When Prof. Sujata Gibson, law, thinks about her decision to run for the 125th New York State Assembly seat, she is reminded of her father, who grew up in colonial India during partition.
“One of the experiences I carry with me is my father’s experience,” Gibson said. Her father lived in a border town during the partition of India in 1947, when he witnessed people kill one another over differences that “they didn’t care about a week before.”
“That has informed my entire approach,” Gibson said, referring to the devastation her father saw as a result of Britain’s colonial rule. “What I am trying to do now is find a way to escape divide and conquer strategy, to find ways to support each other and not get stuck fighting each other over the crumbs.”
Gibson will face off against six other Democratic challengers for the post in a June 23 primary – including Cornell alumnus Seph Murtagh Ph.D. ’09 (D-2nd Ward), who received an endorsement from long-time political ally Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 on Thursday.
As a lawyer, Gibson focuses on civil rights, with a specific emphasis on matrimonial and family law. Along this theme, Gibson teaches a seminar at Cornell, LAW 7408: Law, Democracy and Civil Disobedience, which looks at “the place of people power in a democracy, and the vital role that plays,” she said.
A scholar of change, Gibson said that operating under a “politics as usual” model is no longer sufficient in the face of pressing issues, such as the – calling for “radical change right now.”
“Climate change is here, and most of us are totally unprepared,” Gibson said. “There are solutions, but it is going to take a dramatic shift in priorities at the state and federal level.”
And as one of the state’s most progressive seats, District 125 – home to Ithaca – should set an example for the legislators of other districts, Gibson said.
“I plan on going in there to amplify the voice of the people out on the streets,” Gibson said. “I am not interested in waiting for the ‘political will’. I am here to fight for the people’s will.”
Gibson has long been involved in political causes. Prior to law school, Gibson served as a lead organizer for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, a role that helped inform her views on the American economy.
“As a former union organizer, one of the things that still haunts me is the devastation in terms of job loss that has not been replaced across New York State,” Gibson said. “We have to transition out of this idea that trickle down economics is going to get us there.”
In keeping with her labor organizing past, Gibson highlighted the importance of building the community from the ground up in order to promote environmental sustainability.
“Rather than giving $11.3 billion in corporate subsidies in hopes that it will create jobs and safeguard our future, we need to make more direct programming and put people to work,” Gibson said, suggesting that farmers could be sent to schools to teach students how to grow sustainable meals.
Gibson said that representative officials, no matter their background, cannot assume that they understand the issues faced by all individuals in their constituency.
“Being a woman of color from two different racial backgrounds has given me the perspective to know that there are a lot of different voices out there that need to be heard,” Gibson said. “We need to bring all these voices into the conversation.”