The Creative Electoral Response

The Creative Electoral Response

I refused to run a negative campaign for New York City Council, focusing instead on community and democratic empowerment.

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I have experience with creative response in my work as an activist and civil rights attorney. But only recently have I endeavored to bring creative response to the world of electoral politics. 

I was compelled to run for office after watching friends get arrested and held for days in an abandoned bus depot on the West Side Highway during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. As a National Lawyers Guild volunteer attorney, I spent my mornings defending the arrestees at their arraignments. My evenings were spent getting food and medicine to them, and my afternoons at press conferences begging the police to stop arresting people. 

When that didn’t happen, I decided to run for an open seat on the City Council. As luck would have it, a year and a half into my race, the mayor, with the help of the Council, extended his—as well as their own—term limits, which pitted me against the Council’s incumbent sitting speaker. 

I refused to run a negative campaign and instead talked about community, empowerment and the proposition of government working for the people—in other words, creative response. I got a third of the votes in a three-way race against arguably one of the most powerful Democrats in New York City. But more important, my community developed an ability to organize that has helped us deal with subsequent adversities, like the closing of our only hospital. 

Next it was the Occupy movement that gave me insight into creative response. I was one of the attorneys tasked with responding to the first attempt by the city to evict the Occupiers from Zuccotti Park in October 2011. Alone, our legal working group would never have been able to stop the eviction. But working with a broad coalition of Occupiers, unions, grassroots organizations and elected officials, we were able to prevail, winning Occupy Wall Street another month in Zuccotti Park.

ALSO IN THIS FORUM

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Billy Bragg: “Jail Guitar Doors

DJ Spooky: “Reflections on Mortality From a Land of Ice and Snow

Stanislao G. Pugliese: “How the Study of History Can Contribute to Global Citizenship

Edwidge Danticat: “Homage to a Creative Elder

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