As the Buffalo Common Council reconvened after summer break Tuesday, a coalition of community activists, organized labor and city residents took to the steps of City Hall to unveil their vision for a more equitable and inclusive Queen City.
The coalition's "Our City" platform is the culmination of a six-month community planning process in which nearly 1,000 city residents gave input. The process found Mayor Byron Brown's policies have been displacing Buffalo's longtime poor and working-class residents by benefiting "profit margins for developers" instead of city residents.
"Our City is the people's vision of what a more just and equitable Buffalo will look like," said India Walton, who led the coalition's call to action. "We don't need a new Buffalo that prioritizes developers and gentrifiers. We need a Buffalo that puts people and planet first. (That's right!)"
"In Buffalo, people are waking up to the fact that the developers are contiuing to profit while the poor are being further marginalized and criminalized," said Fruit Belt Advisory Council President Dennice Barr. "It is our duty to fight for our needs to be met and it is our duty to win. That's why I'm on the steps of City Hall today."
The coalition has targeted nine areas for inclusion: affordable housing, community policing, immigration, public education, transportation, frontline arts, food and health equity, energy democracy and cooperative ownership and community control of resources.
Samantha Nephew spoke on behalf of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization.
"In Our City, we demand a $10 million increase in city funding to help provide an advancment in strong community schools, restorative practices, trauma-informed care, culturally and linguistically responsive teaching, whole child-whole school education and parent centers, as well as increased staff in music, arts, libraries and mental health," Nephew said. "In Our City we will invest in public education like we did the waterfront. Canalside is pretty, but an educated populace is beautiful."
PUSH Buffalo's Kawiye Jumale about the city's immigrants.
"The immigrant community in Buffalo must be able to access city services without fear," said Jumale. "That means everyone can communicate in a language they understand and that city officials, including the Buffalo Police Department, will not turn people over to be deported."
The coalition wants Buffalo Police to deprioritize low-level and non-violent offenses, especially against people of color and those with mental illness.
Paw Mu Nar shared how her mother gets up at 5 a.m. each morning to catch multiple buses from Riverside to her job in Cheektowaga.
"I want all who can't speak English, speak up for yourself," she said. "No matter what language you speak, don't let these people put you down. You know yourself and the pain you have been through. Scream out you pain and suffer until this seat is shaking (applause)."
She said everyone deserves access to "robust, reliable and affordable public transportation" that prioritizes the needs of riders.