A Civic New Year’s Resolution


By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq.

As we approach the start of a new year, many of us will resolve to change something about ourselves, accomplish a personal goal, or make improvements to our life. We often set unrealistic New Year’s resolutions which we ultimately find we’re unable to keep. Of course, we start out with the best of intentions. Maybe our plan to achieve our goals isn’t well thought out. Maybe once we make a resolution, the temptation to break it becomes even stronger. Perhaps we make too many resolutions at once. Neuroscientific research suggests that spreading resolutions out over time is the best approach to actually accomplishing them.

New Year’s resolutions tend to be focused on the self. “I will lose weight.” “I will save more money.” “I will learn a new hobby.” “I will spend more time on me.” What about if we dedicated one resolution to society at large? What if we committed to performing our civic duty?

Your civic duty can range from starting a block association, to serving on your community board, to volunteering at a cleanup, or it can be as simple as showing up to the polls to vote. 2017 saw some major highlights in terms of politics. At the top of the list for our community was Richard David’s unprecedented City Council run. David got 2,763 votes and made it to second place against Adrienne Adams, who received the coveted endorsement by Queens County Democrats.

David showed our community the start to something big. For many years we’ve been overlooked by politicians for one specific reason: we don’t vote. David’s race turned that idea on its head. He brought more people to the polls than any Indo-Caribbean candidate in the district ever did in a primary election. And don’t get it twisted! I’ve read comments from people who said that if all the people who attend the annual Phagwah Parade came out to vote for Richard David, he would’ve won. They couldn’t have done so even if they wanted to – District 28 has defined boundaries and only a certain amount of people live within it! What all the people who attend the Phagwah Parade should do is come out with one unified message to advocate for the redrawing of district lines that include the Indo-Caribbean population. More on that later.

2018 will mark a critical election year in national, state and local elections. We might have to stomach Trump as president for at least two more years, but we will have the opportunity to severely block any of his policies from taking long-term effect. We can do this by coming out to vote and campaigning for the right candidates in what are referred to as the “mid-term elections.” Mid-term elections are general elections in the United States held two years after the President of the United States is elected. Typically, mid-term elections have lower voter turnout than presidential elections, but they are sometimes referred to as a “referendum” on the current President’s performance. Why? Typically, if approval ratings are below 50 percent, the sitting president’s party is predisposed to suffer poor mid-term election performance. For instance, in 2010, President Barack Obama had a 45 percent approval. His party, the Democratic Party, lost 63 seats in the mid-term elections. This resulted in the constant blocking of legislation Obama hoped to pass, much of which became executive orders. For a new president, Trump has a remarkably low approval rate. If all goes well, in my humble opinion of course, Trump and the GOP will suffer a great loss in November 2018. But that requires all people who believe in “making American great again” to significantly reduce the power of the tweeting joke we have as our commander in chief.

Much of Congress, namely the entire House of Representatives as well as one-third of the U.S. Senate, will be up for election in November 2018. Most state governorships will also be up for grabs as well as hundreds of state legislative seats and local offices too. If Democrats perform well in the mid-term elections, they’ll have greater leverage to block legislation from happening as well as blocking nominees to influential positions that Trump could appoint in his third and fourth years.

Many of the offices up for election in 2018 will have the ability to mold and shape our entire country’s political landscape for at least another 10 years through the process of redistricting. Yes, the next redistricting won’t start until after the 2020 election and after the next U.S. Census. But crucially, many of the state politicians who will be in office for that redistricting will have been elected to four-year terms in 2018. These state officials typically play a big role in shaping how the redistricting process rolls out, serving on panels to redraw the lines as needed and making the final decisions on the demarcations of these boundaries after hearing public testimony. In 34 states, the governor who will be in office for the next redistricting will be elected in 2018. In 30 states, half or more of state senators whose terms extend through the next redistricting will be elected in 2018.

It’s not breaking news to say that Indo-Caribbeans in New York have been gerrymandered for years, divided into at least four state Assembly districts and two City Council districts. During the last redistricting cycle, many turned up to speak before the State’s Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) and the City’s Districting Commission to advocate that the pockets of Indo-Caribbeans in Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, and Ozone Park be cohesively reflected in the new district lines. Little changed however.

District lines can’t be drawn based on race or ethnicity but can be based on keeping a “community of interest” together. What does that mean? A community of interest has been defined in various ways over the years. The Brennan Center for Justice defines it as “a group of people concentrated in a geographic area who share similar interests and priorities – whether social, cultural, ethnic, economic, religious, or political.” In 1997, a federal court in New York ruled in Diaz v. Silver, 978 F. Supp. 96 (E.D.N.Y. 1997) that working class Chinese-Americans who shared a language, lived in similar types of housing, used the same subway lines and health clinics, and got their news from Chinese-language media, constituted a “community of interest.”

Indo-Caribbeans in Queens, New York are similarly connected. You know it’s an A train to Lefferts Boulevard just by looking around and seeing all the hard-working middle class Guyanese, Trinidadians and Surinamese. You see people running to the local roti shop to catch a copy of this very newspaper on Saturday morning before all the copies are gone – a publication that blends back home and America. You see aunties cleaning their front yard with pointer brooms and uncles riding on the street with their bicycles. You hear Sitaram, Salaam Alaikum, and Hallelujah on a Sunday morning. People have to take a ticket to get in line at Sybil’s because the food is just so good.

In this new year, let’s resolve to stand up and advocate for this beautiful community of ours. Let’s continue the movement that began in 2017, by electing people to office in 2018 who we can trust to do the right thing in terms of redistricting, by mobilizing from every corner to spread a unified message of why we need to be placed in the same districts, and by always remembering that there is nothing more gratifying than service to society, which voting itself represents in many ways.

The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.