By Kessa Albright
At-large Eau Claire city council member Catherine Emmanuelle graciously let me shadow her at a legislative meeting on Tuesday. I got to witness the local legislative process with an incredible city council woman at my side.
Emmanuelle, thirty-six, is the youngest female city council member on the board. She ran her first campaign while was still an undergraduate at UWEC. In 2009, Emmanuelle was encouraged by people in the community to run for city council, but lost by a few hundred votes. After graduating in 2011 she ran again and was appointed in Sept. 2012.
“A lot of people helped,” Emmanuelle said. “It was a very inspiring campaign.”
Re-entering campaign mode, Emmanuelle is running for re-election as at-large city council member. Yard signs fill her front porch and she’s signing literature to send out to voters while we talk. I’m always intimidated by strong women when I first meet them, but walking into Emmanuelle’s home, smelling home cooking and noticing a poster of The Staves, a band we both love, made me realize that she’s a lot like someone I hope to be someday. Seeing Emmanuelle’s grass-roots campaign headquarters gave me a sense of comfort in realizing that I have more in common with a local politician than I ever thought I would.
Emmanuelle is the first Latina woman to serve on the Eau Claire city council. Her experience as woman of color affects her policy-making as she strive for political intersectionality. An issue she doesn’t see as fully recognized in the Eau Claire community is the needs of the growing Latino population.
“I’ve found that at times when I brought up some of the needs of the Latino community I don’t think it was maybe heard or appreciated as a pressing issue,” Emmanuelle said. “But I see the reception of that idea changing a bit.”
Through her work in the Eau Claire community, Emmanuelle has been recognized for her activism and policy-making on both local and national levels. Her community contributions and scholarly work have been published in Feminist Teacher, Volume One and The Shriver Report. Emmanuelle was also awarded the University of Wisconsin-System Outstanding Women of Color in Education award in 2013.
“Invest in yourself, and invest in others,” Emmanuelle said during her appearance on The Shriver Report panel, a piece of advice I found compelling.
Her connections in the Eau Claire and surrounding communities run deep. Emmanuelle teaches through the UW-Extension as a family living educator in Trempealeau county. She also serves on the board of directors at Visit Eau Claire, and is a member of several committees for the City of Eau Claire including the appointments committee, the affirmative action committee and the economic policy advisory committee.
Other than the outstanding work she has done in the community, I was drawn to shadowing Emmanuelle because of her women’s studies background.
“Women’s studies, as a discipline, helped me to put a name and a frame to a lot of the challenges and inequities I had seen just in my life,” Emmanuelle said.
Taking women’s studies classes, Emmanuelle said, helped her to build a vocabulary and framework for the inequality she saw in her life. Intersectionality is one of the words she learned in her women’s studies classes that she still uses in her professional career.
“When I’m looking at a community issue or a public policy issue there is an intersectionality of truth to each issue,” Emmanuelle said.