Detroit City Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero of the 6th District discusses the importance of community. January, 2022.
0:00:04.0 Cindy Bank: Hello, everyone. I'm Cindy Bank, I'm the Associate Director of the Program in Practical Policy Engagement here at the Ford School, and I am very excited to welcome you all to our kick-off for the semester, Young Leaders in Public Service. The City Council person, Gabriela Santiago-Romero. First, I want to acknowledge Mariam Negaran, who is my associate at P3E who will be handling all the technical issues for this event, and also our Community Engagement Manager, DeAndré Calvert, who just signed on. I hope everybody will feel comfortable for those... I know some of you are driving and doing some other things, but if you wouldn't mind turning on your cameras, if you're comfortable. And then... So Gabby, it's okay if I call you Gabby will, she's gonna give some introductory remarks and then we will turn it over to Q&As, and we really want this to be... We really would like this to be something that is interactive and so that you can have a conversation with Gabby. So without further ado, I'm gonna turn it over to her. Thank you, Gabby, for being with us today.
0:01:23.4 Gabriela Santiago-Romero: Yeah, I know, of course, thank you Cindy and thank you to the Ford School and thank you everybody who's joining on the call, I know we're all probably Zoomed out, there's a lot of Zoom fatigue, being in person is a lot better, there's usually pizza along with events like these at eve events so apologies, but I see some people with coffee, so I hope you've got your breakfast, your water, your coffee in. And I'm excited to be here. So as mentioned, I am Council Member, Gabriela Santiago-Romero, here in the City of Detroit. I preside my work over District 6, and for folks who don't know District 6 in Detroit, often people think of District 6 as just Southwest Detroit, but frankly, it is so much more. It encompasses a little bit of Downtown, Midtown, Woodbridge, Corktown, Southwest Detroit, area codes 4217, which is very close to the Marathon refinery, 4204, which is above Warren. So it's a very large district, it's a very diverse district in backgrounds, in income, salaries and needs, so we can get into all of that work and what it means to be an elected, to be serving so many different folks who all require your attention and care.
0:02:43.8 GS: And I'm excited to dive in and share a little bit about my work and why I'm even doing this in the first place. And I do want this to be interactive, so I will share my story, try to be brief, I was given 15, 20 minutes. I don't think I'll take all that time, but I would love to answer any questions afterwards and would love to hear from folks that are on this call. I'm only gonna assume the people here care about local elections, care about our local governments, or just being engaged in general in creating change so I would love to share about yourself as well and any questions that you might have for yourself and how you can do this work as well. But for me, I always start my story by... If people who... I'm laughing 'cause my Executive Assistant is behind me, he knows this story by heart. I always start my story by talking about the first time that [0:03:31.9] ____ was born. So I'm an immigrant, originally from Mexico, but I came to the States when I was one, and I was raised in Southwest Detroit to a single mother, and I didn't know we were poor until I was in middle school, and I was crying to my mom for new Nikes.
0:03:47.9 GS: I don't remember those Jordans or Air Forces that I wanted, but all the girls in school had new shoes and I wanted to look fresh too, so I asked my mom who was cooking dinner for us, she had her back towards me, and I asked her, "Mommy, can you buy me new shoes?" And she told me, "No, mija, I can't." And I couldn't understand why, but I mean poverty was a thing, so I asked her really meekly, I said, "Mom, are we poor?" And she turned around, shoved the spoon on my face and said "You don't know you're poor?" Laughing at me, and I felt really dumbfounded, I had no idea that we were poor. 'Cause growing up, there was always food on my table, my mom always provided for us, the lights were always on, the heat always worked. The image that we hear poverty was not the life that I lived because my needs were always met, but it was really later in life that I realized that the food on my table was often picked up at a local church or a food pantry.
0:04:39.6 GS: My mom would take me with her sometimes, and she would pay $15 to get a box full of food. My mom worked seven days a week, the moment that she woke up to the moment that she went to bed to put her money together to be able to pay our bills, which allowed us to live our lives with dignity. And she told me when I was growing up, "Mija, go to school, get a good education." Something she wasn't able to do back in Mexico past the third grade. So I did that, I listened to my mom. I'm the first person to go to college in my family, graduated from Detroit Mercy University and I studied International Business. 'Cause quite frankly, in this capitalistic system that was where my mind went, in order to just provide for ourselves, in order to sustain my family and in order to meet our needs.
0:05:26.7 GS: But quite frankly, I was raised in the city of Detroit, a Detroit that is full of social justice warriors and leaders and fighters. And when I was in college, it didn't really sit well with me that I was learning frankly, about just the bottom line, only about how to make the corporations the most amount of money. We were often asked, "What would you do to balance your budget." And primarily, young kids would raise their hands and say, "I will cut costs by cutting pay for my workers, I'll cut salaries, I'll cut hours, I'll cut benefits." And they were being awarded for this. This did not sit well with me, it was really frustrating, it was pretty terrifying that they were graduates leaving the school to continue the cycle of capitalism that was really harmful, that was keeping many in my family marginalized, really impoverished. And I was in college during the recession so when I was driving back home, there were dads with their pink slips having a cigar in the middle of the day, and having a cigarette in the middle of the day 'cause they had just lost their job because here were corporations cutting jobs in order to balance their budgets.
0:06:39.0 GS: Thankfully, during this time, Rashida Tlaib was my State Rep, and she was a fighter for workers. She stood up to Marathon Refinery when they were poisoning us here in Southwest Detroit. She stood up to corporations that wanted to cut back on our benefits and to cut back on us unionizing. Which to me, gave me a lot of hope to have someone from the community, a woman of color, a woman who comes from immigrant families who was fighting for everyone. So quite frankly, if it wasn't for Congresswomen Tlaib, I would not be here. I would not have, I think, the strength or the craziness, 'cause you gotta be a little crazy to do this work to believe that I can actually accomplish this. But thankfully I graduated and I stayed firm in the belief that you can change things from the inside, that it's important to know how business works, it's important to know how it functions and I'm using those skills today on City Council. All we do is review contracts, all we do is review budgets, so thankfully, I am using that degree and I'm using it for something that I feel feel good about.
0:07:50.1 GS: I've worked for the county, I've worked for Warren Evans right after college, I was an executive assistant there, and quite frankly, that was a reality check of how much work our government needs. The Wayne County at that time, I believe it's different now, I hope that it's different now. I was working out of papers in files and here I was able to send files in a zip folder online, and we ask ourselves, "Why are things taking so much time?" It really is quite frankly, 'cause a lot of our local municipalities are not up to speed, to technology are not up to speed in order to be able to provide us the services that we need. And I'm seeing that now, even on city council, which we can get to. But for me, it became very evident that it's important that we have people, young people, people who are willing to learn to accept change in order to really better service residents, 'cause quite frankly... And many of us that are angry at the government have complete right to be, we have a long way to go. So after the county though, after experiencing that and seeing everybody had a Master's Degree, everybody that I loved was a social worker, and then we then head down to the School of Social Work at U of M. I decided to apply, and recently graduated in 2018 with my Masters in Social Work, so that's my connection to U of M.
0:09:18.0 GS: I'm very proud of being able to go and the support that I got from the University. I worked really hard, I was on the student senate. I was in student union at U of M. I was the president there, super funny. And for me, being someone that's always been very engaged on campus and in the community, and I think that's an important skill and trait and things that... If that's something that you do now, please continue to do, because we need folks that are willing to take on those extra leadership opportunities and meet them well. And really, for me, that experience of running the campaign, we ran the [0:09:57.9] ____, even though we didn't need to, it was a lot of fun, and I think for me it was a little taste, a little practice of what it would be to put together a campaign on a larger scale. For myself, I never necessarily grew up wanting to be in politics or wanting to be a politician, quite frankly, I always grew up protesting them, and the first time someone actually mentioned to me about going into politics I, once again, I was a child, I was in middle school.
0:10:28.5 GS: I was crying to my teacher about how we have global change, global climate change and how it was real, I was really scared and frustrated even back then. And I was talking to her about how I think we should design cars to breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen, like plants, and whoever is in science please figure that out. And my teacher said, "Well, you know, you should be a scientist, you should go into that and work in chemistry or whatever." And I laughed I said, "I'm not good at math, I don't wanna do that." Although I think we're all good at math it just takes practice. That wasn't something that I loved at that time. So she said, "Okay, fine. Go into politics. Be a politician." And quite frankly, I don't know if y'all remember, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, I didn't think that was possible. My response to her was, "Me? I thought you had to be an old White man to be a politician." Again, this is a fifth grader or a sixth grader responding to her middle school teacher. 'Cause that was what we saw all of the time. We didn't see people like us, we didn't see diverse leadership, young folks, women of color, queer folks, leading in these roles.
0:11:38.3 GS: So honestly, I put them in the back of my mind and never thought about it again, but thankfully, throughout my career, my life, people like Rashida, people like Senator Chang, people like my former Councilwoman Raquel, all incredible people who have run for office who have told me to run since, I was 17, 18 years old. Because they've seen me in the community, they've seen the work that I've done, and because of that push, because of being told to run over a 100 times, I started to believe it a little bit more. And quite frankly, I think that's the unfortunate reality for many women, many women of color, for many people of color, many queer folks, disabled folks. If we don't see it, and if we're not asked to do it, we don't really believe that we can, but thankfully, I've had the supports and the encouragement of incredible people in my community. So after I graduated from school social work I was the policy and research director at We The People Michigan. We're an incredible organization. I cried for a month after winning the election for City Council, realizing that I will be leaving my job at We The People. But We The People is a statewide organization that I helped fund.
0:12:56.9 GS: I was one of the first three that were hired in. And we created this organization really rooted in community and building power for marginalized communities across the state, across races and backgrounds, 'cause we believe that those of us that are the most impoverished, working class, middle class are often pinned against each other by race. So if you're up in the [0:13:22.5] ____ if you're up in the UP, you often hear, especially from those in power, that those people in Detroit and we all know what that means. Those people in Detroit are asking for too much money, and that's why we can't provide you money for housing. And we hear the opposite in the city of Detroit. You know, those people up in Oakland don't care about you or whatever the case may be in Warren because they're asking for more funding for whatever the case may be. We can't give you anything that you need. So really, we've been divided.
0:13:51.6 GS: We've all been told to believe in the scarcity mindset, and those of us that worked at We The People, or work at We The People believe that it's complete BS. Look at this nation. Look at this world. We are full of abundance. It's really us that are being broken against each other. It's really leadership that wants us to believe this and just believe in this narrative that is keeping us from achieving what we should be able to achieve, from accessing all the resources and services that we deserve. So while working at We The People, I was once again approached by friends and local leadership to consider running for office. So the first time I ran was in 2020. I ran for County Commissioner. It was my first attempt, and I actually announced in 2019, in October of 2019. And I had gone through every how to run for office training. I've talked to everybody that I knew in office. I had really prepared myself because I frankly, don't like to lose. I don't like to make mistakes. I wanted to be as prepared as possible. But nobody prepares you to how to run for office during a pandemic. So as soon as March hit, I became paralyzed 'cause I knew what this meant. I knew that I couldn't knock on doors if I cared about people's safety, and I do.
0:15:11.2 GS: I knew that I couldn't ask for money because how when people were losing their jobs and quite frankly, when the federal government and the local government was not responding to our people, how can I go around telling people to vote for me, to vote for change when the people that we voted for weren't even working for us? So quite frankly, I put a pause on my campaign. I didn't campaign for a few months. I shifted completely over to mutual aid efforts with local friends. About 20 of us got together. We raised around $75,000. We provided 300 families, direct service, food, translation services, support for them to get their federal cheques. Because for me, that's what was needed. And that's truly who I am in the poor. And quite frankly, politics doesn't matter if they're not responding to you. So we paused that, I did not win because I was running against a 20 year incumbent. But we got incredibly close. I lost by 1000 absentee votes, so we won election nights. We lost 1000 absentee votes. And that is a huge win, to be completely honest, to run against a 20-year incumbent in my community. After the loss, it was hurtful. It was very painful. It's a painful thing to go through. But I had accepted that I was gonna try again in two years, and that I was gonna focus completely on organizing and that was that until January of last year.
0:16:37.5 GS: Around this time, I was actually contemplating running for City Council because my Councilwoman, Raquel, was not seeking reelection and she reached out to me asking if I would run for her seat. This is literally a dream come true to be asked by your city Council member or your city representative that you really respect. She has mentored me. I've never worked with her, but she's really mentored me and shared a lot with me, her experience and what was needed. So I said yes. Actually, I said yes and then I said no 'cause I got scared I would have to have... The primaries were gonna be in August. Quite frankly, I had to give myself time to run. But then Rashida Tlaib called me. She's like, "I heard you backed down. Don't do that. We're gonna support you." And that's when I said, "Okay, if the community has my back and I know that I've done a lot of work in the past for the County Commission seats and there's overlaps in the districts. I will try again." And we tried again. And it was beautiful. We had an amazing campaign. A large majority of my campaign team, all U of M grads, love them so much. Still undergrads so incredibly smart, brilliant people who helped get me to the finish line. And we ran a really amazing race.
0:17:58.8 GS: We ran... We won by almost 75% of the votes. So 74.5%. We raised around $140,000. Just so much money. I first raised 40. I raised 40k in my first race. We had a ton of interns and volunteers. We mapped the district twice. We put a lot of work because for me, I didn't just want people to think that Raquel was gonna give me her seat and that was that. That's not who I am. That's not the point. We still have to work hard. People still needed to know who I was, how to contact me, what my values were, what I wanted to do for them as their city Council member. And now we're here. I'm calling you live from my office in Downtown. We've started, we're about a week and a half in, and my team I'm really proud to say we are all moved in fully staffed computers, Emails, phone numbers. We're ready to go. And there are other offices that are still catching up and getting their offices together, but we're ready and we're really excited. And I'm really honored to be doing this work.
0:19:10.3 GS: I wanted to mention just briefly before going into questions, I would love to answer any questions or hear what people may have concerns of or ideas of, but for me, why I'm doing this and why I think we, those of us that are active in the community, do have an organizing or a social work or community mindset to do this work is because we need us. We need people who are willing to work hard. Who, like myself, who are willing to come in during your winter break to clean up your whole office so your staff can just come in and start from day one. People who care. You'd be surprised how many people just don't care. How many people are not willing to be innovative, who are not willing to be forward thinking. I mentioned the frustrations that I lived through at the county at the lack of technology, which to me just makes more sense for efficiency. Here in the City of Detroit, there is no streamlined way of doing your work. So to be honest, every office has to figure it out.
0:20:13.5 GS: When quite frankly, I'm already thinking about, "Should we pass the local ordinance where we just have templates like how every office should run efficiently from day one?" 'Cause quite frankly, we're wasting a lot of time here trying to have all of us trying to catch up and write things on the go. What if we have things already set in place where you can start? Like any other organization, any other corporate business, when you get there, they give you your manual. Here's how to do your work. Here are all the links to your drives. Here's... And we don't get that here which is really frustrating. So those you who care about innovation, who care about efficiency, who care about doing good work, you should be doing this.
0:20:52.8 GS: The last thing that I'll mention is one of the things that I'm most excited about is just the team that I have. I have hired people that are way smarter than me. That are just really brilliant. And they are making this office incredible. And because of them and the opportunity that is being provided for being in this space, I think we're gonna be able to serve our residents really well. So for me, it's about teamwork. It's about bringing innovation, bringing fun, bringing efficiency and getting things done. 'Cause quite frankly, I know from a very personal level, having people in leadership who care, who do their jobs well, really does make an impact on our lives. And so I'll pause there. I'm happy to hear any questions or concerns, stories, ideas from other folks.
0:21:43.0 CB: Gabby, I'm beaming with pride as a mom. And your mother must be also so proud for what you've done and your passion for what you're doing, just really just comes through. Mariam put in the chat if you wanna ask your question raise your hand or put it in the chat, I'll ask it. We had a few come in with the RSVPs. I know I see Matt Dargay is on. Matt, do you wanna ask your question or should I just ask it?
0:22:18.0 Matt Dargay: My apologies, I don't have a question. Was my hand raised?
0:22:21.5 GS: Yes.
0:22:21.8 CB: No, you sent in a question when you RSVP'd.
0:22:26.5 GS: And your hand is raised.
0:22:27.5 MD: Oh, I did. And now my hand is raised, wonderful. Well, yes, now that I think about it, I did submit a question. My apologies. If you wouldn't mind reading it.
0:22:36.8 CB: Okay, sure.
0:22:38.3 MD: Thank you.
0:22:38.3 CB: So Matt asked, "When running for office, were you ever asked what makes you a better fit for office than a lawyer or business person? What did you say or would you say in response?"
0:22:49.8 GS: Honestly? Thankfully, no one was ever that forward. [laughter] And if they were, I could just say, I have my business degree. I have been asked, when you're running for office, they do ask you about what makes you different from your opponents. And I would say that as well. Just my experience and what I've done in the past. But to be honest, I've never had that question. And if I did, I would answer honestly 'cause I do think that I'm qualified for this position. But not only that, I don't think that you necessarily need a business degree to do this work. I don't think you need... I don't have a policy degree necessarily that I got from school. I have a policy-focused social work degree and focus on social evaluation or program evaluation, social work and policy. For me, if I didn't have any of that experience, but if I had this passion and drive that I do, I think my main shift or focus for that would be, I know the community well. I would hope that if people run for this position, you have relationships in the community, which I do. So if I only have that, I have relationships in the community, which is actually very powerful and important. And I would say that I know what our needs are. And I know who to go to to address those needs. So, don't think you need all that. But if I was to be asked, I would say in that way.
0:24:27.8 CB: Well and I don't know if Matt is [0:24:29.1] ____ with the number of social work students on, but specifically from the social work background, you bring a lot.
0:24:35.8 GS: Absolutely.
0:24:36.8 CB: Serving your constituents.
0:24:39.0 GS: Yeah, 100% into that, I actually, on staff, I have Joel Reyes-Klann who both of us graduated from school of social work together. He's managing my community residents and constituent's services. So my office, although we are here to do policy, we are also local municipalities that support our communities. And I have a social worker on staff that does that work because I know that he can do that as a social worker.
0:25:10.3 CB: That's great. We also had Harrison Parker, who had mentioned that he's driving so I'm not gonna ask you if you wanna ask your questions. Was basically asking, what advice do you have for those of us... Or, I don't know, I'm putting this on you, Harrison, are considering running for office?
0:25:27.5 GS: I would say if you're considering to run for office, yay, that's very exciting. I hope that you do. I would also say that I would ask yourself, "Why? Why are you doing this and for what? What are your hopes to do?" I know that I mentioned for myself, and... We're all different, but I know for myself, especially as a woman, and this is just to be frank and to be honest about the realities of a situation and to the original question of if you don't have a business degree... I was asked questions specifically about the budget, I was asked questions specifically about like certain policies, which thankfully I knew about. But quite frankly, in my mind, I would often leave those meetings like, "Well, I hope they're asking my opponents. I hope that my opponent is getting these very specific questions as well." 'Cause quite frankly, when I see people interact with male candidates, it's very friendly. It's like there's no doubt in their mind that they can do this work. There is no doubt in their mind that they can understand budgeting and policy.
0:26:43.2 GS: For me, I do. I may not get those direct questions of like, "Where is your degree at in business," but I do and I do feel the skepticism sometimes the way that I'm approached. But for those that are interested in running, I would really say to know yourself. Know yourself, know why you're running, know what you hope to do, and if you feel at all that you need a little bit more preparation, lean into that feeling because then you maybe do, I think we all do. So what is that? Is that getting to know your district a little bit more, is that feeling comfortable with policy and budgeting, which, honestly, you learn it along the way. But not only that. Do you like it? Because quite frankly, I think some people go into this work and you don't realize that it's not whatever you might think, which is like you have the power, you're whatever. You're in meetings every day, all of the time. You are looking at contracts, you are looking at budgets, you are looking at money, you're approving. And do you want that responsibility, is that what makes you happy?
0:27:48.6 GS: So I would just ask yourself a lot of questions, journal, reflect. I would ask a lot of friends that you might know that are in office, have coffee with them, dinner, get a drink, whatever the case may be. Have the time for yourself to explore this opportunity and make sure that it's what you want, and also try it. And if you decide you don't wanna do it, go right ahead, do something else. I know for myself... People in government don't make a ton of money. We don't make six figures, and looking at my check that I'm gonna get tomorrow for the first time, I'm like, "I can make more as a consultant." [chuckle] I was like, I'm more... So this is a service. And so make sure that you're ready for that. And I'm already telling myself, if I don't like this in four or eight years, that is okay. I will hopefully inspire the next generation of leadership, I will hopefully structure it in a way that works better, functions better, and I can go back into organizing, go back into doing something else that makes me happy, that I think still meets my goal of really creating change in my community.
0:28:55.2 CB: Great, thank you. Okay, I'm gonna call Alyssa, I'm not gonna... I was thinking about putting her on the spot because I know she's our one scientist who's on.
0:29:05.0 Alyssa: Well, yeah, I have a science-related question.
0:29:07.4 CB: Oh, okay, 'cause it was sort of just... I was thinking, she recently got her PhD, but she got hooked on the policy side of things, but I'm not quite sure if she can explain how to make a car act like a plant.
0:29:20.0 Alyssa: I can't. Yeah, I didn't specialize in combustion, but I'm sure that there's someone working on it. [chuckle] But I was curious to know like when you're making decisions in your role, how do you go about reaching out to experts and what experts do you target? Like how do you decide, "Okay, I need help on this issue." There's a lot of people who study things, even though it seems sometimes like science is small, it's actually not, right? There's a ton of people to reach out to, so how do you go about prioritizing and getting in contact with experts?
0:29:56.9 GS: Yeah, so a funny story about scientists. I'm actually... I'm dating a scientist, she works for the EPA, and I remember the first time when I met her, I was like, "I believe in science," as if that was gonna be a win for our conversation. But science is incredibly important, all of the expertise that people know is incredibly important. As I mentioned, I hire people that are smarter than me, so my Chief of Staff actually has... She's a lawyer, she went to Oxford, she has a background in Water Science... I forget what it is. Not only that, but in these positions, you have access to the EPA, you have access to Eagle, you have access to other scientists, you have access to lawyers, and then I also don't wanna think of just those... What we think of as normally experts, but I have access to community leaders, pastors, community organizers, executive assistants of local non-profits.
0:30:54.6 GS: So when it comes to decision-making, I think in this position, no one should make decisions on their own. I don't know everything, and quite frankly, it's really my job to find those experts, seek them out, ask them questions, and then really make my decision based on those, on that feedback. My policy analysts are also incredible. Ray, who used to work for the President, President Jones office or President Brenda, her office, she is now with me, so she's got like institutional knowledge, she knows who to talk to when it comes to experts that we might need. And then Hank Kelly is coming in. They worked for Grand Rapids and they're a city planner. And so the folks that I have, I have with me for a reason, and I know it's because I'm gonna need them to help me in a lot of aspects, and they are very detail-oriented, which is incredibly important in this work. So if I don't feel comfortable with something, I'm also allowed to not vote, I'm also allowed to say no or say, "I'm not ready," or... So for me, I'm prepared to make decisions as best as possible based on feedbacks from others.
0:32:05.2 Alyssa: And I guess, one of my... Can I ask you a quick follow-up question to that? My question would be, how do you balance breadth and depth? When you're making a decision like, specifically just to give an example of like upgrading wastewater treatment plants in Detroit to more efficiently... Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. There's a million ideas about this and they all require money from the government, almost always, and so you have to make decisions about, "Should we invest in this technology to make... " Theoretically anaerobic reduction to make things more efficient. Right? Do I put money into that? Like how do you balance the breadth and depth of that? How do you... Do you choose equal numbers of people on both sides? Do you pick one person from Wayne state and one person from Dearborn and one person from... I mean, how do you... I just feel like... It sounds like maybe there's a lot of personal connections involved, but how do you go about making sure that you get to know everybody and also get to know kind of the broad... People who have a broad view and people who have a very narrow view.
0:33:04.7 GS: Yeah. So for me... That's a good question 'cause I think oftentimes we can be in our own little bubbles, only reach out to the folks that we know, which I think limits your ability to see, really, the full picture and to also hear about other ideas. So I will start from my office. I think it's about looking everywhere, reaching out to the folks that do have the qualifications, that do have the experience regardless of who they are, really. This can be from across the aisle. There might be a very well-known scientist that's actually a Libertarian or considers himself whatever the case may be. And that is okay if they are coming in with the experience, with the end goal of coming up with a solution to this problem.
0:33:56.7 GS: And I think that's important. I think that that gives us the ability to really learn and to get to the answers that we need. And so, the breadth and to how deep do we get into the work, that I think... Because government is so slow, the process is really important. And because it's not like it needs to or nor will it happen next week, the process to me is important. Bringing those people along, being very intentional about the conversations, about who was at the table, is gonna, I think, make a huge difference, and I think that really matters. So when you're beginning to talk about infrastructure, when you're beginning to talk about whatever the case may be, starting off very intentionally with the experts that know things, with the people that have always been doing this work and not starting from scratch, starting from people's expertise that's been doing this work already. That's how I see the process being and I think that there's always gonna be a lot of bumps in the road. It's gonna... As people, we always discuss and have conversations. So my hope is that eventually we come to a conclusion that we're happy with and actually addressing our problems. Hi, baby. And thanks for bringing your baby along.
0:35:18.8 CB: Of course, we have a baby and we have a cat. So Rachel had her cat on her lap. We have a question from Caroline.
0:35:28.1 Caroline: Hi. Yeah, thanks Congresswoman for being here. It's really... I love hearing your story and I find it really inspiring and encouraging. I actually have two questions, you can choose which one to answer if you want. One of them... So in your bio that they sent us for the event, it talks about how you did mutual aid projects during... When COVID hit, and so I would love to hear about that experience, like challenges that you faced with that and lessons learned getting that off the ground. And then my other question is, in terms of, I guess, scale of government, how you balance your commitment to local organizing and local government versus state-wide organizing and those different priorities. And obviously they overlap, but just how you navigate those two different scales of how you invest in communities.
0:36:24.9 GS: Yeah, and the work that we do. Thank you for those questions and thank you for calling me Congresswoman. I'm not a congresswoman, I'm a Councilwoman.
0:36:33.3 Caroline: Council woman. Thank you, that's what I meant.
0:36:33.8 GS: No, that's totally fine. I was like, whoo, you'll see.
0:36:35.0 Caroline: Council woman. [chuckle] I apologize.
0:36:35.4 GS: No, no, thank you. I... It was just for the other folks to know. So I'll start with the last question, the scale of local versus state versus Federal and what that looks like. So that's a really great question and I'm already coming across that question myself. So things that we wanna do here locally... So I would love to have us pass or change our tax system. Detroit pays very high taxes. Residents here are very angry for the taxes that we pay. We pay taxes from working here and all of this is going where? People are often saying, "My school system's still bad, you don't pick up the trash on time, the lights don't work." All of these things are true. So how do we deal with that? You look into the tax system, you change the tax system. But in the city of Detroit, we can't, because we are preempted to by the state. So, really, it's a state issue.
0:37:33.2 GS: So as much as I wanna go ahead and say, "Hey, everyone, I have this great idea about a dual tax system where we tax land, where then we do property to really help speculators stop speculating and really invest in economic developments 'cause that's the idea behind that dual tax system that already exists in other cities," we can't do that here in the city of Detroit. So when it comes to organizing, what does that look like? I go back to my relationships, I go back to We the People can do this work because they are a state-wide organization, because they have organizers across the state that understand state politics, that have relationships with their local officials because we've been doing this work for a while. Myself, as the Policy and Research Director, that was my job to do to talk to local electives and connect them to organizers so that we were able to push our work in our campaigns, which the biggest leaders campaign I was supporting was the Drive Michigan Forward campaign to re-establish drivers licenses for all people in the state of Michigan.
0:38:28.9 GS: They were taken away from undocumented people in 2007, 2008, which has led to a huge influx of deportations, my uncle included, in a case that thankfully he stayed, but he dealt with that same fear of separation. So for me it's understanding the systems, it's understanding how to plug into them because we still can. And as I work or as I ask my colleagues and comrades in the state level to push this, I can have conversations locally saying, "Hey, I would love to do this, but we can't do this unless we pass this in the states and organize locally to have residents here understand that." That's one example, because we can't do everything in the city that we wanna do. We're limited in our powers. Quite frankly, the city of Detroit has a strong mayoral seat. So the mayor can really do a lot more a lot easier than City Council can.
0:39:33.7 GS: So I think that's part of it, it's understanding those differences. To the question about mutual aid and the learning, so I had never done mutual aid before, and I knew it was a thing when COVID hit, I believe it was a Wednesday, it was a Wednesday that we shut down. 'Cause it was the day before, the Tuesday, of that Tuesday, I was out passing out my literature, 'cause that was the election for... That was the presidential primary. So it was that Wednesday that the state shut down and I freezed up, I said, "How can I shift my focus," and I thought to myself, "Well, there are probably a lot of people like myself that have resources to give, they just don't know how to reach those people that need the support." So I was like, "What if we can create a document that anyone can just call or fill out asking for support, and anyone can call or anyone can fill out providing support and then just match them." That was me trying to be a social worker and matching those that need and those that can.
0:40:35.8 GS: So I did that, the next day, I sent out an Excel sheet, was working on my own, really, and my friend Michelle Martinez called me and she's like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "I don't know, but I'm trying to do this mutual aid work." She's like, "Who's helping you?", I'm like "Nobody, I would need help." She's like, "Yeah, you do. Because you can't do this alone." That was learning number one, don't do things alone, you can't really do things alone, things done with other people are so much better. And so we reached out, we got some volunteers, we built a beautiful ecosystem, we were a well-oiled machine. It was a little rocky for the first month where we were gathering volunteers while we were off figuring out what our roles are, when we were creating those roles, 'cause we had fund raisers, we had people calling people that were needed... That needed support, we had people driving food, we had people collecting food, and then we had people that we needed to drop them off to.
0:41:34.2 GS: So that took us a while to figure out, but once we did we were a well-oiled machine. We did this for about all summer. And we are still connected. For us, we're still active on our WhatsApp, and quite frankly, when the parents, reaches out to any of us saying, "Hey, I can't pay my light bill", we do what we call... Do some very fast fundraisers on our Instagram, and we're able to raise $2000 in a day, and pay the mother's light bill. And whatever we have left over, we will pay another bill or we'll provide it for food. And when there was the flooding that happened this past summer, we got together and we cleaned out about a dozen basements. Which is actually really hard to do y'all, cleaning these basements in the flood was so much harder than I thought it was gonna be, but we did a dozen of them primarily for seniors in the City of Detroit. So that was some learning, and I think that there's always gonna be learning in the mutual aid world.
0:42:33.0 CB: I think Mack has a question.
0:42:33.6 Mack: Hi, thank you so much for your time. Just having been familiar with working with Council Member Castaneda-Lopez, I saw a lot of the dynamics that happen within Detroit City Council, particularly just on the subcommittee meetings and between other council members. So I'm curious, how have you been able to so far navigate more of the political dynamics and some of the tensions there, with really keeping your goals and your mission stable and not getting off track by the way that some of the politics operate?
0:43:12.6 GS: Yeah, thanks for that question. I think for me, it's really goes down to how you do your work. I am not Raquel, we are two completely different people. People often think that I'm Raquel 2.0, mini Raquel, that I have worked for her or worked with her, not the case. I love Raquel deeply, I think she's incredible, I think she's done incredible work, but we work very differently. And not only that, we have a completely different council now. So, the politics look different because the personalities that were once here aren't. I think also the nasty politics, although we still have Wayne under federal investigation, many of that is outside of this new councils realm, so I think that helps. We have a new President, Mary Sheffield who has, from what I'm told already been a 180 compared to our past president, who has been known to, not necessarily be the biggest team player, to not necessarily give all council members the same kind of respect, including, unfortunately, Raquel. And I think the way that Raquel responded sometimes was incredibly feisty, and very in your face, and I'm more of a kill them with kindness, and often I'll swallow my pride, for the betterment of the work.
0:44:37.8 GS: Which is honestly something that people should also think about when they're trying to do this work. So I'm navigating politics a little bit differently, personality-wise we're different folks, and there is... There's a different council now where I really do hope we actually work as a team, which is gonna be very important. This is local politics, this isn't the State House where you have divided Republicans, Democrats. This is non-partisan, folks should be on the same page, supporting residents to the best of our ability. So really hoping that we all come with that mentality and that we are able to better serve.
0:45:13.9 CB: And I know DeAndré has a question.
0:45:16.9 DeAndre: Yeah, sure. That was actually kind of my question, which is great, 'cause that means the Ford School is teaching our students ways to think, the people that actually work for the government. Council woman, it's such a pleasure to hear you talk. I was actually Council President Sheffield's, Director of Community Relations...
0:45:32.9 GS: Oh right.
0:45:33.3 DeAndre: In her first term and part of her second term. So your energy and your passion is actually making me miss the 13th floor of K-MACK right now, that's so great. As you mentioned before, you're community-minded, you're coming from such a great background that you really understand what people are going through. Kind of along with that question, you're in a district that is very diverse, more diverse than people give it credit for. I remember representing council women and hearing about all the corporations and the companies and all the money that... I don't think a lot of people realize a lot of outside money comes into the city. How do you think about going through your first term, balancing the community with all these other interests that once you bring development, and people hear, "Jobs," and when you disagree, it's like, "Oh, well, you're anti-job." How do you plan on balancing that for the betterment of the city, but particularly the district that kind of born and raised you?
0:46:30.4 GS: Sure. Thanks for that question. Happy to hear that you know the 13th floor well. Mary Sheffield's awesome. I'm so excited that she's president now. To be frank, I'm a little terrified, and not terrified about necessarily making a mistake, but about the politics and what that would look like. 'Cause quite frankly, as you mentioned, people in my district want jobs. People in my district, some of them want that new coffee shop. Some of them do want that new restaurant. But quite frankly, also, we are being gentrified. We are being priced out. If you put that coffee shop in there, why is nobody from the block working there? Why is somebody who just moved here 30 weeks ago... With no harm, but also where is the opportunity? Where is the equity? And I think that's what makes people upset is that we don't mind new neighbors. We don't mind new people. What we mind is feeling stepped on, which is... A lot of residents feel that, feeling as if you're being ignored and being left out of this new development and opportunity, and District 6 does have that.
0:47:28.8 GS: It's Court Town, y'all. It's midtown. It's downtown. It's the river fronts. And there are conflicting needs. I've met with developers who are, like, "Look, my neighborhood, my neighborhood," when they lived downtown. In my mind, downtown, sure, is a neighborhood, but it also is completely different when it comes to the scale of the economies and the scale of support and resources. It's still downtown. But I hear you, man who owns the building, who wants to care about your neighborhood. So for me, it's about meeting everybody's needs to the best of my ability, 'cause she does live in her neighborhood downtown, and she does need to have her street lights on, and she does need to feel safe, and I do care about everybody feeling that way. So I think I need to be in conversation with everyone, talking with folks, so that when it comes down to maybe a sale or a contract, and if I feel like it's not meeting all of the community benefit everyone said I can be meeting, I'm gonna vote no.
0:48:31.4 GS: But I do hope, ma'am, that you understand why I did that, and if I ever say yes to a contract or yes to the developments, because I've had the union workers telling me, "This will bring us jobs," and people in my community, in my neighborhood, are, like, "Oh, you're just saying yes to something new, a new corporation, a new... " Whatever the case may be, I'm able to tell them, "Yes, and it provides jobs for our neighbors. Yes, and here's the job application to take these jobs that we're bringing in." So that is one of the trickiest parts, I think, about this work is that I am now a part of the system. As much as I fought it, I am wearing this hat. But I have to remember that it's just a hat, a hat that I can take off, I hat that I do take off at the end of the day when I'm playing my 30 minutes of Animal Crossing, 'cause I just need to be on an island somewhere. And to know that I am able to have conversations with people and really let them know why I'm making the decisions that I'm making, understanding that I'm all about economic development. My family's, they're entrepreneurs. My dad has a business. My mom has a business, small businesses, but I understand the need to really support everyone. So it's gonna be tricky, but I look forward to learning along the process, really.
0:49:51.2 DeAndre: Awesome, thank you so much. And I wanna say, I fully support you passing something to change the systems in there. When I got hired in March of 2014, I didn't get paid for eight weeks, so because... And the city was so crazy. No one should ever go through that. I know how onboarding gets crazy, so I fully support you changing the systems there, because it can make things a lot better if everyone's on the same page and ready to go, like you are.
0:50:14.7 GS: Yeah, thank you.
0:50:15.8 DeAndre: Thank you.
0:50:21.0 CB: Sorry, we had another student ask about, "For those of us that are interested in organizing and getting involved, are there internship opportunities?"
0:50:29.3 GS: Yes, great question. Yes, there are. Well, there will be. We are just getting started. But Joel would be the person to reach out to. Let me pick up... There was... Email real quick. So Joel Reyes's plan will be... He is drafting our program now. And just so folks know, the internships that we have, you will be working probably closely with Kristen, who's gonna be our Director of Organizing and Strategy, so I have someone on my team specifically working with us with the organizing lens, 'cause it's gonna be... I see the power that it brings in politics, really. So Joel and Kristen will be working very closely on our internship program. And for me, I've gone through so many internship programs and many of them unpaid, and the ones that have made me the happiest are the ones that I feel as if I did real work, as if I was able to take something back with me, put it on my resume, and it's not just a sentence. It's actual outcomes. So for us, our internships, sign up and be prepared to work. Be prepared to attend community meetings. Be prepared to provide feedback, to create systems, to really put input into our work, 'cause we desperately will take... We'll take in and need all the support that we can get.
0:51:48.7 CB: Great. And if any of our students... How would our students contact you, if they wanted to follow up after this?
0:51:55.3 GS: So for me, I'm also gonna share... Let me actually share my personal... I'll share both. So this is my personal... This is for anyone that wants to do a Zoom coffee, or if you're in the city, you wanna do a coffee, [0:52:12.4] ____, because I also just think mentorship and relationships are really powerful. I know that I would not be here if it wasn't for the mentors in my life that continue to mentor me, my coaches... This is my office email for anyone that would like to connect for something work-related, and then I also have... I'm gonna start giving out my work number just 'cause I need to start separating my life, I've realized. But this is my work cell, if anybody would like to text me or call for anything. This is... 313-480... This is my number.
0:52:58.0 CB: Thank you for sharing all that. Does anybody else have another question? No? Gabby, this has been so fabulous. I also wanna offer up to you that at some point, as you get more settled in, that DeAndré and I can have further conversations with you to see how, if you have policy projects that you want groups of students to work on. We have various ways to do it, through independent study or actual courses. We also have a great... Our MBA program now, students have to do a capstone project. So there's all kinds of opportunities for our students to engage and help you do what you do while they get incredible experience. And in some cases, there's sometimes pay for research assistance. But a lot of times, it's class credit. So that's great.
0:53:48.3 GS: Yes, no, I agree. I would love that. We have a lot of fun projects. Just a little insight, we're looking into cannabis in the city, we're looking into housing, into transit, transportation. We've got exciting new train tracks. We know roads looking into... To be built in the city. There's just so much. So that would be great.
0:54:09.2 CB: Yeah, wonderful. And for everybody, thank you all for attending, and I'm so happy to have so many social work students on. Gabby, thank you so much. I hope the students will join me in thanking you, and really look forward to having you around for a while so we can work with you and watch what great things you're gonna do for the city of Detroit.
0:54:28.1 GS: Thank you. Thanks Cindy. Thanks everybody. This was fun. This makes me really happy. I'm excited. I'm gonna go back to work now all pumped. I hope you all have a great day.
0:54:36.6 CB: Thank you.
0:54:37.4 S8: Thank you so much.
0:54:37.5 S9: Thank you.