As of late, one of our team members had the opportunity to sit down with New York City mayoral candidate Dianne Morales for an interview. After eight years under Mayor Bill de Blasio, New York City will see someone new in the position in 2021, and Morales, a member of the Democratic Party, is jumping at the opportunity.
360: What are the major points of inspiration throughout your life, so far, that have led you to where you are today?
Morales: At my core is a commitment to community, and I learned community at home. I am the youngest of three girls and the daughter of Puerto Rican parents. My mother, a secretary for the Leather Workers’ Union, and my father, a building manager on the waterfront, created a working-class life for us in Bed-Stuy. But our home was not just for me and my sisters. My grandmother, Mami, lived with us my whole childhood. In fact, she and I shared a bed until the day that I left home for college. Our home was a resting place, a layover, a transition point for whoever needed it. There was always someone new sleeping on the couch or joining us at the dinner table. Whether they had just arrived from Puerto Rico, were in between jobs, had just returned from the military or from being incarcerated, there were always other people staying with us while they “got back on their feet.” My parents opened their arms and their front door to whoever needed it. I never questioned this way of life. I was taught, “If you have, then you provide.” We took care of each other. I saw, firsthand, the opportunity created when we each take responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors and for our communities. This belief has spurred me on through 30 years in the public sector, as an educator, a foster care worker and a leader of nonprofits.
As I established my own home in Bed-Stuy as a single mom, my children and I recreated the dynamic my parents had built. We always have a few extra people living in our home – whom we often refer to as our “chosen family.” These extended family members have filled my home with love and reciprocal support. In a twist of fate, since the pandemic hit, I have shared my home with my parents and my children. I envision a New York City where we take care of each other, where everyone is welcome to the dinner table, where neighbors provide more support than extra sugar and all of us have a warm place to rest our heads. Although NYC is vast with diversity, we are all inextricably bound together and are only as strong as our most vulnerable link.
360: How can a mayor, as opposed to any other civic official, lead unique positive changes for equity?
Morales: Over the past several months there is a mantra I have been repeating consistently: a budget is a reflection of our values. The mayor has executive power over what gets funded in the city and by how much. Funding for services that contribute to true public safety (access to housing, medical/mental healthcare, economic stability, job training, education) will provide access and opportunity to those who have historically been left behind by our elected officials. Line by line, the budget reveals the values of a city and government. The NYC budget passed in June was a failure. It failed the residents of NYC, who have been raising their voices in protest and demanding a divestment from law enforcement since May 29. It failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD. It failed communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.
The budget highlights the need for NYC leadership to put New Yorkers first by investing in communities. The NYC Mayor also has the ability to work to desegregate public schools and impact the quality of education provided to over 1.1 million students, many of whom are students of color living in poverty. This alters the course of a student’s life and provides an entry point to economic mobility and a true career trajectory. New Yorkers deserve a bold, transformational leader who is unapologetically committed to prioritizing justice in the budget’s bottom line. I fundamentally believe that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution. Our city needs a mayor that is in tune with her people and provides a vision for and direction for what is possible.
360: What are some of the most pressing or urgent issues that need attention within New York City, and how would you address them?
Morales: New York’s problems all stem from structural oppression by Race, Gender and Class, so our solutions must go deeper, all the way to the root causes. Too many New Yorkers are living in a time of scarcity, and that’s been going on since long before the virus hit. The are working two jobs, just barely surviving and always one misfortune away from losing everything. Instead of this “Scarcity Economy,” we need a “Solidarity Economy,” and that requires bold action. First, transforming public safety in the city by providing access to the same critical resources found in wealthy communities will be a critical step toward creating the long-term change we need for all to live in dignity. True public safety includes ensuring that every New Yorker has access to “life essentials,” like quality transportation, affordable housing, excellent and equal education and human-centered healthcare. All New Yorkers deserve access to these fundamental resources in order to live in dignity, and it is the necessary floor needed to break through glass ceilings.
Next, we must enhance and overhaul vital infrastructure requiring multi-part, creative solutions that address the deeper issues embedded in the fabric of NYC. To break the racist cycle of poverty that divides our city into the “haves” and the “have-nots,” we will establish a guaranteed minimum income. We will push for universal healthcare and eliminate inequities in the health system faced by women, and especially women of color. We will work to address the persistent segregation of our schools and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by replacing school safety officers with trained mental health professionals. The driving force behind all policy initiatives is the experiences, needs and voices of women of color. Particularly, Black women. As the Combahee River Collective wisely wrote in its 1977 statement, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” We know that if New York does right by Black women, the entire city will be better for it.
360: How can you use your personal experiences with serving as a single mother and observing the many other challenges that face New York City residents to enact policy reform?
Morales: So many of New York’s problems have impacted me directly, and so much of who I am and what I know comes from being a mom. My greatest joy is being the mother of my two children, Ben and Gabby. They constantly push me, teach me and nourish me. As a single parent, I share experiences with hundreds of thousands of other New Yorkers. A 2018 study found that single-parent households are the second largest household type in New York City. I navigated New York City’s systems – economic, health and education – on my own. I balanced a budget for my family each month, figuring out how to make it work. My greatest challenge was parenting my children through the NYC education system. The rigid and unforgiving education that my children received did not allow any space for their learning differences. They did not see themselves in the white-centric curriculum and we struggled to find support during their developmental years. Advocating for my children was a full-time job on top of my paying-full-time-job. Again and again I have stood with parents for a more equitable and life-affirming education for our kids. It is with this same community spirit of coalition building, advocacy and bettering of our social safety nets that I will push for policies that support all types of families in NYC.
360: What is one of the most significant components of your background or experiential knowledge that separates you from any other candidate?
Morales: I am, in so many ways, the average New Yorker. I was born and bred in Bed-Stuy. I am an Afro Latina single-mom of two children who survived the New York City public school system. I am a first generation college graduate who came back home to my city after school. I am a woman of color who discovered that I was not being paid the same as my white male counterparts. I’ve watched my neighborhood change, I’ve seen Starbucks replace the corner bodega, and I have spent my weekends marching side by side – 6 feet apart – with my fellow New Yorkers demanding justice for those killed at the hands of a racist policing system. Because I am the average New Yorker, my voice reflects the voices of thousands of others. We share our lived experiences, frustrations and joys. I love New York City because I see our full potential for all of us.
360: How does your previous extensive work with social service nonprofits inform your motivations and goals to serve as Mayor?
Morales: For decades, I worked within the community to address structural inequities burdening communities of color. I worked alongside those experiencing the symptoms of our broken system most acutely – poverty, lack of access to education, homelessness and mental health services. I witnessed firsthand the day-to-day struggles of New Yorkers that are perpetuated by cycles of poverty and oppression. I worked from the ground, up and from the inside, out. But as I hammered away, I recognized these structural and institutional barriers, and began to ask, “So how do we burn them down?” It felt as though I was only tinkering around the edges of the problem and providing Band-Aid solutions to deep, deep wounds. The core, perpetuating issues were centralized and foundational. I realized that if I want to create lasting, effective change, I must address these systemic and political problems at the root. As Mayor, I would carry with me the voices of those I have served.
360: In outlining your points of action and reform for New York City, how does the COVID-19 pandemic affect any of these potential strides for change?
Morales: As we know, COVID-19 is a catastrophe that illuminates all of the cracks and splinters in our broken systems. At first, many claimed the COVID-19 was a “great equalizer,” affecting all people, regardless of race, class or gender. Instead COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income communities. This is not a coincidence or personal failing, but rather the direct result of racist systems, putting structural oppression in stark relief. While some New Yorkers are able to escape crowded areas, arm themselves with personal protective equipment and work remotely, others, namely people of color, are on the front lines providing essential services to our city.
As COVID-19 has had devastating consequences that will leave a lasting impact for years to come, it has also provided us with a unique moment. As we saw after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police, being homebound and isolated forces us to pay attention. We have paused. We have slowed down. With fewer distractions and a center of focus, folks all across the country have had the veil lifted. People are noticing the interconnected webs of oppression I have lived with and that I have been fighting to dismantle my entire life. In this moment, we need leaders in office who are of, by and for the movement for social change. There is a momentum and hunger for justice that can no longer be ignored. As we overcome the challenge of the disease, I will never let the city forget who is truly essential. Together we will create a world in which front-line workers are truly valued as indispensable. A world where we accompany our applause and platitudes with a livable wage, unquestionable dignity and real community power.
360: What are some of the most rewarding takeaways you have gained from leading several momentous organizations?
Morales: I’ve learned firsthand about the barriers and challenges that people have to overcome in order to gain access to opportunities that are alleged to be available to everyone. I also have watched as community members care for one another to bridge the gaps in access to those opportunities. This is testament to the power of our communities to be true partners in determining the solutions they face when given the resources to do so. Finally, I have been able to bear witness to what is possible when people finally gain access and opportunity and how that has the potential to change the trajectory of people’s lives and transform families and communities.
360: Regarding the national and global movement, Black Lives Matter, how will you utilize your unique identity to empower minorities in the City of New York?
Morales: Like many people of color, I have lived years of my life trying not to take up space. I have seen the ways that my identities – my Blackness, my Latina roots, my politics, my womanhood – make people, namely white people, uncomfortable. In these spaces I would constantly ask myself, “Do I seem too opinionated, too articulate, too aggressive?” I would contort and deflate myself to fit into tight corners and small boxes. I would shrink myself so that others could feel big. When making the decision to run for Mayor of NYC, I decided it was important for me to run as my full, unadulterated, unapologetic, multi-hyphenated self. There would be no more shrinking, questioning or self-doubt. I recognize that by the very nature of stepping into this space, I am opening up a path of possibility. As the first Afro-Latina running for mayor of New York City, I recognize the awesome responsibility I hold. I know that when I speak, unfairly or not, I am representing all Afro-Latina women. Missteps become mass stereotypes. Accolades become communal achievements.
This is both beautiful and deeply terrifying. But in moments of fear, I am guided by a greater purpose to bring with me those whom have been devalued and made to feel small, as I have been; to elevate the voices of those with shared experiences and claim our rightful place in democracy and representation in leadership. People like me, individuals and communities of color, women of color, we must be at the forefront of our politics and policies. I am deeply committed to divesting from racist systems and investing in Black and Brown communities. I am committed to reimagining public safety on our streets and in our schools. I am committed to shifting wealth opportunities to those who have been historically marginalized. I am committed to redressing and repairing the wounds of oppression that scar our city. I am in this race to stand taller in the face of a world that tells me to shrink. I am here to tell them that Black lives are beloved. We matter today and every day forward.
360: To all of the NYC citizens following your efforts to better numerous communities, what are some of the best ways individuals can support your campaign?
Morales: The best way to help me is to join the campaign with a small contribution. I am not a career politician, and unlike other candidates, I have not spent decades cultivating a war chest of people, networks and resources to kickstart my run for mayor. I want to be responsive to the people, not the special interests.. My campaign was born out of my home in Bed-Stuy, out of conversations with my neighbors, friends and colleagues. Our campaign is 100% powered by the people, not the 1%. We are an intersectional coalition of Black and Brown, Latinx, LGBTQIA and working class New Yorkers. We are backed by the people being hit the hardest at this moment in time. I am so incredibly humbled that in the middle of a pandemic, without employment, people are finding a way to donate to our campaign. I know what is at stake and the choices they have had to make to do so. If donating to our campaign is not possible for you during this financially uncertain time, we understand. Visit my website, dianne.nyc, for information and volunteer opportunities. Spread our mission to your fellow New Yorkers. Reach out to join our team. Remember me in November 2021.
To learn more about Dianne Morales, you can click right here. To learn more about her stances and solutions, you can click right here. To support Morales through donations, you can click right here. You can also support her on Twitter and Instagram.