Unlike some other Columbia students, I have no prestigious Wall Street or Silicon Valley summer internship to boast about, and I have no intention of getting one. To the contrary, I spent this past summer witnessing how corporate interests have waged a class war against the most vulnerable Americans.
While canvassing for the federal and state primaries in my home borough of Queens, there were countless times I knocked on a door only to notice a foreclosed sign outside. When I was in Detroit, Michigan canvassing for gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed with fellow activists, we saw streets of abandoned homes and schools marked for demolition, the product of years of systemic neglect and racial discrimination.
Experiencing or witnessing these struggles hits the heart in ways that a policy brief cannot. Yet, as students in the Columbia bubble, our own tendency to believe in the ability of the “free” markets or private financial institutions to economically uplift—or worse yet, to remain oblivious for the sake of our professional careers—can render us complacent. We’re then tempted to believe that Trump is the sole cause of our nation’s transgressions, and that the Democratic Party in 2018 will be the savior to purge this nation of Trumpism once and for all.
But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that Trump’s GOP is the sole perpetrator of our despair. Make no mistake: The establishment Democratic Party, as has it stood for decades, is not on the side of working-class Americans. And certainly not in New York, where we endured yet another galvanizing primary season.
New York has a mythologized perception for being a bastion for progressive, deep-blue politics. But the idealized picture of a lefty utopia could not be further from the truth. We students must investigate, condemn, and hold accountable institutions like the Democratic Party and Wall Street and understand how entrenched they are in New York in systemically undermining democracy.
As a consequence of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph over Joseph Crowley and the incredible work from grassroots activists, the #AbolishICE movement has moved into the political mainstream. By now, most people are aware of the Trump Administration’s racist and fascist use of The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the ways in which it has egregiously perpetuated human rights abuses, constitutional violations, and U.S. imperialism in the name of national security. However, what many people do not know is that New York’s own “Democratic” Governor Cuomo has raked in nearly one million dollars from entities who have profited off of the ICE deportation machine.
Moreover, New York has the honor of being the most voter suppressive state in the nation. On Primary Day itself, there were cases of voter suppression involving NYCHA housing residents. Many reports were filed regarding the mysterious purging of individuals from voter rolls. It has also been documented that Governor Cuomo had a role to play in the formation of the Independent Democratic Conference, the Republican-aligned group of Democratic senators who have derailed progressive legislation like the DREAM, Reproductive Health, and New York Health Acts. And even though Crowley was defeated in his race for the House seat, he was quietly re-elected by a private gathering of fewer than seventy people as the chair of the Queens County Democratic Party, an organization that claims to represent hundreds of thousands of people in a borough of 2.3 million people.
None of this is surprising when you consider that both Cuomo and Crowley—the kingpins of New York politics—take millions of contributions from the real estate and financial securities industries. Donor organizations like the Blackstone Group rent office space to ICE field agents. When politicians are on the bankroll of the nation’s most powerful corporations, it makes sense that they—Democrats and Republicans alike—are so readily willing to screw over working people.
Too often as Columbia students, we are too obsessed with our own career successes to even consider how the existing financial institutions we strive to work for are responsible for America’s injustices. As citizens of both New York City and our homes of origin, it is morally imperative to partake in civic affairs. We must register ourselves and our friends to vote, and we must vote for candidates that refuse corporate money. We must actually participate in democracy by having conversations with community members about the issues we will collectively overcome.
But the injustices I describe cannot be dealt with business-as-usual electoral politics alone. When Wall Street banks and their capitalist brethren show up to our campus with promises of a lucrative future, we must condemn them for their complicity. In our own activism, we must be vigilant that we are truly working for the interests of working-class people and people of color. And when we find ourselves at the ballot box, we must ask if anyone on any ticket had the moral courage to stand up and categorically say that they reject corporate money because they serve only one constituency: the people.
The author (he/him/his), SEAS ’20, is an activist based in Queens. He’s always willing to chat with peeps about how capitalism and imperialism permeate people’s everyday living. Please feel free to reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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