Before a crowd of hundreds of activists from across the country, New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane D. Williams on Tuesday, April 30 delivered what was described as “a fiery address” on activism in elected office, with a focus on housing justice for all.
The speech served to begin the final day of the People’s Action Convention, a gathering of grassroots organizers nationwide in Washington, D.C.
Also speaking Tuesday morning were newly-elected Bloomington Council Member, Jenn Carrillo, California Representative, Ro Khanna, and Vermont Senator and presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders.
Williams’ speech explored his path from grassroots organizing to elected office, and how he used the skills and philosophy of the former to shape his work in the latter.
He praised the “inside-outside” strategies that bring activists on the ground together with elected officials in the halls of government, and spoke of how these strategies can bring about housing justice and a “Homes Guarantee.”
“I understood that you had to be close to the ground, to see the real human struggle and the impact of policies, and not just for a photo op for policy change,” said the former representative for the 45th Council District in Brooklyn. “And so, I decided to run for office.
“Sometimes you need to shut down the street, or protest a fast food restaurant, or march across the Brooklyn Bridge; I’m there,” added the son of Grenadian immigrants. “I know how to do that real quick. But there were some people who told me it wouldn’t work once I got elected.
“They told me when I took office that I had to choose between being an activist and being an elected official, and we said ‘hell no,’” Williams continued. “The best elected officials are activists.”
“I know that I represent all that Donald Trump hates, and the people who support him,” he said. “I am a Tourette’s having, ADHD having, hip-hop loving, earring-wearing, educated young black man, and I am also a city-wide elected official. I am a civil servant with a civil disobedience record.”
On housing justice, Williams said more than half of New York’s households pay more in rent than they can afford.
“This has cascading impacts,” he said. “Without a safe and stable home, it is impossible to have stable healthcare, stable education, or a stable job. Sometimes, the system lets people fall through the cracks, and sometimes it pushes them down.”
On rent regulation and the fight for meaningful reform around housing issues, the public advocate said that while many of these rights will expire altogether in June, “people who are in this room will fight and fight hard.
“For people who answer to the real estate industry or their own bottom line, profit and politics are being put over people,” he said. “But the people are fighting back.
“We need to do this together,” Williams urged, stating that the last time he took the issue to New York State’s Capitol, he was arrested outside the Governor’s office.
“But I’m ready to go knock on some doors, starting with his,” Williams insisted. “It’s time to take the issue to those in power, for all who don’t have any. To get them a home, for those who don’t have one.
“For families struggling to hang onto the apartment where they grew up, where their family grew up; for residents of public housing, which is used perennial as a political prop; for everyone who has lost their home to the greed and recklessness of Wall Street,” Williams continued. “This is going to be an uphill fight, but we’re ready for the climb.”
He said housing is a crisis, expensive, and is segregation.
“Housing is, too often, a political compromise,” Williams said. “But home? Home is safety. Home is security. Home is a future. Home is sanctuary. Home is a basic human right.
“We are going to continue to work, continue to fight, to let all people, regardless of income, of neighborhood, of race or employment or gender or military status or religion, to go home,” he added. “But to help them go home, we have to go to work. Let’s go.”