I feel eternally grateful for the people and groups that stepped up during this pandemic to provide food for millions of New Yorkers who can’t afford three meals-a-day. Here in Flushing, there are pop-up food pantries, mutual aid networks and senior centers working around the clock to distribute food and aid to families sinking into poverty.
I have seen constituents waiting in hour-long food lines that they rely on to feed their families. At times, the lines become unruly because people are scared the food will run out before it reaches them. It’s utterly heartbreaking.
Recently, a real-estate developer felt entitled to yell in my face because he had donated a few thousand dollars to deliver food to hospital workers and cops. He claimed he paid “so much in taxes, but it’s that idiot mayor of yours that can’t deliver food to our people.”
My response: No, you have not paid your fair share. You are part of the problem and contributing to our social decay.
Indeed, the city has served more than 130 million free meals to curb hunger, but these food pantry lines prove that it is not nearly enough. Too many families are behind in rent with no income and savings; food has become the new currency for them.
Every human being should be able to eat three healthy meals a day. And if we as a society cannot provide that, then instead of blaming others in bad faith, we should be humble and open enough to accept that fundamental change may be necessary.
This is not a plea for compassion. There is no economy when our people and future generations are no longer motivated to participate in a rigged system.
What this crisis requires from us is a deeper understanding of the state of our democracy. Problems like inequality, poverty and climate change are not short-term aberrations; they are not isolated from other issues, like the enormous concentration of wealth and power among a select few. And none of them are inevitable.
We are told over and over that there’s not enough money for health care, not enough money for education, not enough money for housing, and not enough money for everyone to live decently. It’s a lie — a lie of scarcity.
The biggest crisis we have is a crisis of distribution.
With a gross state product of $1.7 trillion, New York’s economy is one of the largest in the world — around the same size as Russia’s, Canada’s and South Korea’s. We have a higher per-capita GDP than countries like Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands.
However, the share of income captured by New York’s top 1% in recent years has surpassed historic proportions. Our regressive tax structure has enabled many in the highest income brackets to pay an effective tax rate equal to those near the bottom.
That is why I am heading to Albany with six progressive tax solutions to fight rampant wealth inequality. Our goal is to make the ultra-rich pay their fair share, end tax loopholes for the wealthiest and curb exploitative practices of big corporations and financial sectors.
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Moments of great trauma can catalyze change. Look at the Reconstruction era, or the years after the Great Depression and World War II. We are in a better moment now for greater structural transformation than ever before.
We are not going back. We cannot return to the world that caused climate change, turned a pandemic into a global crisis, and created an unsustainable cycle of consumption, debt and relentless growth as the earth’s resources run dry.
Many community leaders and political candidates have seized recent opportunities to “deliver food” at staged photo-ops, as if presenting themselves as the solution. But the mutual aid efforts, pop-up food pantries and other forms of “resource brokering” that I praised are sustained only, and temporarily, by the charity of private actors.
As we start discussing policy ideas and solutions, we must prioritize long-term systemic solutions over short-term band-aids. We must fight for bold, ambitious goals like ending food insecurity once and for all.
Kim represents Flushing and other parts of Queens in the state Assembly.