Tiffany Cabán: Why I Am Running For New York City Council
In the face of a pandemic and police violence, elected leaders have failed to keep us safe and to champion the voices of marginalized communities like mine. Now it is time to determine our own future.
This commentary is part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we know it in New York City. It halted our economy and took almost 24,000 of our neighbors from us, disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities.
We have seen makeshift morgues in the form of refrigerated trucks camped outside hospitals, as our healthcare systems were overwhelmed by the virus due to chronic underfunding and inaction by elected leaders.
COVID-19 highlighted what the communities I come from have known all along: The system was not built for us to survive, let alone thrive.
The pandemic exacerbated every social inequality that existed. And to top it off, the murders of Black people at the hands of police sparked one of the largest, if not the largest, protest movements in American history.
Since shocking the establishment and falling just 55 votes short of becoming the Queens district attorney last year, I’ve been asked repeatedly when I was going to run again. I would smile and say, “I don’t know. I am just focused on doing good work in this moment.” In truth, “never” was the answer I wanted to give sometimes. Instead, I threw myself into political organizing, joining the Working Families Party to help get decarceral DAs elected all over the country.
As the saying goes, “never say never.” On Sept. 10, I announced a run for New York City Council.
I am running because it’s time for the marginalized communities that raised me to seize the power to determine our own future. Our time is now.
I am running to end the carceral system, establish a care economy, and implement a Green New Deal for New York City to build the kinds of communities we all deserve to live in.
I am running because our current City Council is failing our communities. Protesters who marched against police violence were met with more police violence: batons and rubber bullets to the body and pepper spray that assaulted the eyes. I watched police meet our pain, trauma, and righteous anger with weapons of war. Our City Council responded to the protests and calls to defund the NYPD by leaving the department’s $6 billion budget almost entirely intact—billions that equip our police force with violent tools of oppression, instead of uplifting communities with the tools of support that are the source of safety.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Aiyana Jones, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Deborah Danner, Daniel Prude, Sean Bell, David McAtee. The list of names turned hashtags runs too long. It is heart-wrenching and tragic but no surprise—our policing and carceral systems were built on re-enslaving freed Black people and continues that legacy in its current iteration.
City councils across the country are already laying out the roadmap for transformational changes while New York stalls at the starting line. In Minneapolis, members of the City Council committed to disbanding the police. In Austin, Texas, the City Council slashed the police budget by one-third, and created a healthcare responder corps, separate from law enforcement, for 911 calls. In Los Angeles, City Council members organized an abolition coalition and created pressure that prompted members to cancel a jail contract and invest in communities instead.
Elected officials championed the voices of communities and advocates, relying on their record of calls for change and activism, while presenting holistic alternative visions for public safety.
We can do that in New York City. We have the organizing, we have the people and we will get the power when we elect those who will enact the change we want to see.
We need public health solutions to public health problems, including violence. That means we need to defund and ultimately disband the NYPD, and invest that money in our communities instead. We need to invest in a Green New Deal for New York City that includes guaranteed sustainable housing; integrated and fully funded public education; and holistic, community-led models for safety, emergency response, and participatory government. We must elect people who continuously rely on our impacted communities’ track record and experience, and put their solutions into practice—including 911 options like a community health corps or violence interrupters, separate from law enforcement.
I am running for City Council because our communities need something different than the prison industrial complex we have today. I am running because I see a slate of new leaders emerging, representative of New York City’s unique diversity, demanding justice and change, and because I know that together we can champion and uplift the voices of our most vulnerable neighbors.
I am running because Black lives matter, Latinx lives matter, trans lives matter, and working people matter—we matter here in New York, we matter everywhere in this country. We matter, and together we will win.
Our municipal government failed the tests of political courage and moral clarity by starving our schools, hospitals, and social safety nets of the critical resources needed to meet the needs of the people in this moment. We will ensure that never happens again.
The changes we seek to champion are both necessary and possible. The City Council is where the work is—so that’s where I’ll be.
Tiffany Cabán is a former public defender, organizer, activist, and queer Latina who is running for City Council. A Queens native, Tiffany was born in Richmond Hill to Puerto Rican parents. She lives in Astoria.