OPINION: We Need To Elect Emerging Leaders That Represent The True Diversity Of This City.

OPINION: We Need To Elect Emerging Leaders That Represent The True Diversity Of This City.
Jason Walker, Campaign photo.

Deciding to run for City Council was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. This decision to suspend my campaign has been even harder.

I am an intersectional organizer who has been organizing to advance Black liberation, secure equal rights, advocate for equitable access to resources, and transition our justice system, for my entire life. Since I moved to New York City, I have aimed to push to transform the City into one that is supportive and affirming to those that have been historically marginalized.

I decided to run to be the next City Council Member for District 36 after a decade of advocacy in New York. My decision to run was informed by the struggle for Black liberation brought about by both centuries of political and economic repression and the unprecedented health crises that disproportionately impacted our most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Before the pandemic and my decision to run for office, I was in the process of transitioning jobs, moving into the international organizing field of public health advocacy. Due to the pandemic, my hiring was put on hold, and I was deemed ineligible to receive unemployment. I was fortunate to be able to consult with a newly formed LGBTQ advocacy group to support myself and keep most of the bills paid. Still, pandemic-related complications made it difficult to receive my payment until months later.

When I officially announced my candidacy for City Council in District 36, I was already behind in rent. At the same time, I was dealing with the stressor of the national rise of white nationalism and the consistent reminders of the devaluing Black life that our nation perpetuates and sustains through volatile policing, mass incarceration, and economic policies that reify our nation’s wealth gaps, rooted in exploitative capitalism.

In pushing through these stressors, which seemed nearly impossible, I was reminded of my mission to have a city that truly works for us all, especially those who have been historically harmed by racial and economic injustice. The inequities that we see in our criminal justice system have also been identified in our public health response disproportionately, impacting those who live at the intersection of poverty and race.

I share with you my story of the struggle to illustrate how challenging it has been to access city government, even for an organizer who has worked for nearly a decade to expand and strengthen our city’s social welfare system. I want to highlight that for candidates who come from impacted communities and identify as BIPOC, a different set of barriers and obstacles are placed on us that are often unspoken.

Unfortunately, our campaign system does not allow for the most marginalized New Yorkers who are heavily impacted by political and economic violence like homelessness, gentrification, and poverty to run a vibrant and truthful campaign while we simultaneously have to combat these oppressive systems. I have experienced institutional barriers that have played the gatekeeper to weakening authentic Black leadership. This double oppression both from city government administrators and predominately white-led institutions has made it extremely challenging, difficult, frustrating and at times heartbreaking for me to run.

Despite the hard realities of running a race, I encourage candidates running from our city’s most vulnerable communities to fight the good fight. We need you. Your communities need you. NYC needs you. Despite all odds, the NYC 2021 City Council candidates have a commitment to positive, bold, and progressive transformation. We need to continue to push to elect emerging leaders that represent the true diversity of this city. For that reason, I am endorsing Chi Ossé running for city council for district 36. Ossé and I believe in the importance of actionable policies that will address the immediate needs of our communities. We believe in nourishing in a loving community and dismantling individual and systemic bigotry in all its forms.

While I may not be continuing in the race for city councilmember for District 36, I will still be actively organizing and fighting for a better city. The fight is not over. I will continue to hold the city government accountable for a better future for all New Yorkers, not just the select few.

Jason Walker is a former candidate for the city council in District 36. He has been a Community Organizer and Activist in the city for nearly 8 years, working to build political power for low-income, working-class people in District 36. He has dedicated his life to addressing mass incarceration/police violence, addiction/war on drugs, and homelessness. After Hurricane Sandy, he experienced displacement and slept in the NYC shelter system. While homeless, he began working as an organizer at VOCAL New York in 2013. During his time at VOCAL, we organized and advocated for social, racial injustices especially as relates to the most vulnerable people in NYC’s communities. He is also from the impacted community whose campaign fell short due to the mental, physical, economic, and institutional barriers of running for city government as a young, Black, bi-amorous man.