City Councilors Sumbul Siddiqui and Alanna Mallon forged a friendship on the campaign trail last year, bonding over the challenges of being first-time female candidates. Their friendship has continued over their first six months in office, and they’ve channeled their easy banter into a weekly podcast called “Women Are Here.” The podcast touches on everything from local events to pop culture to latent sexism to city council business, with the goal of making municipal politics interesting and accessible to all Cantabrigians.
What was your first interaction with each other?
SS: It was March 1 of 2017, and you were walking across the crosswalk.
AM: We got together for coffee a few weeks later, and I think we really clicked right away.
SS: It was really organic, and we were both starting this really difficult thing. We just organically started texting each other and developing a friendship through this campaign.
AM: Because as a first-time candidate, as a first-time female candidate, it was really a difficult thing to do. There were many, many times that I would need some advice, or need somebody to tell me “I’m also feeling this way,” and we could keep going. There were so many times I was out on the campaign trail and it felt hard, and I would text Sumbul, “Are you also feeling this way?” and she would say yes, and it was helpful to have somebody who was going through the same thing who could really help lift me up and help me get through some of the harder parts of this.
In what ways do you think it was more difficult because you two are women?
AM: The system isn’t necessarily set up for women to run. If you think about men running, they get the support of a lot of other men who have come before them. They get a lot of introductions to different funders, different unions, different systems of how campaigning works, and as a woman you don’t necessarily have those connections. So I think it was important for both of us to connect and form that foundation and help one another out.
SS: It’s just harder statistically, and then being a woman of color and running—statistically, we have the facts, it’s very hard to raise money, there’s all these other factors.
AM: I think that men enjoy campaigning more, sort of as a general statement. For me, I found it very emotionally draining, and I saw a lot of the men really be energized by being at a forum or being out in public or getting their picture taken, and [a] number of things, where for me it was all about doing all this hard work to actually get to do the job. And I just wanted to do the job.
What has it been like since you were elected?
SS: Now we’re in office, there’s no how-to guide. But we want to get a lot of work done, so each of us has been committed to the issues that we care about. We’ve been able to lean on each other as colleagues, because the job is really isolating. There’s something called open meeting law, which really prevents [the city councilors] from talking to each other and collaborating and working together, and so I think it prohibits just getting to know people on a humane level.
Where did the idea for this podcast come from?
AM: Sumbul and I both knocked on a lot of doors, and one of the things we heard a lot was people who said I really clue in around election time about the issues in Cambridge, but then in those intervening two years there really is not a way to plug in. Sumbul’s 30, I’m in my late 40s, both generations listen to podcasts. So we thought it’s a great medium to reach any age group here in Cambridge, and we thought we could make municipal government a little bit fun and accessible. We make it light a little bit, we get into some of things that we like to do, like music, television, eating out, and then we also talk about what happened at the council and different events that are coming up that people can get involved in.
SS: We’re not typical, establishment-type politicians. We’re real people who really care about our community, and this podcast is representative of that. We wanted to make it more about our friendship too, and what it’s like to be elected as a woman.
AM: Really calling out some of these feminist things, too, what it’s like to be a woman right now.
The podcast seems conversational. What’s the planning process like?
AM: It depends on the week and what’s going on. This past week there was the Inman Square redesign vote, and I wanted to get my thoughts out there, so I had prepared my thoughts on paper. But other times we have a loose outline of what we want to talk about.
SS: We share a Google doc, it’s very organic. It’s a fun part of the week for us. It gives us a little
break from the meetings, it’s a good time to see each other.
AM: I’m not the type of person to keep a journal, so some of this is personal for me. I want to keep a record of what we’ve done and things that we’ve talked about. I’m always surprised when I meet someone and they’re like, “I listen to your podcast.” It is doing the thing that we hoped it would do, which is reaching all ages in a really easy and comfortable way. I think the people I talk to who listen to our podcast, it’s like they’re instantly friends with me, because they feel like they know us, which is unusual when you think about elected officials.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and conciseness.
This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 200 locations throughout the city or by subscription.