Marquita Bradshaw knows firsthand what is at stake if people do not have access to healthy and safe communities where they live, learn, work, worship and recreate, as she puts it.
The Tennessee native, who grew up in South Memphis where everything was within walking distance, including the Memphis Defense Depot, which was later classified as a National Priority List Superfund Site, a location filled with toxic waste.
In the early 1990s, her great grandmother would die of cancer, as would other members of her community.
“A lot of people were sick too. And still are sick. That is what got me involved beyond voting,” Bradshaw told ESSENCE. “And the point where it really got me activated is when we became aware that it was having an effect on children, 13 and 14-year-olds with ovarian and uterine cancer, 17, 18-year-olds with prostate and testicular cancer.”
Bradshaw launched into a world of activism, founding the organization Youth Terminating Pollution to raise more awareness to the environmental issues in the community, and from there, continuing to just knock from door to door, until, as she puts it, it became a career.
“I became an international labor organizer and also community organizer for many nonprofits, getting people engaged and involved in a political process,” she said.
Now she’s only delving deeper, this time setting her eyes on enacting change in the United States Senate with the hopes of filling the seat that will be left empty after Sen. Lamar Alexander finishes up his current term after declining to seek reelection. Of course, Bradshaw will have to beat out four other Democrats in the upcoming Aug. 6 primary elections in the state, but she remains confident in the passion of her fight.
“I want to make sure that hardworking people have healthy and safe communities where they live, learn, work, worship, and recreate,” Bradshaw told ESSENCE. “We do that with three foundational pillars: an environment with a transition away from pollution; an economy that works for hardworking people; and a high-quality educational system that prepares our students for success.”
Bradshaw made it clear that while the environment is one of her top priorities, her battle for true environmental justice goes much further and deeper than protecting the places where people live.
“You have your social, your economic, your political… [and] your medical environment. And that’s what environmental justice is. It is a comprehensive way to look at policy,” she pointed out.
Bradshaw is a supporter of Medicare for All, noting that she doesn’t want her constituents to go bankrupt, like she did, just because of their health care plan. And good health care is tied into her environmental plan regardless, because, as she succinctly put it, “people’s health is tied to environmental health.”
Education is another big issue for the candidate, who believes in a fully funded, high-quality public education. And, again to link it back to her passion for the environment, providing quality education to children also includes providing a quality environment for them to learn in.
“When children grow up in polluted communities it robs them of developmental skills,” Bradshaw said, noting that pollutants like lead present in the water in Tennessee, which then finds its way into homes and schools. “Lead is one of those things we saw in Flint, Mich., and how devastating it was in the learning process. It is something that we have to be concerned about with our children. We have to eliminate the exposure that they can possibly have for pollution because it robs them of key developmental skills and causes learning disabilities and abnormalities that can be avoided.”
The first-time politician is impassioned and inspired by women like her mother, Doris Bradshaw, who formed the Defense Depot Memphis TN-Concerned Citizen Committee to deal with the issues of the Superfund site, and many of the women that were part of the freshman class of the 116th Congress, such as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. And she truly believes, as someone who has made it a point to connect with voters, that she can deliver what the people need.
“There is a pathway for victory by being true to what was happening, to the issues and working hard to serve people across Tennessee and the issues that they’re experiencing by listening to them first,” Bradshaw noted, adding that listening was a key part of her campaigning strategy.
“I’ve been surveying people all across the state to find out what issues are most important to them. Since I declared my candidacy…I’ve been listening to people wanting to know what the issues are that’s motivating people to vote,” she added. “And by collecting those answers, because I’m an organizer at heart, to be able to have an agenda based on what people want in the state of Tennessee.”