Montpelier, Vermont. “I remember walking with my grandmother, who lived with us, to the Big Blue bus stop on 14th and Montana. We took the bus to Douglas Park with its pond and swings. On Saturday, if there was a show for kids, we walked to the Aero.”
Now Kesha serves in the Vermont legislature. “Half of the eight thousand registered voters in my district are between 18 and 25. I feel strongly about involving young voters and I feel I know and understand what the community needs. Also, being at the bottom of the ticket, when Obama was at the top, definitely helped.”
Winning meant a seat in Vermont’s 150 member House of Representatives. Pay is $10,000/year. They are in session five months of the year. “Because it takes some personal sacrifice, only people who really want to serve run for office. Vermonters wouldn’t have it any other way, they feel strongly about direct democracy.”
The other seven months of the year Kesha works as a legal advocate at “Women Helping Women”, a domestic violence non-profit. “It’s wonderful work and it’s enough salary for me right now.”
Kesha got her start in public service in her first grade class at Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica. She was a proficient reader and her teacher asked her to work with the students who needed help because English was their second language. “She knew that my father had emigrated from India to study engineering at UCLA and that made her think I would be sympathetic to the immigrant children. I loved helping them. I loved how it made me feel.”
Kesha joined the choir in 4th grade and stayed in the choir all the way through her years at Lincoln Middle School and at SAMOHI. She never missed a Stairway to the Stars. She was the Environmental Affairs Coordinator on SAMOHI Student Government and worked with the PTA to start the school recycling program.
Graduating in 2004 from SAMOHI in a class of 1200 students, she wanted a new experience and so applied to colleges in Alaska, Canada, and New England. “The good news for me is that these schools were all interested in having a young woman of color from California in their school. I chose University of Vermont (UVM, Founded 1791). I felt I could be the person I wanted to be there and they gave me a full scholarship.”
She took her Santa Monica values with her to Vermont; first as a freshman activist, then as a member of student government in her sophomore, junior, and senior years. “Student government had lots of slots for class representatives and so it wasn’t overly hard to be elected. “
In 2006 then Sen. Obama came to UVM to give a speech in support of Bernie Saunders in his bid for the US Senate. “They asked me to introduce Obama as everyone else on the dais was going to be male and they wanted to have a female student leader on the dais.”
In her senior year, she ran for student body president. “It was a seven-way race. Other candidates put their energy into fliers and signs. I put my energy into making personal contacts. I would stand on campus and stop every tenth student to introduce myself and ask them about their experience at UVM. I won that election and was the first person of color and the seventh woman to be student body president.”
Kesha graduated UVM in 2008 with a BA in political science and a BS in natural resource planning after four years of study and student activism.
In the Vermont Legislature she is sponsoring a green jobs amendment to the Economic Development Omnibus Bill and is working to get the Abenaki Tribe officially recognized so they can label crafts as authentic products of the Tribe and can also seek Federal Grants.
Her roots are in Santa Monica going back, through her mother to the rich, cultural and political heritage of the Jewish community of Eastern Europe; through her father to the democratic movements of India; and through her Great, Great Grandfather, Sir Gunga Ram, who was the Chief Engineer of India. He is remembered as a philanthropist who built schools for girls and who built hydroelectric dams at a time when India was in desperate need of infrastructure.
“Since my first elected office as Student Council President at Roosevelt (5th grade) I’ve always had a passion for politics. There are no term limits in Vermont, so I will seek reelection in 2010 and then, we’ll see. At age 23, I’m so very happy to be where I am and to see where it takes me. It’s an exciting feeling. Who knew that a 23-year-old young woman from Santa Monica could be elected to the Vermont House. Yet, here I am. And if I can, so can you.”