In his State of the Union address, President Obama called repeatedly for Congressional leaders to abandon partisan bickering, and focus on investing in strategies and solutions that will steer our nation back on the right course. The president's words have resonated greatly with Americans across party lines, many of whom are now more eager than ever for a system that makes people, not politics, the priority.
A groundswell for this sentiment can be felt across the country, and has been for some time. Perhaps nowhere is it more palpable than in New York's 13th Congressional District, where this year's race to unseat the current 41-year incumbent is in a mad dash towards the June 26th primaries. It has certainly permeated throughout the streets and neighborhoods where I've lived and been an active community member for more than 35 years.
I was first inspired to run for Congress in 2010 because I could see the ways in which our communities were being left behind: Scarce employment opportunities. Troubled school systems with alarming achievement gaps. Lackluster leadership focused on catering to the self-interests of a small constituency. All of these were signs pointing to the urgent need for change. I knew then that it was within my power, and that of the people, to put our district back on track.
At the time people would come up to me and say, "Joyce, it's time for something different." Clearly what they meant was that, after years of political theater, the momentum had risen for pushing the district in a fresh, new leadership direction. It was a clarion call echoed by many that made its way to the ballot box. Despite being outspent and outnumbered, my campaign collected 10,000 signatures to qualify me for the ballot. I garnered enough votes in parts of the district to outpace a fellow candidate who was a NY State Assembly Representative with a legendary political lineage. And I received more than six times the number of votes my other opponents did.
Still the reality was that even then, just two years after Obama's historic grassroots-driven victory, more resources would be needed to unseat someone who, for nearly half a century, has been buoyed by a well-funded, well-connected political machine. A machine that was not inclined to open the clubhouse doors to anyone deemed a political "outsider." In many ways it still isn't.
In spite of those odds, I effectively demonstrated my readiness and qualifications to serve the people of New York.; the New York Times and Women's Campaign Forum made clear they agreed when they endorsed my candidacy. After nearly 20 years in private sector leadership working to expand equal employment opportunities for women and people of color, I became Director of Community Relations for the NYC Comptroller's Office where I worked with more than 400 diverse communities across the city. In 2008 I was appointed Field Director by Obama for America, for which I drove state-wide voter mobilization efforts that helped put our president in the White House. Each experience heightened my sensitivity to the needs and concerns facing everyday New Yorkers, and helped to instill in me a greater clarity of mission and purpose.
I'm running for Congress again in 2012 because I continue to believe what I did then: that a brighter future is possible for all of us when we work together and have strong, efficient leaders in place to support us. We need leaders that understand the value of creating jobs that offer equal pay for equal work; of investing in our youth by building better schools, hiring quality teachers, and fostering cleaner, safer environments for them to learn and play; and of bridging the social and economic divide that continues to burden hardworking individuals and families across America, and in my own neighborhood.
This is a future that every American deserves. But it cannot be accomplished with legislators heavily invested in maintaining the status quo of "politics as usual". The only way forward is with pragmatic yet innovative leaders who are connected to the people they've been hired to serve, and who can envision our community's future as it ought to be -- full of promise and opportunity. That is the future I see and will fight hard to achieve as Congresswoman of New York's 13th District.
Follow Joyce Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoyceJ2012