Jennifer Van Der Heide, the current chief of staff of Representative Deb Haaland – one of the first Native American women elected to the US Congress – spoke at a public event of the Democratic campaign on the agenda for the Afro-Colombian population in an eventual government of Biden-Harris.
She recalled her experience supporting Afro-Colombian leaders since 2005, from which one of the greatest achievements has been an annual grant of US $ 15 million for Afro-Colombian and indigenous people development.
On September 4 this year, the virtual conversation “Perspectives on the vision of Biden-Harris on Afro-Colombians” was held. In attendance were Liliana Ayalde, former US ambassador; Gregory Meeks, an African-American congressman who maintains a close relationship with Colombia, and Luis Gilberto Murillo, former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia
Other attendees were Cristina Espinel, co-chair of the Washington D.C. from Colombia Human Rights; Yirlehan Ramírez, member of the National Association of Afro-Colombian Students (Asnea); Óscar Gamboa, director of Amunafro from Colombia, and Robert Asprilla, long-time activist in the United States.
Former Minister Luis Gilberto Murillo introduced Jennifer Van Der Heidi, acknowledging that she “and other senior congressional staff members play a key role in supporting Afro-Colombians both in the United States and also in Colombia”. And he encouraged her to share the key factors of this successful story.
The beginning of the story
Jennifer Van Der Heide said to the event audience “my entry to the Afrocolombian cause came, I think back in 2005, when I met Robert Asprilla on a campaign at the DNC and I think he recognized at that time, that I was working for Mike Honda, the chairman of the congressional Asia-Pacific American caucus.
Robert was clear on how important it was to build our coalitions together and he began the process of teaching me about the Afrocolombian issues, knowing I think that I was going to be receptive.
And it was because of that mentorship, and also because you brought me to Quibdo that I will never ever forget that experience and from there it was very easy for me to begin to work with stakeholders
(It may interest you: Gregory Meeks’ commitments to Afro-Colombians if Biden-Harris wins)
Common ground between Meeks, African American, and Honda, Asian American
I think at that time, it was probably helpful for Congressman Meeks that Congressman Honda was interested in similar issues coming from the Asian American community that had long been underrepresented in Congress.
Meeks built out that coalition and added new voices to work with him in the preparation’s committee. I had the opportunity also to share some of the experiences I had building up the Asian American caucusing congress and what it was like to try to build out power, and I was able to share some of those best practices back then with the Colombian black caucus.
Why Van Der Heide is a strategic ally?
Indeed, for 16 years Jennifer was the chief of staff for Representative Mike Honda (Silicon Valley). She is a strategic and dynamic leader, and she was also the Political Director during Representative Honda’s nine-year tenure as Vice President of the DNC, and as Chief Strategist during his presidency of the American Asia Pacific Caucus in the US Congress.
She is an expert in achieving goals and building coalitions for politics and political campaigns, developing legislative strategies, and managing the reach of traditional and social media to effectively influence public opinion.
Lobbying with different caucus in Capitol Hill
“I think that the key factor to build a coalition is to recognize the value of an allyship and to work with someone like me, an organizer in a congressional staff.
I am sure the lobbying tactics are not that different but sometimes it may feel daunting to come to Capitol Hill to bring some issues forward.
I believe that recognizing the value of building a personal relationship is fundamental, finding someone that you think might be interested in your cause, in this case, someone outside of the Black and the Hispanic caucus.
(It may interest you: «Biden-Harris would be allies of Afro-Colombians»: Liliana Ayalde)
The successful stories that I have seen while working on Capitol Hill for over eighteen years, have always happened as members of Congress begin to share their interest and their priorities with one another, building this way a higher support for their causes.
My first lesson here is just to share that lobbying success it is as simple as catching the attention of few key staff on Capitol Hill so they can help you bringing your information forward and building out that political power
One other key thing that I should mention is obviously getting staff on the Hill; I am talking about bringing in Colombian interns to Washington, so they can provide their own perspective about the Afrocolombian issues and discuss these topics with Congressional staff and make them relevant”.
Translation: Catalina Rodríguez, Economics student at Columbia University in the City of New York. In spanish, here.
* Mission tracer of this publication of Fundación Color de Colombia: Strategic line 3: Inclusive markets and sustainable development. Initiative: Promotion of strategic consensus for sustainable development with inclusive markets in regions with a significant Afro-Colombian population. Projects: Follow-up to US cooperation towards the Afro-Colombian population and Follow-up to FTA between the US and Colombia.