A people’s agenda: Reflections of a progressive’s first year in office

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – I ran for office over a year ago with a strong desire to represent “the people.” I was a reform candidate, obsessed with a vision of what St. Louis could be if only we had government that served the interests of people.

Over the past year “the people” have experienced a few victories. We successfully passed a historical Civilian Oversight Board, raised the minimum wage for nearly 30,000 low-income families in the City of St. Louis (even through this is currently caught up in court), and made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against Section 8 tenants. Some good strides, but not nearly enough.

At the same time, we’ve managed to mortgage City buildings to give a potential windfall to a developer with a lackluster record of accomplishing anything, doled out who-knows-how-much-because-it’s-not-really-tracked tax incentives to corporations, refused to include people with disabilities in our minimum wage law, and are quickly amassing a mass surveillance system for the City while also working to reinstate the red light camera system without public engagement or input.

Now we’re looking to dole out another corporate handout in the form of a bright, shiny new football stadium - without a vote of the people. All the while we have some of the highest poverty rates, racial income disparity, and crime rates in the country. This speaks volumes about our priorities.

At City Hall the voice of the people, and the engagement of the public, is often an afterthought.

We need to get our priorities straight. We need to ensure a representation of the people. We need a people’s agenda.

What is a people‘s agenda?

A people’s agenda means truly representing people. Not large corporations. Not special interests. Not millionaires and billionaires. But rather, normal, everyday people who often have the least voice or access to a seat at the table regarding the decisions that most impact them. What does a people’s agenda mean?

It means putting people first. It means adhering to the racial equity framework put forth by the Ferguson Commission in all policy making. It means recognizing that at its core #BlackLivesMatter, the labor movement, the gay rights movement, the disability rights movement, the environmental movement and the women’s liberation movement are all about creating an equitable society and the need to be working together for the people. It means, as elected officials, we must have the political courage to call out when special interests are usurping our political system and prohibiting a truly representative democracy.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement and the subsequent reports that have been issued by the Ferguson Commission and For Sake of All make it impossible for us to continue to ignore the widening racial disparity in our community. We have to start working in the best interest of people.

What does a people‘s agenda include?

Being responsible to taxpayers: Priorities begin with budgeting. Where we choose to spend our money and to whom we choose to give subsidies sends a clear message about our priorities. In St. Louis, our priorities are often backwards.

Tax incentive reform: We have to rein in our corporate subsidies through a comprehensive tax incentive reform. Research shows that tax incentives have minimal economic impact, are expensive, and inefficient. We have to recognize that for every tax incentive that we hand out we are robbing our schools and our city of the very basic income they need to operate effectively.

Taxpayer-funded stadiums: Part of responsible fiscal management is allowing the voice of the people to be heard when making major financial decisions. Bloomberg, the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal, all are in agreement that sports stadiums are rarely good investments for taxpayers or cities. So if St. Louis is to make an investment such as the proposed stadium, it had best do it with the will of the people having been granted through a public vote. We must adhere to the timeline of the people rather than the timeline of a billionaire to ensure we are making the best decisions for the citizens of the City of St. Louis.

Reforming our criminal justice system: Disparity is perhaps most pronounced within our criminal justice system. We need to look to the recommendations of Campaign Zero and the models championed by the National Network of Safe Communities to create a more just community. We need to take a hard look at bail reform, mental health and substance abuse diversion programs, body cameras for all police officers implemented with best practices to protect victims of crimes, creation of a mandatory abuse reporting system for our jails, and a comprehensive public safety plan that includes hotspot allocation of social service resources rather than hotspot policing. We have to implement policing strategies that build trust and connection between law enforcement and our community to make us all safer.

Reforming our housing practices: Stable communities require stable neighborhoods. This means creating economically integrated neighborhoods rather than concentrations of poverty and wealth. This means practicing inclusionary housing across the city. This also means implementing a Tenant Bill of Rights and closing the loopholes in our nuisance property ordinance that allow for victims of domestic violence and people with disabilities to be evicted from their rentals. It also means the creation of Community Benefit Agreements to ensure that new developments serve the needs of local residents, not just the needs of developers.

Promoting economic justice: We must promote a living wage over a minimum wage. We need to fight for mandatory paid sick leave and paid leave for victims of crime, and eliminate employer credit checks. We need to invest in the creation of green jobs that pay a living wage and sustain our city and planet, while making much needed infrastructure improvements to St. Louis. We need to phase out the sub-minimum wage that is paid to people with disabilities to ensure an equal opportunity for a living wage for all.

Government accountability and rights to privacy: In recent years it’s becoming more commonplace for “smart cities” to make our lives easier and safer. However, with this technology, and its camera-on-every-corner mentality, there are some severe implications to rights to privacy. To date, these discussions in St. Louis have been happening behind closed doors with police and corporate interests, away from the public eye. We have to bring this discussion to the people. It needs to be the people who determine what freedoms we are willing to sacrifice in the pursuit of safety. Government must be transparent with the people.

The next steps toward a people‘s agenda

The aforementioned is just the beginning of a people’s agenda. Many of these policy recommendations are already in motion in some form. Others will require starting from scratch and building the political will to get it done. Over the coming months, each of the facets of the people’s agenda will be explored in greater depth, backed up by research, and championed by the people.

Now is the time to return government to the people. Now is the time for the people to set the agenda.

Megan-Ellyia Green represents the 15th Ward in the City of St. Louis. Twitter: @Meganellyia. FB: https://www.facebook.com/meganfor15thward?fref=ts Website: meganellyiagreen.com.

Photo: Megan Ellyia Green