When I first became interested in politics, it was for personal reasons. I grew up with a full-time single parent household under the cloud of President Clinton’s sweeping welfare reforms. You were either a worker or a barnacle, either being bilked by the system or the one doing the bilking and I watched it tear my mother and the people around her apart.
When I first got into politics, it was for reasons that had a lot to do with anger. I understood racism from the stories of my brown-skinned father who would come home from work on a commuter bus in near tears because of regular racist encounters. I moved around a lot because of my mother’s low-wage middle management job and was always an outsider trying to fit in with none of the useful markers of wealth.
Now I’m interested in what politics means for the neighborhood around me. I took the plunge to run for city council on my experience and values, finding it more educational than the decade I spent in undergrad and grad programs. I’ve learned that people in my neighborhood are worried about our infrastructure, our air and water quality, and making the rent, like millions of other people.
Now I’m interested in politics because there’s a need for justice everywhere. Of course, I have friends who I grew up with or who I struggled alongside over the years and who can’t fathom why my area of Manhattan needs activism. The truth is that no space in this country is immune from our national conversations and our local struggles.
We have anti-Semitism and threats of violence faced by religious and ethnic minorities around the world. The Metropolitan Republican Club is in our backyard and as of 2019, celebrating the spread of white supremacy and neo-fascist ideologies across the globe. Some of these things go beyond rah-rahing for our respective teams.
We have income inequality across this neighborhood. After a year of steadily volunteering for organizations in the region, I know that there are people in my stereotypically wealthy neighborhood living paycheck to paycheck. Instead of seeing strangers in line at the local church and synagogue soup kitchens, I see neighbors who vote, who care, and who want their world, city, and block to be a better place.
I stay engaged because I’m worried no one else has the time. I stay engaged because I know that it’s hard to know where to begin with the problems of the world.
In a world full of gatekeepers who seem hell-bent on keeping out anyone or any issues that don’t lead them to personal gain, I want to help my neighbors see a different path. I worry that people won’t find their way in. I want to help direct people to where all the openings in the gate are and remind them that we need each other.
Patrick Bobilin is the Vice President of East River Democratic Club who ran in the Democratic primary for New York City Council in 2017.