It hasn’t fully sunk in, but Jamaal Bowman’s victory in the 2020 primaries election set in motion a chain of events he couldn’t have imagined.
“I’m feeling really good about what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing,” Bowman told AL DÍA, a mere five days before Election Day, which will determine whether he will be the next congressman to represent New York’s 16th Congressional District.
But he’s not at all arrogant, in light of the race he’s run so far.
“This is a deeply Democratic district, so I should be fine, but you know, when you’re trying to accomplish something you never know if you have it until you actually have it,” he said.
There’s still a lot to take in and prepare for, but after the showdown that was Bowman v. Engel, the final will be anti-climatic relative to the Presidential Election.
In the final weeks before the election, Bowman has continued to invest his time as an activist with his community, raising awareness about the housing crisis during COVID-19, education, and voting rights.
The power of voting in historically disenfranchised communities has the potential to be tremendous this year, especially with regards to the work several candidates this year — including Bowman — have accomplished. The goal is not only to appeal to those potential voters, but to make them feel that they are truly listened to.
Don’t talk at the people, listen to them
Bowman’s on top of it.
Over the course of his interview with AL DÍA, Bowman touched on several pivotal races across the country, not just his, signaling a deep knowledge of the nation’s political landscape, and everything that’s at stake.
The Arizona Senate race between Martha McSally and Mark Kelly for instance, and the phenomenon of record early voter turnout in Texas, despite Gov. Abbott’s voter suppression tactics — it all comes into play.
“If Democrats could take the White House and the Senate, now we can do some real work and pass some really strong policy, but the work continues and the fight continues. And if Trump wins, then the fight continues even more vigorously. And I feel just fortunate and humbled to be in this position at this moment, to be a part of the fight,” Bowman told AL DÍA.
His campaign’s focus from the beginning was knocking on doors and reaching communities that are normally ignored. Especially voters who don’t vote consistently vote.
“You acknowledge their feelings because they are not wrong. The system has failed them. And the system has failed them for several decades. Several hundred years, if you really think about it right?” he said.
Bowman explained many politicians fall into the trap of merely looking to appeal to already-established voters, instead of going directly to places where people don’t usually go.
“You go to the projects, you go to those low-income communities. You go to the hood. You knock on doors, you have conversations, you listen to people. Listen. More than you speak, because people haven’t been heard for decades,” he said.
And it goes both ways, because the only way to truly change the system this year, is by voting in record numbers, and not just in the Presidential race — as there is an argument that even a vote for Biden will result in a mere shift in the political spectrum — but for down-ballot candidates too, with closer ties to specific communities, and truly know their needs.
“So if you care about housing, and jobs, and racism and reform, we need you at the table to help us accomplish these things,” said Bowman
The Bowman Wave
Not even in the halls of Congress yet, Bowman is already making integral changes to its landscape.
There’s potential for a noticeable change in the faces seen in Congress, especially in 2021. 2018 already saw a record number of people of color in Congress, and now, the future of representation in Washington lies in similarly historic races.
But Bowman has already shaken up Congress dramatically, since the day of his primary results. He unseated Eliot Engel, with over three decades in Congress, who was Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The more I meet with different communities to say things like, we’ve never had a conversation with Engel. We’ve never had a connection. We’ve never had a relationship. He was not present. I have been and I’m gonna continue to be the complete opposite of that,” Bowman said.
But there’s more.
Hispanic Caucus Chair, Joaquin Castro has since announced his bid for the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, opening the door to a more progressive, transparent, and effective foreign policy that will backtrack from the Trump administration’s constant alienation of the U.S. from the rest of the world.
“Joaquin Castro pursuing the Chair of the Foreign affairs committee is super exciting. Because now we can — if he were to win that — we can have real conversations about immigration reform, and the refugee crisis, and what’s really happening and what’s really going on and instead of criminalizing those who are seeking asylum,” Bowman said.
What we can expect from proven history
Already, Bowman has proven he will fight for housing justice and affordable housing, one of the stand-out issues intensified over the pandemic, especially as the nation faces an eviction crisis.
He mentioned his satisfaction with Gov. Cuomo’s staunch policies in preventing evictions, and not letting anyone be evicted from their homes, but of course, more must be done to deal with mounting debt, and the issues smaller landlords face.
“There’s still bullying going on, and intimidation from landlords and management companies, who want people to move out of their apartments so that they can raise the rent and make more of a profit. We’re also fighting on a more macro scale, because here in my district, particularly in Yonkers and in Mount Vernon and parts of New Rochelle, there’s huge developers coming in, and what’s going to ultimately happen is that they’re going to gentrify the community if we don’t have affordable housing options available,” he said.
Bowman has collaborated with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) to combat housing injustice, by providing housing workshops so that those affected know their rights.
Bowman also signaled he’s open to more collaborations that would similarly impact his community.
When asked what sorts of legislation he would pursue — and with who, Bowman said, “everybody.”
“I want to collaborate with anyone who’s going to push the legislation that we need to push. We need to end homelessness in this country. We need to make sure everyone has the opportunity to live in affordable and dignified housing. So that’s one in terms of legislation. Two, we need to make sure everyone has dignified employment as well. Everyone needs a job, and everyone needs a job where they have dignity.[…] We have to deal with the issue of poverty overall, which is the third piece,” he said.
Housing, jobs, and issues of poverty, food security, fully-funding schools, and building wealth in Black and Latinx communities. That’s what’s on the Bowman ticket.
Looking Ahead: The next 4 days and beyond
Looking at the days ahead of Election Day, the key issues the nation will need to navigate are voter suppression, and any premature declaration of victory that the GOP may try to push.
“I’m seeing stuff already play out,” Bowman said.
He headed to the polls on the first day of early voting and stuck out the line for three hours and forty-two minutes.
On one side, that’s good voter turnout. On the other, there shouldn’t be such lines to begin with.
“And what’s frustrating is we didn’t seem to be prepared for the high turnout. And to me, it’s no excuse to not have enough machines, to not have enough poll workers, to not occupy a space that’s big enough. It’s just unacceptable. Whether people are deliberately suppressing the vote or not, it’s voter suppression,” he said.
Bowman mentioned a multitude of ways to better the system, by making Election Day a Federal Holiday, automatically registering voters at 18, and altogether making it easier to vote, not harder.
That is the core of why Bowman ran for office to begin with.
“I knew that if I ran, I could connect with those communities that felt like the system didn’t work for them because I used to feel that way too. And I still feel that way, which is why I ran,” he said.
Whatever the outcome of the presidential “week,” so to speak, Bowman hopes he is at least a model for other people who don’t feel the system is working. And it doesn’t take a run for office — it can be as simple and impactful as organizing, sending a letter or making a phone call. Merely being a part of the Democratic process.
“That’s the key. You wanna change it? We gotta change it ourselves. And my example, beating someone who had been in office for 31 years, beating someone who people didn’t think could be beaten, beating someone that thought that they had it in the bag, they thought they had certain parts of the district sealed up, you know we won those parts of the district,” said Bowman. “So it’s about dealing with the reality, versus the perception of what’s happening.”