Yuh-Line Niou, the Assembly member who was elected in November and now represents Downtown in the lower house of the State legislature, was ceremonially sworn in at an event held in the Museum of Jewish Heritage last Thursday. (She officially took office on January 4, at a ceremony in Albany.) The local event was attended by State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, State Senator Daniel Squadron, and City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who administered the oath of office to Ms. Niou.
While many public officials would have confined their remarks to thanking well-wishers, Ms. Niou took the occasion to draw a stark contrast between her vision of government and that of newly inaugurated President Donald Trump.
“This moment is yours as much as mine,” Ms. Niou said to the crowd of supporters and constituents gathered in the auditorium, “because your work, your friendship and support, your tireless efforts made our win possible back in November.” Her tone then shifted as she said, “but, November. Let’s talk about November. In a lot of ways, November seems like such a long time ago, because the changes, the political appointments and rhetoric that we’ve seen since then have brought forth greater fears for the future of our nation and our democracy than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
Ms. Niou continued, “across our country, every day, immigrants, women, people of color and working families are sitting at kitchen tables and bar stools; gathering in barber shops and book clubs and asking ‘What do we do? How do we move forward when the country feels like it’s moving backwards so fast, and so far?'”
She also sounded a note that has been invoked by progressive local leaders across the United States in recent weeks, predicting that regional officials can become a bulwark against both encroachment by the federal government, or any abdication by Washington of its traditional responsibilities: “It is from these local offices, from our state legislatures, cities, towns, and neighborhoods, that the resistance will rise,” Ms. Niou said. “It is from our work defending the rights of everyone, standing up to bullying and bigotry, and achieving the results families depend on, that we will show the voters across our country that there are better options than giving into their darkest fears and biases and electing know-nothing politicians who would keep us down.”
Predicting that, “we face dark times,” she cited the folk wisdom that “it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” and continued, “in our times, that candle will be hope, it will be compassion, and it will be truth.”
“We cannot give up on the truth,” she added. “We can’t, even in this so-called post-fact world. Because despite all you hear, despite the ‘hashtag’ fake news, truth is still very powerful. And while we are all understandably concerned about the future, the reality is, the truth of our future terrifies our opponents.”
“Why?” she asked rhetorically. “Because we — all of us in this room — are the truth. My immigrant family is the truth. Determined women are the truth. My Latina sisters and African American brothers, who are well on the way to being the new majority in this country, are the truth. Young people who are demanding a greater role in shaping the new economy they must live in are the truth. And we are growing in numbers, we are growing in strength, and as we saw in my election, we are refusing to abide by the limits of a democracy that would limit our voices and our right to self-determination.”
Citing her personal and family history, Ms. Niou reflected that, “when an immigrant baby grows up to be the first Asian-American to represent Manhattan in the State legislature, that scares the powers that are today taking over Washington. When a woman of color stands up and joins with labor unions, tenant leaders, and advocates for the poor to assert power over our future and our economy, that frightens those who want to continue to build a society of haves and have-nots. When the people come together to reject the outdated politics of the past and embrace a new future built on equality, justice, and opportunity, that terrifies those coming to power who are desperate to take our nation back to a time in which their dominance was unquestioned and our access was nonexistent. They fear us, and they fear our success. Because we are rising.”
Ms. Niou also sounded a cautionary note, warning that, “we will not be able to fight back against what is coming unless we continue to stand together, dream together, work together and achieve together.”
Turning to local issues, she noted that, “Lower Manhattan is a thriving and growing community, a unique place to live and raise a family — but it still faces its share of challenges. I pledge to fight for New York City Housing Authority residents and their homes, and ensure that no tenant is left behind to fight for their homes on their own.”
About the ongoing project of making Downtown resilient against future extreme weather events, she observed, “Lower Manhattan faced one of its greatest challenges during Hurricane Sandy. I will push for the necessary funding so that our neighborhoods are protected from future natural disasters, and work with the community to ensure it receives its fair share of funding.”
Focusing on the ways in which the overheated real estate market is transforming Lower Manhattan, Ms. Niou commented that, “construction and development can be positive, but not when our neighbors — many of whom are seniors and low-income families — are pushed out of their homes. It is critical that we stand together and push for the interests of our communities, and I pledge to stand up and advocate for the preservation of our neighborhoods.”
Summing up, she reflected that, “we have much that we need to achieve in our district and in Albany: protecting seniors and affordable housing; ensuring that the wealthiest among us are required to pay their fair share; defending public education; and building an economy that works for everyone.”
“All of that is achievable if we keep working together,” she concluded, observing that, “we’re off to a great start. Here I am, the first Asian-American to represent this district, standing in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and looking out at a crowd that is as diverse and beautiful as our great city. New York succeeds because we embrace our diversity, our immigrant families, and people from across the country no matter what they look like, how they worship, or who they choose to marry.”
Ms. Niou closed with the words, “we will not abandon truth. We will not give up on it, nor will we give up on our nation’s future. We are the rising American electorate, with a Capital “A”. And we are ready to fight.”