Michelle Wu’s victory in last week’s mayoral election was a vindication of ACE’s outspoken, bold strategy — and a sign that we must now go even bolder.
After decades working to build power for Boston’s Black, Brown, immigrant, and working-class movements, I’m thrilled with Michelle Wu’s victory. Her platform was defined by policies that ACE and our poor, working-class, grassroots, and people of color/immigrant community allies have been pushing for years: free and improved public transit, abolishing the BPDA, rent control, and putting environmental justice first. Her victory affirms what we’ve long believed: our city government must center the poor, working-class, and historically marginalized. It’s about justice. It’s also broadly and deeply popular. We were right to be bold.
I’m also celebrating Wu’s election win because she has shifted the center of gravity in Boston’s politics, with a resounding two-to-one victory. For years, I’ve heard our policy demands derided as unrealistic, as too radical. It’s time for Boston’s political pundit class to take a lesson from Mayor-elect Wu: bold change is popular. Wu’s platform showed that the window of possibility has shifted. We’ve entered a new era, where what was derided as politically impossible just a few years ago, is now on the table.
What’s the path forward for ACE and our allies? We see two key strategies:
First, we’re not going to demobilize and let our guards down. The factions that fought against Michelle Wu’s agenda haven’t gone anywhere. Real estate investors, corporate developers, polluting companies, and other reactionary forces still have a lot of influence in City Hall. And they’re hoping that movement folks repeat the mistake we made after Obama’s election: they’re hoping that we check out, that we sit down — and that they can pressure the City Council into overruling Wu’s plans.
We’re not about to make that mistake.
Second, it’s time for us to be bolder. Everyone in City Hall has seen the political power and popularity of the Wu agenda. This is an opportunity for us to demand more from our city government, to compromise less on what our communities need. As our youth in the Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Program are quick to remind me, we need to see so much more from City Hall.
Take environmental justice: Boston’s plans for climate action are improving — thanks in large part to the building emissions plan we helped pass this summer — but we’re still on track for devastating sea level rise, heat waves, and storm damage that will hit Boston’s poor and working-class the hardest. While our immigrant, Black, and Brown neighborhoods are hit hardest by highway and truck pollution, the city has refused to enforce rules on diesel trucks, and the MBTA seems bent on increasing bus emissions in our communities. Meanwhile, bus and transit service is deeply inequitable, with Black Bostonians more dependent on buses, and spending more time waiting.
Or look at housing and wealth inequity: The most recent study showed that the average Black family in Boston has 30,000 times less wealth than the average White family. Life expectancy for residents on the wealthy end of Mass Ave is decades longer than for those who live at the other end. And while rents skyrocket throughout the city, Black Bostonians are half as likely to own their house as White Bostonians are.
In these two areas alone, there’s a huge gap between the Wu agenda and true justice. We’re setting up shop in that new political space and coming up with innovative policies that come closer to the scale of these deep injustices.
I hope Boston’s grassroots organizers, our movement friends, our union allies will take this to heart: let’s rethink the compromises we’ve been settling for. There’s a new political center, and we need to reassess our strategies.
I learned one final lesson from the Obama era: Mayor Wu won’t have much of a chance passing her agenda, unless she’s flanked on the left by a well-organized, outspoken movement — a movement that sometimes supports her, and sometimes pushes City Hall to go bigger and bolder. She needs this flank if she’s to have a chance of implementing her goals.
We’re going bigger and bolder. And we won’t even think about stepping back. Will you join us?