It's late October 2011, and activist Vanessa Brito is in full campaign swing, managing the future of Kate Callahan, a candidate in the District 2 race for Miami commissioner. Brito is dedicating endless hours to strategy, managing phone-bank operators, holding meetings, and recording commercials — all in Callahan's bright and beautiful Coconut Grove home. Though working like crazy, she's also enjoying her role.
"I love and hate Miami," Brito says. "I hate the politics of Miami, but I love it the same way because it gives me a chance to fix things."
Earlier this year, Brito hit the Hialeah streets with a bullhorn, petitions, and a handful of other dedicated citizens to demand a recall of Commissioner Natacha Seijas.
"Natacha Seijas is a poster child for bad government," she says. "She doesn't care about other people, and she cared less about the community she represented."
Sparked by a spike in taxes and a pay raise for public-sector union employees, Brito went after Seijas while businessman Norman Braman worked on Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Their perseverance paid off. Alvarez got the boot, and Seijas was ousted after 18 years in office.
"It was hell. Nobody thought that we could do it," Brito says. "Everybody thought I was crazy. I lost a lot of friends in the process."
Brito is an attractive, diminutive 28-year-old with olive skin and intelligent, amber eyes. This is the first time in a long time that she has worn her short hair upswept in a fauxhawk.
Seijas attacked Brito's stylish hairdo to rally her troops against the activist. "She used to go on the radio and talk about my haircut. She would talk about how nobody could really respect me because of the way I looked."
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Born in Miami Beach to supportive Portuguese and Spanish parents, Brito completed her bachelor's degree in only a year and a half and then chose to work at the FIU Metropolitan Center instead of going to law school. That experience introduced her to corruption among Miami's elected officials and their insular political alliances.
A fighter for the people and an LGBT advocate, Brito feels the need to protect the rights of those who aren't well informed or empowered. "I see my parents, and they don't know any better. They rely on me for information. There are other people who don't rely on their children. They rely on what they see on TV, the candidate that knocks on their door."
Of her passion to serve, she says, "I never want to be the person who does nothing. It makes me feel good to do something."
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