According to traditional standards, a proper candidate for Congress is someone who’s highly educated, experienced in electoral politics, and relatively wealthy. For the most part, sitting members of congress fit those requirements with flying colors. Yet, Gallup polls conducted in early April 2017 indicate our current congress has an approval rating of 20%, and a disapproval rate of a monumental 74%. Clearly, it’s time to rethink our traditional standards of what constitutes a proper candidate.
My introduction to politics came at an early age, as my elementary school in Aurora, CO made an attempt to teach us about the Bush V. Gore election. While most other kids were more focused on trading Pokemon cards, the results of the electoral college vote in 2000 didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t fully understand it, but I knew then that something wasn’t right. Since then, I never really stopped keeping tabs on politics. Still, for many years politics to me was another world, far removed from my own life in any direct way. It was to me, like sports is to many: a spectator sport.
At 17 years old, on the verge of graduation, I learned that I would become a father. At that point, politics couldn’t have been further from my priorities. At the height of the Great Recession, I entered the workforce, competing for low-paying jobs with folks who had been displaced from their chosen careers. Transitioning from a teenager into a working dad was no easy task, and I didn’t always make the right choices. Still, even after I was able to course-correct on a personal level, I started to see how politics really did have an impact on my life.
After a few dead-end jobs, I started working with a company that was contracted with an airline at Denver International Airport as a baggage service agent. Very quickly, I was promoted to a supervisor position and began to witness for myself the damage our corporate culture was causing to people’s lives. We were understaffed, overworked, and grossly underpaid. Being contractors, we were making at least $5 an hour less than our equivalents in other airlines with none of the benefits. Often, I couldn’t call in an employee to cover a shift because they were already working that day, or hadn’t had a day off in weeks. Requests to hire more people or increase my employees wages were ignored, leaving me helpless to do something for people who were working so hard for so little. I eventually left the company with the threat of layoffs on the horizon after the airline I was working for had merged with another that was unionized. I knew, and secretly hoped, that the union workers would never accept contractors working alongside them. Sure enough, all of my employees were gone not long after I was.
My next attempt at climbing the corporate ladder was processing home loan modifications for folks who were on the brink of foreclosure. I had a glimpse into the financial state of thousands of Americans. I saw their tax returns, their bank statements, their pay stubs, and of course the terms of their loans. While some were quite obviously living well beyond their means, the majority were simply scraping by as best they could. Most of the loans I processed were the direct result of the crash, and every day I read loan terms that were deceptive and set homeowners on a course for ruin. I also saw just how badly wage stagnation had become, as some people had made the exact same wage as they did in the 90s, when the cost of living was lower. I listened to older homeowners who had to choose between paying for their medications, or their ballooning mortgages on a fixed income. I even talked to some construction contractors whose businesses were ruined after one of Donald Trump’s companies never paid them for their work. Ironically, in September of 2015, several hundreds of us were laid off, with me very relieved I didn’t have a mortgage to attend to.
So, what does this all have to do with my decision to run for Congress? To put it bluntly, my political ideology wasn’t incubated in a classroom, but in the workforce. Every heart-wrenching story I heard, every institutional firewall I encountered, showed me that the standard of living in America has fallen, and I’m not convinced most politicians really have an understanding about the real issues people face.
As a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, I witnessed firsthand that the Democratic Party isn’t doing enough to battle the corporate stranglehold that has overtaken this country. I sat through too many speeches from establishment figures espousing the need to level the playing field, without actually fighting for legislation that would bring us closer to that reality. I’ve also seen the pervasive nature of party politics, as too many Democrats focus on superficialities and trying to boost their own careers, casting aside the need to bring the party back to its New Deal roots.
I decided to run for congress because I want to be the type of candidate I have been hoping for, in vain, to come forth in Colorado and other states around the country. Someone who is focused on a future that benefits all of us, not just corporations. Someone who fights unapologetically for single-payer healthcare, tuition-free college, ending the military-industrial complex, human rights, renewable energy, minimized influence of money in politics, union labor, and so many other issues that we, as Democrats have neglected for far too long.
I’m running for Congress, not because I look good on paper, but because I want to do good in the real world.
For more information and to support this campaign, please visit www.gabrielmcarthur.com