Democracy in Name Only: It’s Time to Stop Selling Ourselves Short

a statement by Youth Against Displacement

This Martin Luther King Jr. day, hundreds of New Yorkers marched to City Hall to reclaim our city and our democracy. We demanded that elected officials and the Mayor represent the interests of the people, not the pro-developer agenda of the richest 1%. We demanded our voices are not only heard, but directly shape the policies affecting our lives and our community.

Our organizing efforts against the Mayor’s displacement agenda have resonated with communities across the city and forced the issue into the political arena. There are 17 candidates running for Public Advocate, and many have taken a cue from New Yorkers fed up with the contrast between de Blasio’s promise to make New York the fairest big city, and his record in office. He uses our tax dollars to subsidize luxury development and sell off the neighborhoods we’ve worked hard to build. He allows city agencies to evict tenants without due process, refuses community-based rezoning plans, neglects life or death repairs in NYCHA, and ignores mom-and-pop shops facing impossible rent hikes.

In response, many Public Advocate candidates have pledged to refuse real estate donation in order to separate themselves from our developer-friendly Mayor. However many of these entrenched candidates have already lined their pockets with special interests, and their shallow rhetoric does not excuse their corrupt track record.

One such hypocrite is Council Member Jumaane Williams, who evicted his own tenants, while claiming to fight for marginalized communities. He has accepted thousands in real estate contributions aimed at advancing displacement, campaigned at anti-gay establishments, as well as endorsed and donated to homophobic politicians. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is another developer-funded candidate, whose legacy, the East Harlem rezoning, is still displacing Puerto Rican and Mexican communities. Likewise, Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez says he “supports immigrants,” he nevertheless greenlighted the Inwood rezoning that will displace immigrants in the neighborhood he represents.

By playing up identity politics, entrenched politicians hide behind their backgrounds, bygone days of activism, and generic appeals for diversity. But the actions of the community speak louder than the empty words of politicians. We have exposed the hypocrisy of those who claimed to fight Amazon, yet signed the welcome letter in 2017. We secured promises from three candidates – David Eisenbach, Rafael Espinal, and Ben Yee – to stop illegal luxury development in the Lower East Side, and support the community-based Chinatown Working Group rezoning plan.

We draw the line: are you with the community, or are you with the Mayor and his 1% friends? This will be the question that will haunt the next Public Advocate. New Yorkers are building bridges across boroughs to organize collectively against displacement. From Amazon to the Bowery tenants, we have shown that people have the power to determine their fate and the fate of the City. We deserve candidates and elected officials that are reflections of this power.

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