NYC Council Elections, Bronx CD #18, Part 3
It took less than ten minutes from the time I'd sent the email to the time my phone rang. This can't be possible, I thought to myself. It must be a bill collector. But on a Sunday afternoon?
A short while later, it didn't take long for me to spot the maelstrom of information working its way down the block. There was a very familiar feeling here, not quite one of déjà vu but certainly one of comfortable familiarity. There was an ease with which the central figure I was focusing on worked with the people, not apart from them. "Yes, that must be her," I thought as I approached whom in fact turned out to be the person I was seeking, Amanda Farias.
We had only a brief moment to meet so that I could observe her in action on the campaign trail. Which, to be honest, looked not much different than her in action at work, or at home in her community. She engaged with people, spoke with them, cared about them, and empowered them with information.
It finally came to me on the ride home, what made Amanda Farias stand out yet seem so familiar. The je ne sais quoi quality that sets her apart from all of her opponents isn't just that she is the only woman in the race for The Bronx's Council District 18. Rather it's that Farias is running for a seat on the NYC council to improve the lives of everyone in her community, to lift everyone up along with herself.
Farias is the true community servant, that politician of yesteryear who had authenticity, kind of like Bernie Sanders. And then it dawned on me: could she be one of Bernie Sanders' revolutionaries? Had a seed of Our Revolution been planted and blossomed in The Bronx, right here where Bernie kicked off the New York leg of his campaign?
Later that evening, I had the chance to chat with Farias on the phone, and it was the first question out of my mouth. She enthusiastically responded, "I am very proud to have supported US Senator Bernie Sanders. For me, he is a direct reflection of my ideologies and political stances. And it's directly reflective of the race I'm running now, the insurgent (me) running against the political machine."
Rather than rehash the old political issues, I wanted to delve into some of the lesser talked about areas, such as what gave her the impetus to run for office:
It was my desire to create long-term change. I mean, it's very easy to identify the issues but it's much more complicated and difficult in developing solutions that actually work. No one is invested in giving people the knowledge they need to engage with the system. Having worked on issues, we need to apply problem solving methodologies to teach our communities how to re-engage, how to find out what services are available, how to obtain those services, and how to begin holding city government accountable.
We need to look at things through different lenses, we need to look at communities as a whole and implement solutions for everyone. The system shouldn't be too complicated. As elected officials, it is our job to work on behalf of issues and on behalf of the people who elect you. We must be able to provide both resources and the education to people so they can lead their lives more independently of the system and also so they can monitor it. We have to provide them with the tools to do so, as the people running the system, which is why transparency is so important. It's why participatory budgeting is vital, and why people need to re-engage in their government.
Our conversation was structured yet free-flowing, circularly tangential, an interconnected web of ideas fractalizing from one and morphing into the next. For example, we talked about the eradication of the concrete jungle via beautification of living and working spaces and how that leads to greener, healthier lives through urban gardening that increases air quality while simultaneously destroying pollution, which also provides therapeutic benefits while also allowing families to grow some of their own fresh, organic vegetables and herbs so that they end up eating healthier, eliminating fresh food deserts, all the while saving money by not only growing their own foods but not having to travel miles to a supermarket to purchase fresh foods (or purchase lower-quality foods from higher-priced bodegas) while educating their children about biology and ecology that also can lead to the sharing of cuttings and seeds with their neighbors, which increases social interactions producing positive community outcomes and community policing (looking in on neighbors, especially the elderly) and cooperation (lending a hand with watering neighbors' plants, cooking for neighbors, having building meals, neighborhood meals), beautifying entire buildings, neighborhoods, walkways, passageways.
Farias sees how providing such programs and information from her office about those projects can have transformative impact throughout her district, all from something as small and simple as planting mint in a jar on a windowsill. She sees how everything is interconnected and intertwined and that even the smallest of things can begin to have enormous, positive impacts with the potential to raise up entire communities. This is someone with vision, with true progressive ideals who has the capacity and the drive to lead others in transforming their lives.
In topic after topic during our phone chat, Farias continued to include and ensure that there was a connection, a tieback to community involvement and participation. She insists that the development and redevelopment that is coming to The Bronx, which Queens and Brooklyn have been experiencing that have priced individuals out of their homes and neighborhoods, must be done with the participation of the communities, i.e., community-based development, e.g., with assurances for living-wage affordability options, creation of community land trusts, reinvestment in the community, etc.
Another thing that everyone talks about is how crime is such a problem. Well to me crime is better now than when I was growing up in the 1990s. But what no one else is talking about is the pipeline that our Black and Brown brothers go up and down to prison, what are we doing to dismantle that pipeline, and why does it even exist? No one is talking about that. Let's put programs into place to prepare men to reenter life, we need to invest in transitional housing, in job training and work programs. Why aren't we doing this? These are decisions the political machine consciously makes, and we must change that.
On the subject of healthcare, Farias exasperatingly decried, "I will hold my state senators and assembly members accountable to providing every New Yorker with single payer healthcare that provides health services that are needed to maintain a person's good health. The Bronx can no longer afford to be the least healthy county in the State. Six years is far too long." Not surprising from a woman who lists friends and family among the three things she can't live without. Her phone and chapstick were the other two.
How should communities decide what issues were important to them? Should neighborhoods have town halls? "I would love to have Bernie-styled town halls!" Farias exclaimed. "We need to re-engage the community. I already plan on keeping extended office hours so those who work can access the resources of my office if they need to, and that includes being open on the weekends."
I asked Farias if being the only woman candidate presented any unique challenges. "Other than mansplaining (one of three things she admits she could do without, the other two being alternate side of the street parking and Internet trolls), the only issue I've experienced is having the signatures on my petition challenged. Not a single one was found to be deficient, and I've heard that other women who didn't receive 'permission' from the Bronx Democratic Party had their petitions [to get on the ballot] challenged as well." Weren't the Democrats supposed to be the pro-women party?
Just like her political hero, Farias has received the largest number of small donations out of all the candidates running in her district. She only takes donations from individuals, most of them in small amounts. "I don't accept any realtor or developer money. I will not be beholden to anyone except the voters in my district, which is the way it should be. We need to get money out of politics and eliminate opportunities for corruption," Farias stated.
The Current political machine makes decisions to limit progress that will help the people in our communities. I am excited to be in a position where I can fight for my community. I don't have to be beholden to any status quo, it's the difference between being a good advocate and bringing actual change to the community.
Which is why those in city government, and those who are part of the political machine are lining up and supporting other candidates. But those who are working to save our nation and create the change we need in our system not only to survive but to thrive once again are lining up and supporting people like Amanda Farias.
Great leaders don't set out to be a leader; they set out to make a difference. And that's exactly what Amanda Farias is doing. She's already made a difference, simply by surviving as a candidate in this race. And when she sets foot in the chambers of the NYC Council, they had better watch out because it won't be business as usual. And that is what scares the political establishment the most because people like Farias are the ones who bring about real change.
Amanda Farias is running for a seat on New York City's Council in District 18, in The Bronx. Out of a total of seven candidates, three others have a real shot at winning: NYS Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr, a political heavyweight with decades of political clout, Elvin Garcia, a political insider currently working as an aide to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Michael Beltzer, a Bronxite who’s put his heart and soul into serving his community to make it a great place to raise his daughter.
[This article was updated on September 12, 2017 with a link to Part 4 of this series.]