Monday, September 14, 2020

From the Mosh Pit of Punk Rock: To Somerville City Councilor


From the Mosh Pit of Punk Rock: To Somerville City Councilor

I met Kristen Strezo at The Somerville Times Annual Dinner some years back. At our table were columnists Jimmy Del Ponte, and Bill Shelton. Among these folks with the gift of gab, Strezo impressed me as an articulate and dynamic presence. So a couple of years later we finally got a chance to talk, not in person but virtually. 

Tell us about your experience in Somerville. It was once described as the "Paris of New England."  Does that ring true for you? 

Somerville is truly one of a kind. I am inspired serving Somerville surrounded by so much creativity. My goal is lift up our artists, musicians and creative class of residents, to do all I can to help us all thrive, including support during the pandemic shutdown. 

You became a Somerville City Councilor at Large during the pandemic.  How do you conduct business now?

I never imagined I’d be sworn-in during a pandemic! Of course, now, some aspects of the job are different than how they are traditionally done. For one thing, I have not had a chance to sit at my desk during City Council meetings and committee meetings are also now held over Zoom. 

During a pandemic with so many diverse needs, City Council has had to respond to a wide array of pressing issues as quickly and effectively as possible. Some of the changes I hoped to make as a City Councilor—like climate change issues—have been slightly  sidetracked in the face of the new pandemic-related challenges. My priority is the health and safety of my constituents. Other priorities—like addressing food insecurity—have been fast tracked through this crisis. 

But, safety protocol is paramount and keeping our COVID numbers down is vitally important, so we cannot for a moment let our guard down yet. I know I will eventually be able to sit at my desk during meetings and see my colleagues in person. Like many of my

constituents, I’m impatient to get back to regular life. However, for now we need to remain cautious. 

What do you attribute to the low rates of infection in our city? 

We’re a city filled with a lot of intelligent people who get it. We prioritize public health, understanding that it’s key to everyone’s best shot at successfully navigating this new normal. I feel like in Somerville, we’ve truly accomplished this COVID response as a team. I’m happy to hear so many people take their roles seriously from mask wearing to looking out for our neighbors. I’m proud of us as a community. I believe in us. 

We hear that folks, including many artists are being forced to move from the city because of gentrification. Artists have really given Somerville its cache. How do you plan to address this issue?

If we lose our artists and creative residents and some of the people that make Somerville so captivating, we lose a part of our soul. I worry about our small artist businesses making it through. I worry about our creative residents being able to stay in their homes and studios. I have heard from some artists that they cannot get to their studios. Some can’t afford to keep their studios. Through close contact with the artist community, I have been listening intently and tailoring my advocacy to reflect those conversations. 

I also worry about the emotional health of our creative residents during our COVID shutdown. Many musicians rely on the energy of the audience while they perform. But, how do you do that in 2020? We have so much more work to do to support our creative community in Somerville. 

Thinking forward, I’d like it to be standard and implied that all future developments that establish in Somerville choose Somerville artists for design work on their offices and properties. That way, we maintain our Somerville character while supporting our community as the city continues to grow. 

In your bio you said you were a singer in a punk rock band.  Tell us about that. Did you bring any of the things you learned during this time to your role as a politician?  I imagine stage presence is one.

My message of social justice remains the same—my voice is just expressed through a different medium of public office! When I told some of my former bandmates that I was running for office, they said that they were not surprised and that they were proud of me. As a performer I was always focused on singing about how we can fix our world. So, I take that energy with me as a public servant. 

You got a degree in journalism from Harvard University Extension. Tell us about your forays into the world of writing. 

I’ve always felt that our personal stories guide us to learn from each other and heal as a society. After writing lyrics and singing my messages to audiences, I wanted to write them down to connect with my audience on another level. 

I love to write and I always thought journalists were the best writers. So, I studied journalism to become a better writer and in the hope that it was contributing to healing the world through the stories I focused on.

I had a great time in school but I wasn’t your typical grad student. In addition to my full-time class schedule and Harvard magazine internship, I was a mom of two kids while caring for my elderly grandmother. I leaned into the experience, writing about the struggles of it all and focusing on wanting graduation bad enough to make it through the tears and adversity. 

My perspective resonated with my professors and I was honored to be chosen to give the commencement speech to my graduating class. I carry that moment with me, because it helped me understand that there is power in vulnerability. That lived experience has value and can help others who are living through something similar. It’s something I think about constantly as I work with my constituents—we are all trying to do our best with what we have. 

Do you consider yourself an artist in any way?

Being a performer and singer is in my blood. I spent over a decade in bands as a lead singer in a feminist punk band. We toured and performed all over the country. I still sing on stage when I can. In Somerville, I’ve sung at Porchfest and at the City’s menorah lighting several years in a row. And I never miss a Honk! festival.

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