Known for her progressive platform, public school teacher Geena Pham is a candidate in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island State Senate District 3, which includes the College Hill, East Side and Fox Point neighborhoods.
If elected, Pham would be the first Asian American to serve in the Rhode Island General Assembly. As a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of an immigrant single mother, Pham is passionate about reducing disparities in public education both within classrooms and between districts.
“I’ve always wanted to help people, and I’m able to see what happens to struggling families if they can’t have affordable housing, if they don’t have safe neighborhoods or if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Pham said. “I’m able to see that every day, and I think that’s the perspective I bring.”
Pham’s platform covers public school quality, racial justice, a Green New Deal, safer neighborhoods and wider access to reproductive healthcare. Pham is endorsed by organizations and individuals including BLM RI PAC, Sunrise RI, State Senator Tiara Mack, State Senator Cynthia Mendes, State Senator Sam Bell and State Representative David Morales. Pham also volunteers on the board of Cozy Rhody Litter Clean-up, an organization that brings the community together to clean parks and neighborhoods.
As a public school teacher, improving the quality of public schools in Providence is one of Pham’s biggest priorities. “Every day I go into the classroom, and I can see the disparities between students in one classroom. This could be disparities in terms of wealth, socioeconomics, racial disparities, anything like that,” Pham said. “I’ve worked in Boston inner (cities) to really wealthy suburbs, and just seeing the lack of equity between these districts … that’s what drove me to want to run.”
Another primary focus of Pham is launching a Green New Deal to combat climate change. “I definitely think that we should have 100 percent renewables, ASAP,” Pham said. Pham has plans to reduce emissions through creating new infrastructure for biking and walking as well as retrofitting houses or equipping them with features that reduce their overall carbon emissions. “By doing all these things, not only does it help the environment, (but) it helps with our goals with climate change, it creates jobs,” Pham said. “Good paying jobs, quality public schools, affordable housing — those are the keys to safer neighborhoods.”
Pham believes that, although District 3 is generally liberal and progressive, the true meaning of racial justice can be lost in the community. To create actionable changes that promote racial justice, she intends on repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights within the district, a bill that protects law enforcement officers from prosecution for certain aspects of their work performance and affords them increased privileges based on due process, including limiting police officer suspensions to two days. The law is currently under fire, with state legislators and activist groups calling for it to be repealed on the grounds that it shields officers from discipline for unjust actions.
“A lot of people just think, ‘Oh, it’s all about diversity and inclusion, and we just have to get along,’” Pham said. “But it really goes down to police brutality, looking at what that means and recognizing that racial injustice absolutely exists on the East Side.”
There has never been an Asian American elected to serve in the General Assembly. “We have been an unheard voice for as long as this country has existed,” Pham said. “We’re seen as foreigners, even if we’ve been born here.” She sees the election as an opportunity to represent previously unheard voices in District 3, which has the highest percentage of Asian Americans in the state, 12%, according to Pham.
Representation and racial justice are values that Pham’s supporters share. Senator Mack sees Pham as a first step toward a future with more diverse voices in office. “No more firsts of people who make up a lot of the fabric of our country like queer folks, Black folks, brown folks, Asian American folks, first-generation folks,” Mack said. “We definitely need more real people with real stories in office.”
As a member of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, Pham is committed to not voting for Senate leadership, a decision that is “anti-establishment,” according to Enrique Sanchez, BLM RI PAC political director. “Once you take that step of not voting for leadership, you’re punished because you’re not chosen to be on certain committees or be with the politicians who get to decide what policies pass,” Sanchez said. “She is that progressive voice, the most progressive leftist candidate for Senate District 3.”
“I think Geena, being the only progressive Democrat in the race of six people now, is the voice that we need out of that field of folks,” Mack agreed.
Above all, Pham emphasized the importance of her firsthand experience of the struggles and disparities in her community.
“I’m a public servant. I work with real people every day … and I’m doing this to serve the community, to serve people like my students that don’t need to be suffering,” Pham said. “I’m doing this to help people and because I care about people.”