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ELECTIONS 2019, MAYOR. Amara Enyia on innovation and equity for Chicago
by Angelique Smith
2019-02-10

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"What I would want 40 years from now is for 2019 to be a watershed moment in the city where anything was possible, where we actually valued ideas over personalities, where we actually looked to solve problems not just to get elected, and where this culture of fear is destroyed, because fear keeps us in a state of mediocrity."—Dr. Amara Enyia

A marathoner fluent in several languages, Amara Enyia—a progressive candidate running for mayor of Chicago—has worked in both the private sector and within grassroots organizations. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she also holds a Ph.D. in education policy and a law degree with a focus on international and environmental law, among various other degrees.

Windy City Times: What would be the top issues you'd focus on if elected?

Dr. Amara Enyia: I've been very intentional about acknowledging the fact that we have to focus on several key issues in Chicago at the same time because of the nature of the challenges that we face. So, the top issues I would focus on would be one, the city's fiscal health and economy; two, education; three, public safety—and by public safety, that's police accountability, that's violence, it encompasses all of those things. Four, issues of housing and affordability. When we talk about affordability in the city, I include issues around gentrification and displacement.

WCT: Backing up to education, what are your thoughts on mandatory LGBTQ-inclusive education in Chicago public schools?

AE: At the state level, I believe there was legislation mandating African American history in the curriculum—the issue was it wasn't being done and I imagine the same challenges might arise in this case. Including it into the curriculum is fine; I think people should be exposed to the history and the culture, both historical and contemporary. But there also has to be some mechanism to make sure that it actually happens in our schools.

WCT: What is your vision for the LGBTQ community in Chicago? And what do you think is the biggest problem facing the community?

AE: In my personal experience, even within the LGBTQ community, there are voices that are still marginalized. I live on the west side of Chicago, and I recall when several Black trans women were being killed—are still being killed—and their stories do not get heard. I was part of a press conference a group of organizations held at police headquarters down on 35th Street late last year trying to raise awareness of what is happening to transwomen of color in particular. It's relevant to me because it's one of the things I've been involved with and heard of the last several years. There's the notion that just because there's Boystown that, somehow, all of the spaces [there] are, just by their very nature, inclusive and welcoming. And that's not the case.

WCT: And your vision?

AE: Being more open to listening to the voices of the marginalized within marginalized groups. Those voices don't get the attention that they need in order to address the issues that are unique to them. And part of that means accountability from those spaces that are supposed to be safe spaces. The other issue that is important to me is our young people, especially queer youth of color. We talk about homelessness in Chicago and so many are homeless or couch surfing from being kicked out of their homes. We have to make sure that they have safe places to stay, access to the medical and public health care that they need, and that they have safety nets in their schools.

WCT: What do you think is missing from coverage you've seen of yourself? What do you want voters to know that they might not know already?

AE: Well, I think, for me, it's the way that I'm covered. I hate to say, it's so typical. It really is. There are always these questions about experience, and I probably have the broadest experience of any candidate that's running. [I've] worked in government, I've been an executive running a non-profit, I've worked in the private sector, I've worked internationally, extensively, on public policy issues. And at my core, I've always been an organizer; that undergirds all of my professional work.

I'm probably the only candidate that can speak fluently on any area of policy from pension to housing to social security to environmental justice because I've worked in all those spaces. I've been criticized by people who actually support me because I rarely talk about my credentials, my educational background, because it's just never been something I talk about. A lot of my credentials and qualifications are questioned and I'm asked questions that you'd never ask a lot of these individuals that are already in office and have done far less.

WCT: You've said in the past that the problem with leadership in the city is the lack of vision. How do you plan to work within the current political machine, or does it need to be completely reimagined? And what pushback do you anticipate from that?

AE: I definitely think it needs to be reimagined. Whatever iteration of machine we have has led us to where we are today and all of the challenges that we're dealing with. It has clearly not worked. Chicagoans of all walks of life—rich, poor, every ethnicity—are saying they want something different; they need something different, that the status quo has not worked for the city. The only way to get something different is to do something different. We need a different kind of leadership that actually has a vision of what Chicago can be.

WCT: Which is?

AE: For me, that is a vision of a city that is governed by values of equity. We need to recognize that our policies in the past have hurt some communities and residents, to the extent that we are experiencing significant population loss, to the extent that communities are dying on the vine due to the lack of economic investment. These are circumstances that were brought to us by the current class of leadership and they're all tied to the establishment … or the machine, or whatever the label is.

WCT: People are afraid of change. Even when it might benefit them.

AE: And Chicagoans deserve better. A vision for Chicago is also a vision of innovation. There are so many ideas and solutions that our campaign has set forth that creates the kind of city that we need. We're not just poking around at the edges of the pension crisis or the revenue crisis—we're pushing a public bank for the city because we know that would be transformative in how the city operates, whether with infrastructure projects or being able to expand our small business sector by issuing low interest loans. We talk about the cooperative economy and how we can actually build generational wealth if we only move down the road of creating worker-owned cooperatives across the city. We talk about different models of land ownership, community land trusts to protect affordability so people aren't getting displaced. These are the innovative ideas that are the hallmark of our vision and our platform and they're all doable.

WCT: Chicago can be very much "this is the way that it's always been done and the way it has to be."

AE: Other cities are doing them but Chicago has not done any of these things because we're so mired in the Chicago way. That has been to our detriment, and what we're pushing is justice and innovation. "Justice" to address our failings in education and the economy that have created the disparities that we're seeing today. "Innovation" because these are fresh, bold ideas that can be truly transformative and, if implemented, can put this city on the right course for the next several generations.

To learn more about Enyia's platform, visit: amaraenyia.com/ .


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