After watching Donald Trump win the election from her school’s dining hall, Mary-Pat Hector decided she couldn’t wait for change to happen. Instead, she had to make change happen herself.
Hector, a sophomore at Spelman College, is running for city council in Stonecrest, Georgia. If she wins on March 21, she’ll become one of the youngest people to hold office in the state. Last month, Hector joined MTV News for a Facebook Live segment to discuss her campaign. Now, with just a few weeks left until Election Day, we caught up with the college student about what it’s like to juggle a campaign with schoolwork, the biggest hurdles she’s faced, and why, regardless of the outcome, she already feels like she's won.
[ Editor's note: This interview has been edited and condensed.]
You’re the youngest woman to run for office in Georgia. What inspired you to run?
Mary-Pat Hector: I had a lot of friends who were transitioning from middle school to high school as well as from high school to college, and there’s really nothing in the community for young people to do. There were no extracurricular activities, and I noticed that a lot of my friends were really getting involved in gun violence. ... People talked about violence in the community, but no one was giving any real solutions for prevention. Instead of looking at prevention, they were just building up a new jail literally blocks from where we were.
I created a shock ad campaign, similar to thetruth.com, to make people really pay attention. I thought to myself, Why hasn’t anyone taken this out-of-the-box approach to things like gun violence that impact all Americans? So that’s what I decided to do. I’ve always been involved with orgs like the National Action Network. I’m the national youth director for the organization. I’ve cochaired with Cities United and have been the southeast regional organizer for Generation Progress.
It wasn’t until November 8 that [I felt] prompted to run for office. Me and a few friends were upstairs in our college dining hall watching the election, and were just really depressed. People were saying, “What should we do?” and “How do we go on when Donald Trump is president?” The truth is, we have about a year and a half to get more people elected and we have to start at the state and local levels. And I think that instead of waiting for someone to really be the change for us, we need to be the change that we’ve been waiting for. I found out that my community is having an election, so I decided to run for office within the city of Stonecrest.
You touched upon this in our Facebook Live, but can you tell us more about what it takes to run a campaign?
Hector: It’s important to never give up and to not stop knocking on those doors to try to reach as many people as possible. One person who has worked on campaigns before told me, “You gotta touch one person at least three times.” If that’s calling them or knocking on doors — if that’s just them seeing your name — you gotta do it three times.
It was learning as I went. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to learn and, honestly, with all the information that I have learned running my campaign, I want to reach out to young people and assist them in running. I’ve gone through the process and I know what to expect. Young people get involved and they take that leap of faith, but they’re not supported.
It costs so much to find somebody who already knows how to do this. My election was three and a half, four months long. We voted in November, I qualified [to run] in January, and the elections are in March. So for a campaign that small and someone saying, “Oh, I’ll handle all of this for you for $3,500 a month,” you’re like, “But what about my mailers? What about my yard signs? I can’t afford that $3,500 a month.” You have to do it on your own and it’s just so overwhelming. So I know that’s something I want to do moving forward and helping other people run. Because that’s what needs to happen.
As a digital native, how has social media played a role in your campaign — especially when it comes to reaching a demographic that didn’t grow up with it?
Hector: The good thing is, a lot people do use Facebook, so I’ve had the opportunity to use their different marketing tools, like the fan page. That’s been very helpful as you can target people of different age demographics within a community. But prior to [the race], I wasn’t getting as much support as I believe I could have or should have at the time. It was very difficult. But after the news picked up my story [ Editor's note: Another candidate challenged Hector’s eligibility in January because of her age], people all over the country just kept finding out about it. There were people from Arizona and Idaho and Iowa — just different places that I can’t even believe were worried about this small election. It wasn’t even a state election. After people started hearing it and outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post started writing about it, when I started going to doors, I was perceived differently. People were like, “Oh, you’re her!” and they gave me an opportunity to really speak to them.
What are the biggest misconceptions about running for city council at 19 that you’ve faced?
Hector: That I can’t do it or that I can’t handle it. We’ve seen a man who has never been in politics a day in his life become the president of the United States. He hasn’t done the best job, but he was elected and there are certain things he’s done that I would never do.
If you have passion and you really want to help people and effect change, if you are an actual citizen and pay taxes within a community and you see that people within the community are personally impacted by different laws, then why not you?
Oftentimes, people think that because you are young, you’re not intelligent. Because you’re young, you don’t care about issues impacting your community. Because you’re young, you don’t have experience. I am young — and that’s fine. I can still govern. A lot of people who aren’t so young have been in these positions for years, they talk about the committees that they’ve been on, they talk about the work that they’ve done within the community, and they have nothing to show for it. So why not someone new? Why not someone with passion who wants to see change?
What has it been like balancing your schoolwork with the campaign? Has it been tricky juggling a social life?
Hector: I’ve been able to map out my schedule perfectly. Many days, I’m done with class by 12 p.m. Then after that, I’m campaigning — knocking on doors, talking with people — till probably 7 [p.m.]. Then after that, I go home and do my homework. I may make some phone calls until 8 [p.m.]. Then I have some spare time to watch TV or read up on different things regarding the city. I’m a double major — political science with a focus in urban development and comparative women’s studies with a focus in policy. So these are things I pretty much learn about each and every day. My professors are very, very excited. They talk to me about [the election] all the time. They say, “We believe in you.” They give me advice when I have different questions about things like taxes or economic development. They’re very supportive — even the president of my college, all of my Spelman sisters, and Morehouse brothers.
Have politicians reached out to you in support?
Hector: People like Senator Steve Henson and Senator Vincent Fort here in Georgia not only supported me, but sat with me when my age was being contested. They created pieces of legislation that could possibly be passed in the state of Georgia that lowers the municipal age for young people to run for office. Right now, it’s 21 unless the city charter says otherwise. But they’re trying to lower it to 18.
Stonecrest will hold its election on March 21. How are you feeling in the last few weeks leading up to Election Day? If you aren’t elected, will you continue to run for office in the future?
Hector: I will probably run again in the future. I don’t think that one loss should stop me. I will say, though, that in my mind — despite the media attention — it doesn’t really mean anything nationally. The voters within my district matter. So in the back of my head, I tell myself, You know what, Mary? You’re losing. That’s what keeps me going. You’re losing. You’re behind. Keep going. Keep pushing. I’m not really sure what will happen in the next few days or the next few weeks, but I believe that even if I lose, things happen for a reason. Either way it goes, I will have won regardless, simply because young people have heard my story. They may be prompted to run for office in their cities. They might want to run for city council. They might want to run for mayor. They can say, “You know what? If she did it in Georgia, I can anywhere.”
I feel like that’s one thing that I’ve accomplished. I didn’t give up. Not only did I run, but my race was contested because my opponent thought that I was not old enough. He didn’t think that I was good enough to run for office because of my age. He believed that I should be older and that there’s no way I could be better than him. I feel like me fighting that and winning shows young people that they can prevail. When there’s something you truly believe in, fight for it. Regardless of what happens on March 21, I feel like I’ve come out a winner.