Photo by Olivia Deng
Why I am running
I'm running for Cambridge City Council because we are not doing nearly enough to protect those who are vulnerable to being displaced. As a low-income renter who has already been displaced from Cambridge once and is in danger of being uprooted again, I understand that displacement is an emergency that requires bold action to address. I'm sick of waiting around to be priced out of my community again and I'm sick of watching it happen to people all around me. I believe that everyone has a right to remain in their community regardless of their income, and as a councillor I will fight for that right.
Photo by Denez McAdoo
I grew up in a rent controlled apartment in Porter Square and went to Agassiz Elementary, now the Maria Baldwin School. In 1999, only four years after Cambridge lost rent control, our home was sold to a developer who kicked us out to turn the building into luxury apartments. By then rents had risen so much we couldn’t afford to stay here and we resettled in the Midwest. I moved back as an adult in 2004 to find a very different Cambridge. The city I left had been an ethnically and economically diverse place, with thriving low-income and working class communities living alongside neighborhoods of great wealth. The city I returned to was far more homogeneous and more of the businesses were geared to wealthier residents. Many of my childhood friends were gone. And the ones that were still here, unless they were wealthy, were trying desperately to remain in the city they loved. Since then, this trend has only continued.
Last year, a notorious predatory developer evicted an entire arts community including me and my rock band from the EMF building in Cambridgeport, a beloved affordable arts space. But the artists there did something the developer wasn't expecting: we fought back. We organized ourselves into the Cambridge Artist Coalition and did everything we could to save our space. We appealed to the city who helped us negotiate more time, mounted a letter writing campaign, organized protests and even went to court to fight our eviction. In the end greed triumphed over community as it so often does, but that doesn't have to be the end of the story.
Being part of the EMF struggle showed me that I'm not alone. There are so many people in Cambridge who are sick of seeing this story repeat over and over: insanely wealthy developer gets even richer by displacing people who have so little. If there are half as many people in this city that feel this way as I think there are, it should be possible to get one of them on our city council. This would mean a better future not just for artists, but for every marginalized group harmed by our current local economic and political system.
As a result of our organizing efforts, I was given a seat on the Mayor's Arts Task Force, which was set up largely in response to the controversy surrounding the EMF evictions. To my extreme disappointment and frustration, the one thing that's not on the table for debate is the most important thing to discuss: the role development plays in erasing artists and arts spaces from our city. If we want to prove that we value not just the arts, but diversity and equity, we need a city council that is willing to talk about the social costs of unending luxury development and that is not afraid to rein predatory developers in.
Housing is a human right
I believe that housing is a human right, and that everyone should have a home regardless of their economic status. We need to treat housing the same way that we treat education. Not as a commodity traded on the marketplace, but as a public good, funded by taxes, and available to everyone who needs it. It is going to take some work to get the federal government behind a vision like this, but until they do, there's more than enough wealth in this city for us to get started building some high-quality social housing, and set a great precedent that can inspire the rest of the country. Examples like Vienna, where 62% of their population live in social housing, prove this can be done, and that its impact on quality of life is tremendous.
As for housing in the private sector, there's an absolutely commonsense regulation that keeps people in their homes: rent control. My lived experience has shown me it works. And the two policies reinforce each other: controlling rents means lower prices, and that means our subsidies for social housing go further.
When you elect someone how do you know that person is really going to fight for who they say they're going to? All too frequently politicians promise the world to working people, but once they get elected, they quickly forget these promises. A big part of this is because the wealthy have a much easier time influencing politicians. And once you get that cushy senator’s salary, the easiest way to make sure you keep it is simple: don't alienate the powerful.
So the best way to predict if an elected official is truly going to represent who they say they're going to is whether they face the same economic reality as who they're representing. I want to represent low-income workers such as myself, who I feel our current policies are not serving. That's why, if I am elected, I will not take home more of my Cambridge City Councilor's salary than I made last year on my after school teacher's wages. The rest will go towards community organizing because an organized public is the most reliable driver of positive social change.
If you've read this far, you probably won't be surprised to hear that I won't take any donations from real estate developers or other special interest groups.
How change happens: movements
From the Civil Rights Act to the New Deal to women's suffrage to Cambridge rent control, the legislation that really helps everyday people is never given to us willingly from politicians on high, it comes when an organized public demands it. That's another reason I won't take all of my salary if I'm elected: so the remainder can go to paying one or more community organizers who will help nurture a grassroots movement for real housing justice. Our movement's vision will not be shaped around developers' bottom lines, but by the people who are most harmed by our current profit-based housing system: our homeless community and those who are vulnerable to displacement.
Nothing is too radical for a people that are ready to fight together.
Let's do this
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