Getting Civic Minded with Diana Richardson

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On Saturday, January 26, I attended Diana Richardson's monthly meeting called Civic Minded. I went over to the auditorium of Middle School 61 at 400 Empire Boulevard. I found myself a seat and a few minutes after 2pm, I heard a booming Diana Richardson as she entered from the back, dressed in a style much younger and more flashy than the one in her campaign posters. She was very animated, speaking loudly, all the way to the front of the auditorium. Her demeanor was informal – she told how excited she is now, just as she confessed to being depressed before the recent elections. She hugged various people and often referred to the truth that she is irrepressible. At one point she told the audience, that grew to almost seventy people that, “I love you; you will never know how much.” She told about the power of money versus the power of people organized. She wanted to make sure it was the latter that won the contest.

The agenda was to tell about recent accomplishments in the state legislature. Richardson said more had been done in the last two months than had been done in the previous ten years. She mentioned the GENDA Bill, which protects the rights of transgender people and outlaws conversion therapy for young people; the Reproductive Health Act directed at protecting the right to abortion in New York State; the Dream Act which insures the rights of Dreamers into higher education; the Voting Reform Act, which allows early voting and registers 16- and 17-year-olds. The atmosphere of the meeting was something like that of church. Participants in the audience sometimes called out “Amen” and otherwise expressed agreement, and Richardson solicited such responses, sometimes asking if she was right after making a point. Several times she touted her frankness – demanding the audience acknowledge that Blacks had been treated unfairly because of racism throughout the history of the United States. Eventually she stepped aside and introduced her main speaker.

Kassandra Frederique from the Drug Policy Alliance took the floor – the point of her presentation was to point out the bias in the implementation of drug laws, particularly in relation to marijuana since the infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws of the 1960's. She pointed out how Blacks had suffered the most from these laws and, even after marijuana was decriminalized in the 1970's, Blacks had continued to be arrested in large numbers and incarcerated, even as white sections of New York State were left alone. She told of many continued unfair practices even as marijuana was made legal. She pointed out that medical marijuana is very expensive, and it is hard to get because one must find a doctor to prescribe it. Using it can also lead to discrimination – loss of a job, denial of housing, and more. She further said that of the licenses to open marijuana businesses, none had gone to Black people and most had gone to large companies from out of state. She noticed that after years of treating drugs as a criminal problem with massive numbers of Black people suffering incarceration, losing public housing and being separated from their children, in the current opioid crisis, that is affecting many white people, that the solutions that have been proposed have been medical treatment and therapy.

She called for Blacks to receive compensation for the previous oppression. She invited the audience to put pressure on the state legislature to pass bills that would benefit Blacks, including measures to allow “underground” businesses to become legitimate. She hoped that many small businesses could be created as in the beer industry to benefit local people working in the community She hoped this could be true as well for small farmers who grow marijuana.

Richardson endorsed everything Frederique said and called on people to go to Albany with her. She also asked that we get to know one another. At the beginning of the meeting, she had pointed out that her district, the 43rd, crosses four Community Boards, four police precincts, three senatorial districts and two congressional districts and five City Council Districts. She stated that her meetings are the only place people can come together from all over the 43rd Assembly District, At first she asked that everyone move to the front of the auditorium, and at the close of the the meeting she said she would block the door until everyone had introduced themselves to one other person.

I went up to her and got her ear for a minute. I said I was a member of the Lincoln Civic Block Association as well as Mosaic Baptist Church and that I run the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Association and said that she might be able to come to visit institutions to tell what she is up to. She said she might want to do just that. I also told her that I am a budget delegate in Laurie Cumbo's district and hope to have a proposal on the ballot to plant twenty trees up and down Nostrand Avenue. She asked me if these would be in her district, and I assured her they would be. She put me in touch with her scheduling person who passed me along to Godfrey, who had attended the Lincoln Place Block Party over the summer. Also a candidate for Civil Court Judge asked if he might also come and address these groups. We all traded information; we will see if anything comes of this.

Right now Assemblywoman Richardson is on a roll. Things are going her way and it shows. She is brimming with energy and good feeling. She has been patient; now time is on her side.

UpdatesJonathan Judge