In the New Year, we must expect more.
As the end of 2018 quickly approaches, I have been reflecting on my first run for public office.
I ran for state senate in the 56th district, a diverse region covering urban, suburban and rural communities in Monroe County. After knocking on over 20,000 doors, I learned our neighbors do not feel heard and expect more than the traditional ribbon cutting from their elected representatives. That’s not good enough anymore.
I was surprised when canvassing to hear that many elected officials—of different parties—had never before taken the time to knock on these neighbors’ doors. One woman shared with me that she’d lived in her home, which is located next to a polling location, for over 20 years without ever meeting a candidate for public office. When I was walking in a high rise tower in the city, an elderly man shared he’d never seen a politician in his building. It seems as if some of today’s political leaders have forgotten their roots. They should take a page out of my former boss’ book—the late Congresswoman Slaughter would walk across city and suburban neighborhoods as well as stop in the cereal aisle of the Wegmans to talk with her constituents. With political apathy and distrust at an all-time high, we need a new generation of leadership with the courage to try to make a difference, the courage to talk to be truly accessible, and the courage to bring real change.
Our campaign did not get the result we wanted, but we made it a competitive race between a first time candidate and a 25-year Albany incumbent. Over 40,000 voters said ‘yes’ to change and I am energized by their commitment to taking on the status quo. I believe this was in large part because we showed up and did the work. We walked seven days a week for months, worshipped with multiple faith groups, spoke at senior centers, interacted with college students on their campuses, and visited with resettled refugees, many of whom were newly registered to vote. These are neighbors would would not normally get to meet the politician who only shows up to parades, festivals, and holds press conferences. Thus, their voices often go unheard and their issues unaddressed.
We must create a renewed expectation of authentic accountability in our elected leadership and pursue the changes that so many of us demand. As the 2018 election season has wound down and we replace lawn signs with seasonal decorations and trade political ads for holiday jingles, we cannot afford to stop paying attention. As a continuous process, civic engagement demands each of us to take the time to stay informed about our elected leaders and what they are really doing in between elections. Because that’s what counts—not how well someone can raise funds or smile for the camera. After the campaign circus leaves town, it is how our elected officials vote and stand up for our interests in the public square that ultimately matters.
In the next Congress, we must ensure our local representatives take bold action to guarantee healthcare access to all Americans, regardless of their income, health status or age. In the new Democratically-controlled State Senate, it is up to us to demand we protect women’s health by calling on our lawmakers to pass the Reproductive Health Act and to stand up for families by supporting lawmakers who strengthen common sense gun safety laws. At the local level, the Rochester Board of Education must act with conviction by hiring a new permanent superintendent that will bring needed stability and creativity to our challenged city school district.
As citizens, we cannot shy from demanding more. It takes courage to expect more from our politicians and it takes courage to be the kind of leader who will rise to the challenge. Onward.