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Buffalo Co-Lab

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Buffalo Co-Lab advances an equitable economy and democratic community, collaboratively integrating scholarly and practical understanding to strengthen civic action.

Underground Politics

Photo of High Road Fellow Uwaila Odiase

Imagine taking the train for the first time in New York City. If you’re uptown, you’re likely to stumble upon the southbound 5 train, which starts at Eastchester- Dyre Avenue. This neighborhood is home to potholes, unreliable buses, and traffic lights that don’t work, but go with the aesthetic. After a few stops, you’ll approach East 180th Street. Here lies a construction worker's dream; after all, the area is always undergoing construction. If you look past the yellow helmets and orange cones, it’ll almost appear as if nothing was done at all. If you’re not sure if the lack of progress is a good or a bad thing, don’t worry- your local councilperson doesn’t know either. Third Avenue is where it really gets interesting. Commonly referred to as the epicenter of The Bronx, Third Avenue is known for having a bit of everything. Street pharmacists wait at every corner, the homeless double as doormen to prominent fast food restaurants, and fans of Ratatouille can witness live performances at the train station. Local schools have top of the notch TSA equipment, so the 40 percent of students who do graduate are already familiar with the screening process. After a few more stops, the Burger Kings are replaced by Trader Joes; the car shops are replaced by overpriced apartments; and perhaps most importantly, you become more likely to see someone holding their AirPods case instead of an asthma pump.

These are the reasons why politics matter. From pollution and dangerously high asthma rates to underdeveloped infrastructure and homelessness, policies at the local, state, and federal level dictate nearly everything in our lives. Even so, only a fraction of us are actively engaged in politics. Some have lost all trust in government and feel like the issue is above them, while others simply don’t have time for bureaucratic verbiage. As such, in order to foster civic engagement and build trust with the general public, transparency and accountability are vital. Transparency and accountability cannot function on their own and America has functioned without both for quite some time. Transparency is not handing out a booklet of political jargon to local residents; it is connecting with community members and mapping out development projects that actually benefit them. Likewise, accountability isn’t just firing a police officer for tampering evidence after 20 years; it is creating enforced standards with a clear line of oversight so that those ‘errors’ don’t happen in the first place. It all boils down to this: in order to have a strong democracy, The United States needs to stop skipping steps and create one first.