As a devoted advocate for humanity, I find myself compelled to share a tale that unfolds like a dramatic narrative—a foreshadowing of the transformation of Congressional District 16 from blue to red, echoing the fate of Congressional District 17. I stand as a witness, having experienced this political metamorphosis firsthand.
In the intricate dance of politics, let’s step through the few stages that marked this transition. Step one: Race, Equity, Division. The incumbent of CD 16, Congressman Jamaal Bowman, is a trailblazer as the first-ever black representative, succeeding Eliot Engel, a predecessor who held the seat for an astonishing three decades. As an avid supporter of Congressman Engel, my satisfaction with the status quo was palpable, my political engagement limited to mere surface-level appreciation and relationships with other supporters. Rep. Bowman, at the time of his being a candidate, was unknown to me.
It wasn’t that I had reservations about my then-congressman; it was simply that the nuances of foreign affairs and the intricate relationship between a representative and their constituency were foreign concepts in my household and community. We paid more attention to domestic affairs than many in CD16 do. The practices of engaging and interfacing with the workings of Congress remained a mystery, overshadowed by more familiar aspects of community life and local government. Since I have known Representative Bowman, I feel like I have access to Washington because he makes sure his constituents do.
In 2020, the political landscape underwent a seismic shift as Jamal Bowman unseated the long-standing representative in CD 16. This change, however, was not isolated. I also found myself supporting a friend, Mondaire Jones, during this period. Another brilliant challenger, a black and openly gay man, emerged out of a field of 10 candidates to also become the first-ever Black person to represent Congressional District 17. This representative was a friend and I supported him above women and believed in his leadership and I still do. Go, Mondaire, Go!
These history makers both saw their constituents through Donald J. Trump, COVID-19, George Floyd, and Black Lives Matter, an insurrection in their first six days in office, unprecedented funding votes and subsequent fund allocation in the district, and the devastating impact of having congressional lines redrawn and having to defend their seats with a new constituent base. They have both legislated in a manner that brings more of their constituents into the decision-making process and they have delivered!
The crux of this narrative lies in not only the awakening—a realization that my support for a candidate was shaped by personal interactions and local perceptions rather than a comprehensive understanding of their political stances. But when people are represented by someone who broadens the coalition and serves with a humanity-first agenda more people get to participate. The issue of race and equity is important here.
We need representatives in Congress to expand equity, inclusion, and innovation. For those who do not know the story of CD 17, it is a horrid display of power and privilege at the hands of the former leader of the National Democratic Party who happened to be white and had devastating effects on the community in 17. We lost a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and we lost our beloved Mondaire, then that former leader lost the seat to a Republican. What a huge disappointment.
Recent history can repeat itself and we can lose black representatives and lose domestically as Democrats if we go the way of the past. We must move past minority rule. We must move past white dominance.
The challenge lay in bridging the gap between constituent and representative, a divide accentuated by unfamiliarity with the broader aspects of governance. Rep. Bowman is doing this with groups, primarily groups led by people of color and religious minorities, and that is needed. This is a good thing. He is forwarding racial equity, not racial division. We need this.
As we reflect on the evolution of these congressional districts, it becomes evident that civic education at the grassroots level is paramount. Empowering individuals to comprehend the dynamics of government and fostering a culture of active participation are essential steps in fortifying our democracy.
The journey from blue to red is not merely a shift in political hues; it is a testament to the devolving awareness and engagement of a community. The current representative, Mike Lawler, has closed-door community conversations and this does not ensure a thriving democracy. We must cultivate a society where every citizen is equipped with the knowledge and tools to actively participate in shaping the future of their congressional districts.
If we continue to be divided as Democrats we will get what we deserve. Division, no equity and it will be most apparent across racial lines.