I want to make the case that if you are aligned with the direction for the new national administration advocated by AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—Dr. Veronica Pillar is your obvious choice in the upcoming special election to fill Anna Kelles’ seat from district 2 on the Tompkins County Legislature. Voting for Veronica Pillar over her opponent is a vote to bring consistent focus to the ways in which the national—even global—tragedies of unconscionable levels of wealth inequality, racial injustice and climate change play out locally—and how they can be productively addressed to improve the quality of life for all in our local communities.
Dr. Pillar has a proven track record working with organizations like SURJ (Show Up for Racial Justice) and the TC Antiracist Coalition to articulate visions for policy and funding that center the many underrepresented people left behind by Ithaca’s rush to gentrify.
Her training in science, education, and activism brings exactly the skills the legislature needs right now: research-based decision making, deep listening to many perspectives, and a systemic understanding of the destructive power imbalances at play in our government and broader society.
Veronica has experienced how so many of the common sense proposals from members of SURJ (Show Up for Racial Justice), Black Lives Matter, the Sunrise Movement, Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition, Decarcerate Tompkins, DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), TC Anti-racist Coalition and the Ithaca Tenants Union are treated as oppositional to the work of city and county government, despite periodic proclamations from our elected officials of their desire to create “sanctuary” and embrace tenets of the Green New Deal here.
Yet, as the sensitive teacher she is, Veronica understands that this apparent dismissal of local knowledge and experience is not caused by bad intentions or inhumanity. Rather, she correctly appreciates how the daily grind of keeping communities functioning on increasingly limited public resources gradually wears away at feelings of solidarity with the aspirations of the public to be heard, and also reinforces limited social imagination.
The decision that faces us in Tompkins County is whether we will continue to rely on the long- discredited rationale of trickle-down economics—investment in amenities for the upper middle class, including luxury housing—that is—gentrify through policy—even as you claim to care about everybody. Then use a good portion of the property taxes paid by those catering to the wealthy in efforts to ameliorate the public pain resulting from the increasing social inequalities that gentrification worsens.
We already knew that in a small city like Ithaca, gentrification promotes the continual cutting down of life-giving trees, more out-of-town shopping, and little allegiance to our own impressive cultural and quality-of-life-pursuing institutions. The organization that embodies our community’s intention to provide the basic humanity of living wages for all–The Tompkins County Workers’ Center—struggles with insecure funding as does Suicide Prevention–the very symbol of advocacy for meaningful life. Our collective experience of this horrific past year has provoked only more anger about the policy of offering hefty tax abatements to developers while promises of job creation from Ithaca Area Economic Development (IAED) are unfulfilled.
Perhaps worse, continuing gentrification increases the tensions around negotiating the necessary transformation of the police by intensifying the preoccupation with a concern for “public safety” that often has a racist character. Veronica has been listening to a wide array of communities, most of them confirming a conception of what makes people feel safe and welcome that is based on more equitable distribution of resources for living and healing.
By contrast, Veronica Pillar’s opponent has been a successful administrator at Cornell, which is, of course a respected cultural asset and a significant employer in our community. Yet Cornell is also the corporation in the business of maintaining and growing an $8 billion+ endowment, which earns “the goat of labor” award from the Tompkins County Workers Center every year, and drives gentrification through continual expansion of its mission and real estate holdings.
These two candidates present a sharp contrast in voice, and it is the voice of Dr. Veronica Pillar that promises a new wisdom of local government guided by the experience of communities articulating a different conception of public safety and future for Tompkins County.
Emerita Professor of Educational Studies