was why she ran. Her experience helps her keep in mind low income families, and shapes her perspective on many issues. “One of the big reasons I ran for office was to bring that perspective. So if I’m not doing that, I’m not doing what I promised myself and my constituents I would do.”