The 2016 election rewarded candidates who could easily bat away accusations of being members of the establishment, and this held all the way down the ballot: In Rhode Island, voters decided not to re-elect six of the 18 incumbent state lawmakers facing primary challenges in September, including Thomas Palangio, who had served as a state representative for seven non-consecutive terms. His replacement, Moira Walsh, is a 26-year-old former labor organizer who worked as a waitress in the decade leading up to her campaign. In January, she will begin her term as a state representative from Providence’s third district.
For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Walsh about how her job as a waitress prepared her for politics, America’s seeming lack of trust in its legislators, and running a campaign for the first time. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity, and was conducted prior to last week’s presidential election.
Adrienne Green: How did you decide to run for the seat of state representative?
Moira Walsh: I'm a waitress, and have been for going on 10 years. I literally went across the street, to the restaurant across the street from my high school, and I got a job there in what I thought was going to be a very transitory period of my life, and it has ended up being my main form of income. A couple of years ago, a coworker of mine tricked me into coming to an industry night for the Restaurant Opportunity Center. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by these really amazing union organizers who were explaining to me that while it might not feel like it, I did in fact have rights as a worker and could stand up for them if I so decided.