For Linda Fields, State Senate Run the Stuff of Dreams

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In addition to all of her other accomplishments during a life dedicated to service, Linda Fields, the Democratic candidate for the state’s 24th Senatorial District, wants you to know one thing: She invented the smiley face.

She relays this tongue-in-cheek nugget in her trademark soft-spoken lilt, eyes and body language fully engaged with her audience as she recalls how, as a child, she had to improvise adornments for the sock dolls she made for the children behind the gate at St. John’s Orphan Asylum for Boys, then located at 49th Street & Wyalusing Avenue in West Philadelphia.

“I would walk past there all the time with my grandfather,” she said. “I would stop and talk to them, and one day I decided I wanted to give them something to make them feel better. I started taking my grandfather’s socks and my grandmother’s buttons and I started making sock dolls. When we would go for our walks, I would hand them through the fence to the kids. The people in charge said I couldn’t do that because the pipe cleaners I was using had wires in them. I started using my grandmother’s yarn, stitching it to make smiley faces. That’s where my advocacy started, I believe.”

Fields, who is running unopposed in her bid to unseat Republican incumbent Bob Mensch, who also has no primary challengers, has been working to help people ever since, most notably through her decades-long career as a national organizer and business agent with the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees, District 1199C, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, which she was recruited to join by the legendary labor leader Henry Nicholas.

When Nicholas approached her about helping to unionize the employees at Temple Hospital in the early 1970s, Fields was not only ready; she had already done some organizing on her own.

“When he came, we had already been through a few things with the hospital making demands of the workers, especially the women,” she recalled, adding that for her, the turning point came from what she said was a racially motivated demand by a manager. “This was way before Bo Derek” – the white actress who made cornrows famous in the 1979 movie, “10” – “I was wearing braids. One of the administrators said to me, ‘Your braids are not appropriate for this workplace and you need to take them out.’

“I was offended by that and I shared it with the other clerks. One of the young ladies I worked with said, ‘I have an idea. How about if over the weekend’ – we had a young lady who was Italian, one who was Filipino, one who was African American – ‘we are gonna braid everybody’s hair, and you come in with your Afro.’

“By that Tuesday, everyone had braided hair. The administrator was waiting for me when I came in and he said, ‘I can’t prove it, but I know you’re behind it.’ From that moment on, I realized we have a voice and we have the power to change.”

Despite a career that focused on helping people improve their lives through organizing and influencing politicians and policies, Fields was never tempted to enter the political fray until the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Like millions of other Democrats, she wanted to counter a result that she felt had been tampered with – and thanks to her experience with 1199C, as well as serving in many capacities on labor and political campaigns both locally and nationally, volunteering for over a quarter-century for the Democratic Party, and working to help people register to vote for 25 years, she was prepared to take that desire for public service to the next level.

For her, the heart of her campaign can be summed up in a simple question: Do you want better? “That’s basically my platform,” she stated: “better health care, better education, better wages, better rights, whether it’s labor, human or your own personal dignity – we all want better, and that crosses party lines. It’s human, it’s needed and it’s required.”

The West Philly native emphasizes that her most effective method of communicating to voters across the parts of Berks, Bucks and Montgomery counties that make up the 24th District involves her simply listening to them.

“When I go to the various areas around the counties, I want to hear what the voters have to say before I say anything,” she explained. “My responsibility is to be the voice of the people, and you cannot be that if you are not listening to what they’re saying. I respond to them based on what I hear from them. I don’t have to tailor anything to fit which county I’m in; I’m just sincere.

That’s how we are going to get the legislations and the policies that are for the good of the people.”
For Fields, the mother of 1990s Philadelphia schoolboy sports stars Chafie and Charles Fields, her candidacy isn’t so much about unseating Mensch, who has been in Harrisburg since 2006 as both a member of the House and then Senate, as much as it is giving a voice to those she says are being denied one.

“It’s not about me taking out an incumbent, not about me running against someone – it’s about running for the people, being a conduit for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t come out front and say, ‘Enough is enough.’ The most important thing I have to do is to be open to allow the voice of the people to be heard through me.

“I’m excited, not only for my party, but for all parties to understand the importance of voting. I’m looking forward to the candidates and the constituents being as informed as possible before they push the levers – to vote for themselves, not for their party.”

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