I don’t think many people I know these days would believe this, but I used to be extremely shy as a child and even as a young adult. I was definitely an introvert. It was one reason I chose to become an elementary teacher – I knew I would feel comfortable with young children and I enjoyed their innocent energy. (And of course, my parents were teachers.) I imagined this would be the case all my life, but when I became active in local environmental protection activities in my early 30s, I was propelled by my passion and desire to get things done to come out of my shell and speak up and speak out. No one I know now would call me shy. My world has changed more than I ever imagined. In the best positive way.
I first became involved in local environmental cleanup efforts when my children were very young. I was a substitute teacher and private tutor, and stay-at-home mom. I became interested in recycling and with some other residents, started a local concerned citizens group. It was not long before we found out that our area had had some very serious pollution issues and some were still not resolved satisfactorily. In fact, our lake, and Muskegon Lake were on a list of Great Lakes toxic hotspots.
My passionate volunteer work led to a position with the Lake Michigan Federation (now the Alliance for the Great Lakes) and I opened an office in Muskegon. We set up local advisory committees to work with the state and federal government to address the problems in the two lakes, and as I lived in Whitehall, I became a member of the White Lake group. We worked on this for 22 years. The community celebrated big when it was removed from the toxic hotspot list in 2014. Muskegon Lake is on its way to delisting in a few years.
My newfound confidence helped me to branch into many other areas, including writing a column for several weekly newspapers, (and Women’s Lifestyle Northshore), working as an independent consultant for many environmental and conservation groups throughout the Great Lakes, founding several community groups, developing a local nature walks program, serving as a city council member for 12 years, and now, running for state representative for the 91st district.
I was propelled out of my shyness decades ago because I wanted to make things better for my kids and quite simply, people – I care about people. I wanted to show that good things could happen, if we work hard and work together, and don’t give up. I am running for state representative for the exact same reason.
Almost everything I care about is at risk now. As much as we had a great success with White Lake, support for protection of the Great Lakes is at risk. Our schools are in crisis, as bureaucratic paperwork and stagnant pay and reduced benefits are attracting fewer teachers, while causing existing teachers to look for better paying jobs in the private sector. Many people I know are in trouble because of the high cost of healthcare, and good paying jobs are needed, as people my age, as well as many young adults, are struggling paycheck to paycheck.
I can’t NOT do anything about this. I am running because it dawned on me that my experience over the past several decades has helped me to learn many things that can make me an effective legislator – how to work with government officials at all levels, how to listen to both sides of an issue and work in a nonpartisan fashion, and how to get things done. I want to be part of the solution to Restore Michigan – to restore good paying jobs, restore support for public education, restore affordable healthcare, and restore support for protecting the Great Lakes. I launched my campaign in late September and have been hugely inspired by the support of friends, new and old, and the faith and hope they have that good things can happen again in our state.
It is not easy being a woman in politics. But I have been a public figure since the late 1980s, and I have developed a thick skin. I still care about people as much as I did when I began my work. I know people are frustrated and angry and cynical and I do my best to not take things personally. I like to focus on getting things done.
I have learned that persistence pays off, and speaking up is patriotic, and good government is a good goal – government that provides the opportunities for everyone to be happy and prosperous. I have learned that being a strong woman leader is not universally appreciated, but it certainly is needed.
Tanya Cabala is a lifelong resident of the White Lake area in Muskegon County, and has been an environmental and community activist for over 25 years, working to restore White Lake and aiding efforts to protect the Great Lakes. She is also an elected city council member, freelance writer, and consultant. Readers are encouraged to contact her via www.tanyacabala.com.