Meet Yasmeen Silva, Our New National Field Manager!
Written by Rebecca Harrington, Senior Director of Advocacy and Outreach | Published: December 13, 2021
When Yasmeen Silva was five or six, she told her mother that she wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen for the holidays. Her mom wasn’t sure where Yasmeen had learned about this opportunity, but honored her young daughter’s request—that year, the whole family served meals to unhoused people on Christmas.
This is one of Yasmeen’s earliest memories of the foundation of her vision for a socially just world in which everyone has “a roof over their head, isn’t hungry, and has health care.”
A few years later, during seventh grade homeroom, the students in the class began talking about abortion. The group was split about fifty-fifty between being “staunchly pro-choice” and opposing abortion on religious grounds. As she and her classmates engaged in a hearty debate, she responded to claims that abortion is always wrong, in all circumstances, with her contention that “it’s always acceptable and always a woman’s choice.”
Her commitment to reproductive freedom has strengthened since that spontaneous debate during seventh grade homeroom—through college, through her early years organizing professionally, and now that she is Population Connection’s new National Field Manager.
Yasmeen is a progressive organizer through and through, having worked on causes from prison reform to anti-militarism to reproductive rights. In college, she worked closely with a professor and the Vassar College Prison Initiative to advocate for “banning the box”—an effort to end the discriminatory practice by employers in the state of including a section on job applications asking about prior arrests or convictions.
She also worked with her local Planned Parenthood affiliate to organize a series of teach-ins on Vassar’s campus to educate the community about the ongoing erosion of reproductive rights and the urgent need for everyone to use their vote to support reproductive rights for all.
Prior to joining our team, Yasmeen spent the bulk of her organizing career working for Beyond the Bomb, organizing on anti-militarism and anti-nuclear initiatives. She began her work there as an organizer and transitioned to a role in which she was tasked with building partnerships with like-minded groups.
In 2017, Yasmeen worked as an organizer for the #Fight4HER campaign in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, where she organized a well-publicized petition drop to Senator Pat Toomey (R), as well as a pro-choice rally that received strong press coverage.
In this role, Yasmeen learned the power of building coalitions. She learned that “the real power of showing up for people authentically is that they’ll show up for you” and that “all issues are extremely intersectional and have a cultural effect—if something happens at the global level, it’s either already happening at the local level, or will trickle down.”
When she was talking to people on the ground in 2017, she realized that while she was talking about a global issue (the Global Gag Rule) she could frame it as something that could very well happen here in the United States. Indeed, just two years later, the Domestic Gag Rule was imposed, disqualifying reproductive health clinics across the country from receiving Title X grants for family planning for low-income Americans if they also provided or counseled patients about abortion.
In her role as National Field Manager, Yasmeen is most looking forward to the opportunity to work directly with volunteers again because there’s something “really powerful about working with people who—whether it’s time or money—are giving of themselves for a cause.”
Like all of us, Yasmeen has spent the last 21 months working against the backdrop of Covid-19. She has seen, and continues to see, opportunities for virtual organizing, including the ability of local organizing efforts to expand, and for organizing and engagement opportunities to become more accessible to more people. “A lot of great local or hyperlocal organizing is happening—and when we can unite around a broader message, that’s when we build a lot of power.”
Yasmeen says the best organizing advice she ever received is that “organizing is 90 percent follow up.” It’s not enough to send out an initial invitation for a gathering to friends and family, or to ask your congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor of a bill one time. Everyone is juggling many responsibilities, so “nudging people is necessary, compassionate, and considerate.”
Yasmeen walks this walk in her own organizing work—for example, she called her former congressperson’s office so frequently that they knew her by name. Her best advice for aspiring organizers and activists is to push through the initial discomfort. She says, “The first action is always the hardest, but once you do it, it gets easier, and you can build from there.”
She stays motivated by celebrating small wins. “Wins don’t always look like wins, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t celebrate the progress you’ve made, or the line that you’ve held, or the people you’ve educated and activated.”
Yasmeen also keeps herself going with non-work-related pursuits like horseback riding, baking, and devouring dystopian novels. She loves visiting art museums and believes that art is critical to social justice work because “if we can’t visualize it, how can we get there?”
In her short time with us, she’s jumped right in to write compelling communications, manage our databases, and bring her creativity and insight to determine how best to engage our activists and volunteers, who are the fuel and fire of our #Fight4HER campaign.
We look forward to all Yasmeen will accomplish with us and are grateful to have her as part of our team!