Flatbush Community Imagines the Future

On Thursday May 10, members of the Flatbush community came out to the local YMCA to reimagine local politics in Brooklyn in a Vision workshop facilitated by Alicia Ness and Melissa Gradel. A diverse group, their values were remarkably aligned. Multiple participants identified accountability, integrity, and transparency as core values they hope their political leaders will uphold, while inclusion, honesty, independence, and expertise were noted as well.

Among the leaders they admired were Charles Bear, City Council members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams, and TWU founder Michael Quill. When asked to describe the qualities of leaders they admire, the group favored those who were passionate and outspoken, willing to fearlessly take risks to defend the needs of their community. They valued leaders with a sense of solidarity with the community, who urgently sought to meet their needs. They also felt that the best leaders where those who were responsive and accessible, who could always be counted on to act with integrity.

Next the group explored qualities which make someone a good citizen. Being a good citizen, they believed, meant being a charitable neighbor, with a commitment to get involved in community service. Good citizens, like good leaders, should be counted on to act with compassion, integrity, and civic responsibility.

When invited to consider how leaders and citizens could better collaborate to strengthen the community, the group focused on ways to improve both communication and action. At a minimum, participants hoped that community members could count on their leaders to keep them informed, but ideally, they hoped that their leaders would create public forums that would invite two-way dialogue. They hoped that leaders would be willing to listen to members of the community with whom they might have a difference of opinion, and that leaders could become the voice of those who feel silenced. One participant offered that participatory budgeting offered one such opening for dialogue and collaboration. He hoped that the expansion of PB might invite more members of the community to become civically active.

When they imagined the future Democratic politics of Brooklyn, they hoped that the Party would be creative about making alternative ways for people to participate, whether via text polls, online issue votes, or live-streaming events. They hoped that the Party would host frequent, well-publicized public meetings and steward transparent and inclusive elections. They felt the Party could more strategically collaborate with nonpartisan civic entities (like community boards) to better engage at a local level. They hoped that the Party would advocate for more accessible voting, for example through early voting and simplified election laws. They also hoped the Party would provide training for future political leaders, to ensure that those in power represent a good mix of those with expertise, experience, and new ideas. By emphasizing training and new ideas, the Party would no longer encourage elected officials to remain in power purely for the sake of “their job” but only when their tenure truly served the community.

After the meeting concluded, Vision volunteer Jessica Baker Vodoor captured some video responses, and other volunteers collected participants’ written responses, which will be incorporated into the Vision Summit in the next phase of this project.