Helen Gym Draws National Attention in New Role

Longtime activist is first Asian-American woman on City Council.


Helen Gym, the longtime education activist, is drawing national attention this week: She joined City Council as an at-large member on Monday, the first Asian-American woman elected to that body.

NBCNews.com featured an interview with Gym on its “Asian America” site Monday, highlighting her new role and interviewing her about her history of activism. If she continues to receive national attention — she was honored by the White House in 2014, and received support from the American Federation of Teachers during the City Council race — that could help her raise campaign funds in the future.

Some highlights from the NBC article:

Her history of grassroots organizing was a solid foundation for running for office: “I think the other lesson here is about the difference between political power and a grassroots movement. Political power was not the first thing we sought. Instead, we were really trying to build a stronger base to highlight the voices of different communities across the city. That’s how you change things: when a collective movement builds and earns political power rather than just grasps for it.”

She intends to keep that grassroots perspective now that she’s in a position of city leadership: “I come out of community struggle and ran to ensure that communities have as much voice as the many moneyed entities and lobbyists who often shape our city policies. Our communities are clear that they want a city vision that focuses on transformational public spaces and lifting up our children and our neighborhoods. I intend to work with my fellow colleagues to make those goals a reality.”

She believes public institutions are the key to building a strong community: “For years, we’ve been subjected to relentless rhetoric that people don’t want to invest in public institutions anymore, that their schools have failed and their teachers have failed, and that school choice was the only option people had — and they ought to be grateful to those who provided it. But as I campaigned around the city, I was amazed at how many communities had really soured on that idea. Especially in the neighborhoods that suffered from the most disinvestment, people really understand just how important their public institutions and their public spaces are. This is a bigger issue than just schools. Electing officials who want to shut down public institutions, take away services from communities, and cut taxes on the wealthy can no longer be called working in the public interest.”

There’s much more. You can read the entire interview here.