Last week, Queens resident and activist Ana Maria Archila took U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake from Arizona to task in a Senate elevator. Her comments, along with those of fellow activist Maria Gallagher, went viral, blowing up social media and leading all the nightly news broadcasts.
Achila’s message was clear. She passionately echoed a growing national sentiment that women who are publicly telling their stories of sexual harassment should be taken seriously, especially when the accounts pertain to men of privilege in positions of power.
It was a stunning and powerful moment, after which a visibly shaken Flake set into motion a series of events that led to an expanded FBI investigation into U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, ahead of his confirmation vote. While this may ultimately turn out to be nothing more than a delay in the process, it was also a clear example of how powerful a single moment of speaking truth to power can be.
Our country and our borough have a long tradition of activism, the primary function of which is to disrupt. To stop. To delay. To prevent an injustice. These measures, while important, rarely lead to actual shifts in policy.
After recent primaries and in advance of the general election next month, Queens has seen self-described activists entering into city, state and federal office. This is an important shift. It is a graduation of sorts for passionate community organizers, social-justice warriors and others who—instead of protesting inside City Council chambers, painting signs outside housing court and trekking to JFK during a proposed Muslim ban—will now be inside the corridors of power setting policy, passing legislation and proactively making positive improvements to the lives of everyday Queens residents.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the perfect example, but there are many others preparing to enter office. The long, hard slog of activism and disruption is now the call coming from inside the halls of power.
The Democratic candidate for attorney general of New York State, Letitia James, has deep roots in activism, although more recently she has been embraced by the establishment wing of the Democratic party. James’ story exemplifies the trajectory activism can take: Having gotten her start organizing rallies and protests, she will in all probability win the election and go on to set criminal justice policy that will impact millions of New Yorkers.
The Queens Tribune editorial board couldn’t be happier with this shift. Government needs to be diverse, not just ethnically, but also in terms of breadth of experience. State legislatures shouldn’t be made up only of lawyers, business owners and other accomplished professionals. It should also include activists, who trade in their loud voices exposing problems for the slow, meticulous work of crafting legislation to try to find solutions.
The addition of activists to the elected ranks will promote this balance, making for legislative bodies that are more reflective of the beliefs of the people—which has always been the defining principle of a democracy.