India Walton running to become Buffalo’s first female mayor
Historically, women have needed to be convinced to enter politics. But since the 2016 presidential election, thousands of women have announced their intention to run for office. And we want them to win. So we give them examples of women who ran. The point: you can too.
When India Walton, 38, found out she had won the Buffalo mayor’s primary in June – a staggering upheaval in which she defeated four-term incumbent Byron Brown and former New York Democratic Party chairman – she left the bar where she team celebrated to make an important call. “Mom! I won! Mom, I’m the mayor of Buffalo”, she screamed in his phone. “Well not until January, but yeah! “
In the deep blue of New York City, winning the Democratic primary means Walton will most likely become Buffalo’s first female mayor and the first socialist mayor of a major American city in decades. Throughout her campaign, the Buffalo native has spoken openly about becoming a mother at 14 and later a registered nurse after having twins who were born prematurely. She also used her experience as a union representative and community organizer to defeat an opponent who widely despised her. “I knew there was a good possibility that I could win, but I didn’t expect the international enthusiasm and the outpouring of support,” Walton told ELLE.com. “We call ourselves the little campaign that could. Below, Walton explains why she decided to show up in the first place and why her victory still doesn’t feel real.
It all happened last summer. For the past five years, I have worked with community groups to try to get things done. Trying to build affordable housing. Trying to implement significant transformations in the way we think about public safety. Attempt to preserve the fabric of neighborhoods by stopping demolitions. And most of the time, the opposition we faced came from the city hall executive.
Then, last summer, people were on the streets protesting after the murder of George Floyd and were largely ignored. The response to the pandemic has been lackluster at best. I was the head of a non-profit affordable housing developer, and people would call me for food. We have started collecting donations and delivering fresh groceries to the elderly. All the while my opponent – the guy with all the resources – was handing out fliers saying, “Check your neighbors are okay. “
Our community has taken care of itself for so long. We have so many local organizations and individuals filling in the gaps and replacing the carelessness of our municipal government. So I decided: my children are older. I am pretty sure about my personal life and my identity. I don’t have the same threats as other people whose livelihood depends on their relationship with the mayor, since he often holds the purse strings. I can say things and do things that a lot of other people who want to see change cannot. And if someone doesn’t do it now, things will only get worse. So I called some of my closest friends and said, “I think I’m going to run for town hall,” and we laughed at it. Then we got down to business.
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Growing up, my family didn’t really have political leanings. My grandmother is a Jehovah’s Witness, so for a short period of my life I didn’t know anything about voting. But as I became more aware of how government interacted with daily life, I became more interested in politics.
When I was 12, my mother met a man who was in prison with a 25-year life sentence on a drug charge. My mother was a member of Families Against Mandatory Minimums because she thought it was unfair that he was in jail for so long for a non-violent offense. She eventually married him and I saw that he was a very good person who cares deeply for my mother, me and my siblings. But [former New York governor Nelson] Rockefeller was able to make a decision that people who sell drugs are inherently bad – and we know that disproportionately, these people are people of color who have been shut out of other economic opportunities – and make them go. in prison for half of their life. It was my first indicator that the government and the legislation Is matter. It’s not far away, and people should have some influence on it.
Then, as I got involved in the local community of activists and social justice, I had to go to the town council and the mayor’s office to try to move our agenda forward. I was thinking, It would be nice if our leadership was compassionate to our needs and listened to us. We shouldn’t have to fight over every basic thing, and that fight would be a lot easier if we had choices that care.
It takes a lot of courage to run for this job because people are so connected to this administration. There are a lot of people who are angry with me because I am a threat to their power and their wealth. But I’ve had so many traumatic experiences in my life that there’s not much I’m afraid of. I made bad choices. I have had a few failures. I was attacked. I’ve been raped. I was molested. I was hit by a car. I almost died during childbirth. There isn’t much that I haven’t experienced. I have no room in my mind for fear. There is too much to do. There are too many people who need help. Someone has to get the job done and lead by example, so why can’t I? Everything I’ve been through is preparation for a moment like this. On election night, my victory speech began with, “I hate to say, ‘I told you.’ You can ignore us and underestimate us as much as you want, but that won’t make us work any less. We know what it takes to win.
I will never forget the night I won the primary. I wanted to make sure that when the results came in my mom was the first phone call I made. She is a hard-working person who raised her six children for a long time alone. And I wasn’t always an easy kid. I had a baby at 14. I dropped out of high school. So I always wanted to make my mother proud. I did some good things like becoming a registered nurse and a nonprofit executive. But being potentially mayor of New York state’s second largest city, that’s when I ultimately didn’t even have to ask. I know she’s proud.
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I hope this is a time jump that inspires someone to become a David and face their Goliath, whether it’s running for office, going back to school, to start this business or pursue a dream. I would be the first woman to be mayor of Buffalo. I would be the youngest mayor of Buffalo. But I am still India. The most exciting part about it is that it proves that ordinary people can do amazing things. Recently, I got a call from Representative Ilhan Omar, and I asked her, “When does this get real? Because it doesn’t seem real. And she said no. You will always be in awe. It is an honor for me to be able to occupy this position. I can’t wait to stay grounded and do it justice.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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