How The Co-Founder of She Se Puede Is Encouraging Latinas to Vote
Carmen Perez has 20 years of organizing under her belt; she’s advocated for civil rights issues, including gender equity, violence prevention, racial healing, and the implementation of community policing. “At a very young age, I remember sitting on my older sister’s lap and saying I wanted to change the world,” Perez told Supermajority News.
This year, Perez has continued to move towards this goal by co-founding She Se Puede, a digital lifestyle community that inspires, affirms, and informs Latinas to leverage their power and transform their lives.
“My boss and mentor Harry Belafonte always says, ‘meet people where they are at in chanting them to your cause’ so I think that’s kind of the way. We’re trying to not only make this content accessible, but we’re also trying to bring joy back into our lives,” she said.
Supermajority News spoke to Carmen about her efforts to mobilize Latina voters and what steps Latinx community leaders can take to ensure everyone in the family is voting — including those who don’t have the confidence to do so.
What motivated you to become an activist and a catalyst for so many influential movements?
My sister was a day and two years older than me, and she was killed in a car accident. That not only changed my life but also made me want to dedicate my life to changing the world. I feel like losing her is what made me realize that life is too short, and you can’t wait for tomorrow to do what you can today. Her death really taught me how to live. So I made a decision to live my life to the fullest from that moment on and dedicate my life to serving people and being a positive influence for my younger nieces and nephews. Through her death, I have always felt that I’ve touched so many more lives. It’s what I teach the young people that I work with: how [to] channel pain into power, into action, into gifts, to change the world.
On Monday nights, my mother used to leave our home and pray for men that were in jails. I remember when she would leave, I would say, “Why don’t you stay here with us?” and she’d say, “because everybody needs someone to believe in them.” And so those were little seeds that she planted. What’s really ironic is that I never thought I would go off and work with people that were incarcerated. When I moved to New York City, I used to run a program in the detention center on Mondays.
I also feel like the person who taught me forgiveness was my father. My life’s work has been around justice reform, and it was my father who said he couldn’t take another mother’s child away when the police asked us if he wanted to prosecute the person responsible for my sister’s death. So both my parents were really positive influences in [inspiring me to go] off and living my passion.
How did you get involved with She Se Puede, and can you speak about your work as a co-founder?
It was the end of 2019, and several of us — including America Ferrera and Jess Morales-Rocketto — were at a retreat in the mountains of Santa Cruz. We started discussing the absence of the Latino vote in the previous election and the need for a community space where Latinas could come together and leverage their collective power. As we began to look around at each other and identify this need, we made a commitment to follow-up with one another after the new year.
In January of this year, some of us met, and She Se Puede is the manifestation of that conversation and [our] commitment to lift up Latina power in leadership. We believe it’s up to us to make a difference, so we’ve assembled what we believe [is one of] the most powerful cross-sections of Latina leaders, [who] bring experience from the worlds of organizing, politics, content, and entertainment.
My work as a co-founder has been to help shape the organization, along with my fellow co-founders, and supporting hiring and building out our team. I led the partnerships before bringing on someone who would take that on full-time, and I also support any content development and fill in wherever I’m needed. I think my most important role as co-founder is to support our staff and to thank them as often as I can for all their work and in actualizing our vision of She Se Puede. I’m really proud of the team we have assembled. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to manifest this platform for Latinas.
I have sixteen nieces and nephews, and one of my nieces is in college at San Diego State. When I thought about creating the platform, it was really for her, and her generation as [people] who [are] interested in music, makeup, hair products, and clothing, but who are also invested in wanting to make this world better by being civically engaged.
What are some She Se Puede initiatives you’re proud of?
We have had an amazing grassroots response to the organization since launching not even two months ago. We already have about 94,000 followers on Instagram. We launched our She Se Puede Power Squad, which is an opportunity for Latinas to own their power and grow in their leadership and organizing skills while serving as ambassadors for She Se Puede. We’ve had over a thousand Latinas apply from all over the country.
We had our first kick-off call on August 31, and the enthusiasm was so high that we ended up having two more in the first weekend. We’ve also had IG lives with zumba, yoga, and pilates classes. We’ve launched the Chingonas Table, where experts come together to have conversations on everything from mental health to anti-racism.
Our [latest] initiative, which I’m excited about, is the Latinas Make a Difference Tour, where She Se Puede [was] virtually “on the road” connecting with Latinas across the country and locally. We want[ed] to create a collective experience for the She Se Puede community and inform, inspire, and empower Latinas to make a difference in their lives.
How can the Latina vote affect this election?
Young Latinas make up the largest age and gender cohort in most states, which means we’re driving growth in the Latino electorate across the country. Latino purchasing power is 1 trillion [dollars], and Latinas are more engaged online than any [other] general population. Yet, historically, if we look at the Latina turnout rate, they’ve been 10 to 15 points lower than Black and white women who vote.
There are many reasons for this, but we especially see a confidence gap among Latinas. We know from some research that EquisLabs has shared with us that while Latinas are interested in voting and are often motivated to vote, they are not invested [in doing so], nor really ready to do so. Our goal is to cultivate this confidence for the long-term, so we’re looking at the She Se Puede platform not just for the November election but at how we consistently engage this community.
We know that there are more than 25 congressional districts where Latinas comprise a double-digit percentage of the population, are eligible [to vote], and [therefore could] have a significant influence [on the election]. Places like Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida are the places where Latinas can make a significant difference. So we need to vote to be counted, and so that the people we elect also represent our values and priorities.
How can Latinas organize within their communities and get more involved in helping people vote?
One of the things that I’m doing with my family is we’re getting on a Zoom call, and we’re gonna go through all the different propositions in the state of California and have a conversation about it. One of the most important things that we can do is make our plan to vote and help our family and friends make theirs. With the turbulence of this year being what it is, being prepared and having a plan is key.
Latinas can head to our site at shesepuede.org and find a vote hub to check their voter registration status and find a voting place. It’s really important as we talk about voter suppression that we recognize that there is voter suppression in the Latino voter community, and we need to make sure that organizations like She Se Puede make information accessible. One of the things that we say at She Se Puede is it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to go vote — it just [requires] doing research and voting for a person who will represent our values and priorities and the issues we care about. No candidate is perfect, but we really encourage people to go out and vote.