Why I'm Voting.
A few weeks ago, I stood up at Brooklyn Park’s City Council meeting and addressed a room full of elected officials, city staff, and fellow residents about a discriminatory and limiting catering policy at the Community Activity Center (CAC). CAC has several banquet facilities to host weddings, social events, and family gatherings. Except that it only allows you to select a caterer from their “preferred catering” list. This list has four caterers, none of which provide ethnic food of my people. And not just my people. Brooklyn Park is 51% people of color from a spectrum of ethnicities and cultures including Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, Hmong, Nigerian, and Liberian, to name a few. Obviously the catering policy does not support the community in “Community Activity Center.”
Councilwoman Susan Pha is the only woman of color on our all-white City Council. She was elected in 2016, a year when many of us felt the pain of bigotry, racism and hate that laid dormant until it’s awakening on a high profile platform during the presidential election. The catering policy was bubbled up to City Council to review, and it was Councilwoman Pha who stepped up and took it on. She gathered residents to review the policy, visited the kitchen and toured the banquet facilities. Councilwoman Pha took in all the input from her constituents and brought her observations to the rest of her colleagues. Councilwoman Pha also invited us to attend the next City Council meeting, to share our experiences and suggest how to improve the policy to make it more inclusive.
As I stood at the podium, I shared how I left Brooklyn Park several times in order to host family events because I wanted to serve biryani and samosas to my guests. I chose other community centers because of their open catering policy. I spoke about how the Muslim community also chose other venues to host Ramadan dinners and celebrations because the current caterers charged more money per person to cater in halal meat. This is economic discrimination. Not to mention the fact that the City is losing revenue when we seek out alternative spaces. I brought up all of these points to the city staff four years ago, and I was told that these are contracts in place until 2018 for liability reasons. I felt voiceless and powerless.
More neighbors spoke out before me and after me. And by the end of the night, city staff knew what type of changes they needed to make to the policy. Next month, they will be proposing a new policy to the City Council for approval.
All politics are local politics. Policies like a catering policy start at the local level, at your city level, and bubble up to the national platform. These policies can start out well-intentioned or with malice to discriminate. However, when we vote for candidates who are willing to change policies to be more equitable and inclusive, things do change. If no one showed up to vote for Councilwoman Pha and she was not elected, this policy may have never changed. That night at the City Council meeting, I felt Councilwoman Pha gave me a voice.
This is why I’m voting. I believe that city elections are important and impact my everyday life. Vote for your mayor. Vote for your city council. Vote for your school board. Your voice matters. Your vote matters.