When I announced my candidacy for a seat on the New York State Assembly in February, I focused on the need to build more resiliency into our systems, noting we were one major challenge away from collapse on nearly every front including healthcare, food security, heat security, economic security, and environmental devastation. A few weeks later, the novel coronavirus arrived and not only crashed our inadequate healthcare system but also toppled our economy. 

One bright spot in this painful moment: this pandemic has generated widespread public awareness not only of how vulnerable our systems have become, but also how much structural injustice is built into them. We have a real opportunity right now to radically change how we do things. Our number one priority has got to be rebuilding healthy, resilient, sustainable communities that can withstand the many more challenges that we can expect in the coming years as the climate crisis unfolds. 

Governor Cuomo invited us the week before last to start re-imagining what life should look like in New York post pandemic. His NY Forward Advisory Board is comprised of 113 members of whom over 80 have CEO, COO, President or Executive in their title. Unfortunately, most of his “imagining” strategy appears thus far to be filling task forces full of elites and special interests who will advocate for more of the same aggressive trickle-down economics and austerity measures that got us here in the first place. 

We need a better imagination. If we are going to survive, now is the time for New York to stop spending our resources to prop up big corporations and start spending them on a guaranteed jobs program focused on building sustainable communities. We currently spend more money than any other state on corporate welfare (averaging $11.3 Billion dollars a year) all in the name of “job creation” that rarely comes close to promised results. This failed trickle-down strategy is thwarting us at all levels. Our local county and city government officials, for example, all say that they are committed to affordable housing, good jobs, and environmental sustainability. Yet year after year, most tax abatements and funding incentives they give out go to big development that is not sustainable, fails to provide truly affordable housing and does not pay a prevailing wage. Our communities have seen little material benefit from these substantial public investments. 

Instead of focusing on the voices of billionaires, we should be listening to the people on the ground doing the work and we should be talking to each other about what we need and want. In the coming weeks, I will utilize my platform as a candidate for NYS Assembly to launch a series of live streamed community conversations about what truly “reimagining” New York ought to look like. What we are calling the “Green New Dream” forums will explore where we are now, where we need to be and how we get there. Different aspects of this subject will be explored each week. 

The series launches this Thursday, May 14, at 8 p.m. This week is about an overall vision for the creation of sustainable and just systems which our communities deserve and need. We will be speaking with a panel of leaders who have dedicated their hearts, minds, and work to transformative community building. Joining us via zoom will be Chief Sam George of the Cayuga Nation, Gay Nicholson of Sustainable Tompkins, Kirby Edmonds, of Training for Change and the Dorothy Cotton Institute, Karim Beers from Get Your Green Back Tompkins, and Professor Mechtild Nagle, longtime activist and a professor at SUNY Cortland. The event will be livestreamed on Facebook and Youtube. 

As Arundati Roy so eloquently described, the “pandemic is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” 

I invite you to come dream with us – and then to join the fight to make these dreams our reality. 

Learn more at www.SujataforNY.com.

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