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From Student Council to City Council

Just months after graduating from college and returning to Providence, Kat Kerwin is running for office

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Kat Kerwin just got back to Rhode Island and she’s hitting the ground running. After graduating from University of Wisconsin (UW) early, the 20-year-old La Salle graduate is running communications for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) and campaigning to unseat Councilman Terrence Hassett for Ward 12’s city council seat. We spoke to Kerwin just two weeks after she had launched her campaign for city council in January.

How’s the campaign going?

I feel like I’ve aged at least 15 years in the last two weeks. I thought no one would care, that I’d have more time to get behind it. But people are really excited that someone as young as me is running.

How long have you been involved in political work?
I remember being a high schooler and interning in the mayor’s office for constituent services; I’d be the youngest one there by four or five years. I worked on Angel Taveras’s gubernatorial campaign as the youngest staff member. I also interned on Senator Whitehouse’s reelection campaign in 2012.

I started getting involved in organizing, fighting for student power rights and gun violence prevention at UW, when we woke up the morning after the 2016 election and planned a post-election march with other student activists. Four thousand people showed up.

Why did you decide to move back to Rhode Island this past December?
I was here all summer working for the mayor as an Art, Culture + Tourism fellow, and I was meeting people at the [Democratic] women’s caucus meetings and interacting with so many community organizers. I started to feel that there was a sense of urgency to get involved now. Madison is a great city and I loved my time there, but I wanted to be back doing this work in the community where I was raised.

How has the transition been from your organizing work at UW?
Rhode Island is a picnic compared to Wisconsin. The work there was an uphill battle, really defensive. The state is always on the brink of passing campus carry and workplace carry. Not to say that lobbying here is extremely easy but it’s different – people here are a lot more receptive to progress.

Has the coalition’s work shifted since the shooting in Parkland, Florida?
Originally our focus was the Safe Schools Act; now it looks like we’re going to be driving home the Safe Schools Act and assault weapons ban. We have gotten so many inquiries from high school organizers inspired by the Parkland students’ activism. It’s been tough for the gun violence prevention community to be thinking about this so much, but at the same time we’re seeing so much good come out of tragedy.