Cassandra Mar: Bringing the power to the people

Cassandra Mar has a passion for helping ordinary people, especially minorities, feel connected to the political process. 

As a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz in politics (highest honors) and legal studies (honors), she hopes to inspire more people to make their voices heard in the political arena. 

Growing up in Sacramento as a Mexican-American daughter of immigrants, Mar witnessed a growing mistrust of government within her community. Many family members and friends didn’t vote, with there being a general consensus that you didn’t talk about politics because you wanted to keep conversations friendly. 

“There was a lack of trust and understanding,” she said, adding that the people she spoke to often wondered, “What does the government do, what can it do for me, and where do I fit in this process?” 

As she pursued her college studies and began to find the answers to these questions, she eagerly shared what she had learned with others. 

“Politics is a very intricate process, and it’s purposefully made to be confusing and meant to exclude a lot of people,” she said. “I was convinced that we [as a community] need to further our knowledge of the political process and remind ourselves that we hold the power, with our representatives working for us. We don’t wait for someone to give us a turn, instead we take it ourselves.” 

She was grateful to become a UCSC Building Belonging Fellow, which gave her the chance to work with Santa Cruz County Supervisor and politics lecturer Ryan Coonerty on studying the lasting effects of hate speech on democracy. Coonerty has become a mentor to her, encouraging her to back up her opinions on political issues with facts, while simultaneously teaching her about the importance of local politics, where Coonerty says “democracy goes to live.” 

Mar took advantage of other opportunities to increase her knowledge by gaining internships in various law firms, including working at the Watsonville Law Center to host free immigration law clinics. She also interned in Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s office in her hometown of Sacramento. 

Her next step will be to start working at the California State Capitol as an Assembly Fellow in October. She was one of 18 people chosen from some 1,500 applicants for the paid 11-month position. Here she will work as a legislative aide helping to shape public policy. 

She applied to both the Assembly and Senate fellowship programs, ultimately accepting a position in the Assembly because, she says, it's the people’s house, where members are more responsive to their constituents.  

Mar knows that it is a difficult time to be in politics with so much polarization. However, the key for her has been to stay open-minded with a willingness to learn. She believes that everybody should be willing to have a conversation with those who see things differently than they do, as “good speech serves to counter bad speech.”  

“For the most part, if you approach people with respect and a desire to understand them and their point of view, people tend to be receptive,” she said. “All people want is to be heard and acknowledged.”