What does it take to imagine change and bring it into being? It’s hard to think of a better place to consider that question than Buffalo, New York’s second largest city, the first in the nation with electric light.
Buffalo drew attention this election season after first-time candidate, long-time activist, India Walton won the Democratic primary, positioning her to become this Democratic city’s first African American woman and first Democratic Socialist mayor.
A Buffalo native, Walton’s no newcomer to long-shot chances. A teen mom in a poor neighborhood, she bore her first child at 14 and dropped out of school, but instead of staying dropped out, she pushed herself to get a GED and then a nursing degree. Giving birth to premature twins, she believed future life into two struggling babies, and made a career of it, becoming a NIC unit nurse.
I first interviewed Walton in 2019 in Buffalo’s traditionally Black neighborhood, the Fruit Belt, which had recently become home to a massive medical campus that was buying up homes and pushing up prices, edging local residents out. Imagining a different future for the place, Walton, by then a mother of four, took on the task of organizing residents to do something that had never been done – to form a community land trust, with a view to keeping some housing affordable, long-term. Which they did.
When Brown stayed silent in face of police violence against Black Lives Matter protestors, Walton imagined a different response. She decided to run for his job. Neither he nor his supporters seemed to have believed that a long-shot campaign like hers could possibly unseat their established power. But it did.
Awake now to the possibility that real change might come to Buffalo, Brown’s backers – among them developers and local Republicans – pulled out every stop to get stop her, and get him back on the ballot. When that failed, they funded a write-in campaign that had enough resources to ensure that his voters were well equipped with all the information, and even a plastic stamp they could use to mark his name on the ballot.
While a full vote tally won’t be completed for weeks, Brown declared victory election night and Walton, with 41% of votes cast, has acknowledged that she’s unlikely to be becoming mayor. She didn’t unseat power, not quite yet.
But returning to Buffalo before Election Day, what I recall from this season, are the two large houses standing in the Fruit Belt, where three years ago there had been only brambles on an abandoned lot. I couldn’t see the future when I was there with Walton then, but she did.
Walton didn’t win this time but she did imagine change and created some, on the campaign trail, in the Fruit Belt, and in the lives of a whole lot of Buffalo babies.
If I were a betting person, I’d bet she’s not finished yet.
You can see our special report on India Walton’s run for Buffalo mayor, at Laura Flanders.org, or catch the show on a public television or community radio station near you. And please consider making a donation.