Kesha Ram has always been a maker of good trouble. At Samohi that meant debating climate change with then classmate, now Trump advisor Steven Miller and protesting workers’ rights at the DoubleTree Hotel. Today that means disrupting expectations and becoming the first woman of color elected to Vermont’s state senate.
Growing up in Santa Monica with an Indian immigrant father and Jewish American mother, Ram saw how an inclusive attitude and access to capital for immigrants and women can lift up a family. Now as Chittenden County State Senator she seeks to welcome, empower, and integrate minorities in Vermont.
Vermont’s identity is built on progressive politics and history; it was the first colony to abolish slavery, is the home of Bernie Sanders, and had the lowest percent of Trump voters in the 2016 and 2020 elections. However, Ram believes this progressive pride can mask issues of racism and exclusion.
“In Vermont we still have this attitude that racism and hatred don’t grow well in our rocky soil, and yet we are so overwhelmingly white and homogeneous that we don’t often challenge that narrative enough to look at the data and history,” said Ram.
For example, in 2017 black men in Vermont entered the prison system at a seven times higher rate than white men, according to the Vermont ACLU. Vermont has a robust refugee resettlement program, but these communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID due to a lack of resources and the many essential workers who live there.
While Vermont is 94 percent white, 90 percent of its population growth in the last decade has come from migration of people of color. This population movement has helped fuel the economy and Ram wants to ensure these people stay in the state.
“I live in a community where I feel highly visible and singled out because of what I look like and that can exhaust people and make them feel like they’d rather live somewhere they aren’t constantly asked where they are from,” said Ram. “If we are going to be a more welcoming state that keeps the people that are coming here we have a lot of work to do.”
Ram believes her election is a step towards welcoming minorities and empowering them to pursue their dreams.
Growing up Ram was always politically involved but never saw herself as a politician. That was until Barack Obama spoke at the University of Vermont in 2006 and personally encouraged her to run for office.
“My entire high school and college career George W. Bush was president, so much of our political organization was around protesting and feeling left out by the federal government,” said Ram. “When I met Barack Obama, I thought maybe there is a place for people like me actually in elected office rather than railing against politicians.”
Two years later Ram ran for Vermont House of Representatives and became one of the youngest legislators in the country while Obama became the 44th president of the United States.
Ram also credits her political aspirations to the great teachers and community leaders she met growing up in Santa Monica and attending Roosevelt Elementary School, Lincoln Middle School, and Santa Monica High School.
“I said to all of my teachers who reached out and celebrated this victory that it was their victory too,” said Ram. “I gained so much from the teachers in the Santa Monica Malibu School District that is hard to quantify, but stays with me and I will carry with me to Montpelier.”
As Ram soaks up her political victory she celebrates the parallel victory of Kamala Harris who is also shattering barriers as an Indian American woman of color from California. Ram is dedicated wholeheartedly to her beloved community of Chittenden, but like Harris, is open to pursuing a greater office in the future.
“Just as much of the change as I’m able to make in the legislature, I’m able to make when young women and young brown and black children see someone who looks like me in politics,” said Ram. “So I don’t shy away from the idea that having a bigger platform would allow me to make a bigger difference in ways that are sometimes invisible but that add up to us feeling indescribably seen and validated to have the first woman of color in the white house.”