An America As Good As Its Promise - By Robin Wilt
My father immigrated to the United States from Guyana, South America, in 1968–the very year that the Fair Housing Act passed Congress. He came to the United States because he believed in the promise of the American Dream. It was a time of incredible racial strife in our country and our community. What my father refused to accept–and this was actually fortunate for him because his pioneering spirit remained undeterred– was that, for far too many, the American Dream is a dream deferred. America is failing to live up to its basic promise of justice for all.
My father committed to holding America accountable for the values that it promulgated around the world. He came to this country with $40 in his pocket because he believed, as do I now, what Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, of Texas, understood, “What the people want is very simple– they want an America as good as its promise.”
In search of better educational opportunity, our family moved to the comfortable community of Pittsford in 1976. Naively, I did not appreciate growing up what a pioneering move that was. I don’t think it was any coincidence that my father purchased land and had his house built from the ground up. Quite frankly, as a Black man, it was easier to build from scratch than to trust any of the housing developments at the time to offer him equitable terms.
What I also did not appreciate was that the pioneering spirit and sense of equity and fairness that my father instilled in me would be my guiding principle as I run for Congress today. Although the 25th Congressional District entirely encompasses the City of Rochester– which is 42% African American– the district has never been represented by a person of color. A recent study by the financial company 24/7 Wall Street found that the 25th Congressional District is the second worst Congressional District in the country when it comes to the quality of life for African Americans. The rampant and unsustainable wealth, educational and healthcare disparities that we witness in the 25th congressional district are largely the outcome of policies that were championed by the existing political establishment– of which, as a 30 year incumbent of the state Legislature and a former Monroe County Democratic Committee Chair, my opponent has been a significant part. I recognize that the policies perpetuating wealth and opportunity disparities is a key electoral issue facing our district, and I’m running because I truly believe that we deserve better and can do better!
Ultimately, that is why I am running for Congress. I’m running for the people of the 25th congressional district who deserve to have people-centered policies that work for all of us. I have spent the last decade and a half working on the grassroots level to promote social, economic and environmental justice. I share the narrative of my father and our family’s immigration story because I want to highlight the structures that are in play, to this day, that reinforce disparate outcomes for people in our community based on race, class, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Ultimately, we want an America where an immigrant family, like mine, that got by eating government cheese, can go on to attend the nation’s best colleges and universities, and achieve their full potential.
What I have learned from talking to people who are most directly impacted by our systems, is that these unjust systems that threaten our democracy are working exactly as intended. What that means is that our systems that are disproportionately impacting certain communities need to be fundamentally reimagined, so that they are grounded in equity and justice. I’m committed to fighting for equity and access for all. I believe that there can be no true economic equity and access to opportunity in our community until we put worker’s rights, access to education, health and overall welfare of the people over corporate welfare. Corporations are not people and my opponent, a true establishment, status quo candidate, is funded by corporate PACS and organizations that are publicly against just, human policies such as Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal– both of which my opponent has not publicly supported.
As an activist, I publicly support human rights by fighting for policies that grant access to healthcare in the form of Expanded and Improved Medicare for All; climate justice and the creation of a green economy that centers those most impacted by polluters and crumbling infrastructure; equity in education and an end to the school-to-prison pipeline; and criminal justice reform, decarceration and an end to the prison industrial complex. These are all issues that matter to the electorate, who have become increasingly disengaged, and dis-enfranchised. I’m committed to ensuring that members of my community truly feel that their interests are represented through action and relentless commitment to the enactment of equitable policies. I’m committed to engaging and registering new voters and ensuring that issues that matter to them are represented in the policies I support.
In 2006, I helped co-found a Progressive Democrats of America local chapter because I believe that engagement is the key to achieving outcomes that benefit everyone in our community. A healthcare Town Hall that we staged drew an attendance of 500 people and featured two sitting members of Congress. My stance on important issues is usually strongly influenced by the voices of my constituents and their individual stories. In my run for office, I’ve had the honor of connecting with those closest to the pain of being underrepresented by their elected officials, and I’ve witnessed the unfortunate results.
Our current political leadership, through its malign neglect of the communities that are most vulnerable, relegates us to the unjust status quo. There have already been comparisons between this race and that of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her historic win over the establishment candidate in Queens. As in the case of AOC, we are taking on not only an individual incumbent, but one that built the Democratic Party establishment in Monroe County. I am accustomed to challenging unjust systems because it is what I have done my entire life. I will concede that the race between myself and my opponent is similar to AOC when she bested Crowley, but what AOC did was steal a march on the establishment. In this race, they know we’re coming. And we’re glad they know we’re coming. We, with the power of the people, fully intend to storm the establishment gates.
Monroe County deserves representation that is committed to serving the people in our communities–not merely the party establishment, or corporate donors. Monroe County deserves representation that reflects the diversity of the 25th Congressional District. The House of Representatives is the People’s House. And we won’t rest until the Power resides with the People!