Ever since she was child, Anna Eskamani has had a passion for activism and politics. The child of Iranian immigrants, Anna grew up in Orlando in a working class family and was a first hand witness to the struggles families can face when they come to America. She saw her parents work hard everyday and listened to the stories her mother would tell her about her life in Iran. From a young age, she understood the importance of civic engagement, especially for women.
Flash forward to Anna’s years as a student at UCF in the Burnett Honors College. Saying that she was involved would be an understatement. She graduated with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She lead the UCF College Democrats and turned the club into a powerful and impactful political organization on campus. She contributed opinion columns to the school newspaper and advocated everyday for the issues that she cared deeply about.
After college she has held esteemed positions as Senior Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and also taught courses in the Women’s and Gender Studies department at UCF. She is currently studying for her PhD in Public Administration at UCF as well.
After spending a lifetime being civically engaged, Anna recently announced her plan to run for Florida House District 47. He goal is to represent Orlando citizens in Tallahassee in the Florida House Of Representatives. She openly calls herself a feminist and is ready to bring progressive change to the state and represent the community that she fiercely loves.
Anna as a child with her parents and siblings.
1. Where did your interest in political activism begin?
As an Orlando native and daughter of immigrants who grew up in a working class family, I have never not known struggle. I remember my mother talking about politics in Iran and how it impacted all parts of her life, so I always had a keen understanding of the role civics plays in community building.
My very first campaign was in 5th grade. My best friend at the time, Julianette Vega, was being moved into a different classroom and I refused to let that happen so I launched a petition drive to keep us together during lunch time. That was also the same year as the 2000 elections, and each day I would print the polls and explain to my classmates why Al Gore was the better choice compared to George W. Bush.
My family worked hard each day and still could not make ends meet. When my mother passed away from cancer in 2004, I made a decision to honor her through action, and that’s what I’ve committed my life to. In 2008 I had an incredible public school teacher in my AP Government class who helped me understand both my value, and worth, in politics. It was his class, coupled with the campaign of President Barack Obama, that brought me back into this work.
2. How did attending UCF help you develop your political voice? What classes or professors inspired you?
I would not be who I am today or where I am today if it was not for the University of Central Florida. UCF gave me the opportunity to connect my activism with my academics, and understand how personal the political really is. As an undergraduate at UCF I found my roots as a campus organizer, first with the environmental movement, then with supporting international human rights, and finally with the College Democrats at UCF and Florida College Democrats.
The classes that inspired me the most were my Women’s and Gender Studies classes. Dr. Maria C. Santana is the Director of this program, and one of my biggest mentors who supported my growth as a student and leader. Dr. Houman Sadri was my Honors in the Major Thesis Chair, and helped me stay focused on my academic research and allow me to explore issues like feminism and social movement theory through a political science lens. I am also grateful to my fellow student leaders and campus administrators and am lucky to call so many of these people my friends and colleagues.
My father actually went to UCF too and graduated in 1994. As a child we would picnic and play at UCF, and roll down Reflecting Pond. I have always considered UCF to be a second home, and am grateful for the opportunity to both teach and pursue a PhD.
A photo from Anna’s graduation at UCF.
3. How did you decide that the moment was right to run for public office?
I serve as the Senior Director at Planned Parenthood and through this role have worked alongside the Florida Legislature for over five years. I have witnessed both the dysfunction among elected officials and their disconnection to what everyday Floridians are going through.
At the same time, the 2016 elections were incredibly polarizing between political parties and individual groups of people. That’s not the type of politics I operate, and it’s not the type of politics Floridians deserve. I quite passionately in civic engagement and collaboration; I also feel that we need more young people and more women in elected office. Running for office should not be a retirement plan; we need new leaders to set the stage, get things done, and inspire the next generation to get involved.
4. What are some issues that are central to your campaign?
We are passionate about people. As someone who attended Orange County Public Schools from Kindergarten to 12th grade, I will make sure that our public schools are well funded, students lifted up, teachers supported, and parents engaged. Ensuring affordable access to high quality healthcare is important to me, and that includes mental health services, drug prevention, and drug rehabilitation programs. I also will fight for fair wages, and work to support our community’s small businesses through infrastructure investments, and public/private partnerships that will create good paying jobs.
Pulse nightclub is also within the boundaries of our district, and I am committed to honoring the lives lost and impacted through nation. I will fight for nondiscrimination policies in Tallahassee, along with gun safety reform too.
Anna speaking at political protest.
5. Lastly, how can women encourage other women to assume leadership positions and run for office?
Mentorship is key. We must trust one another and lift each other up through providing mentorship to others. If you do not already have mentors in your life, look towards UCF or your local community as a potential resource. I am always honored to help facilitate connections, and to be a resource too.
I would love for readers to become more involved in our campaign too. We have so many ways for you to join our team, and you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to get plugged in.
All images courtesy of Anna Eskamani.