LUZ VELEZ, Guest Writer

Our Writers & Contributors

EYES OF OUR COMMUNITY

Lucy Velez Activist photo

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By the Push of a Police Officer

July 2020 Issue

This humble community servant was asked to say a few words to Univision International about Martin Gugino, the PUSH Member and long-time community activist who was recently hospitalized due to a head injury suffered for all the world to see as he stood up in a Black Lives Matter rally!
Martin was videoed walking up to police officers, who for reasons unknown to us, pushed this 75- year-old man to the ground where he sustained his injuries! Though the Police Department claimed he tripped, video clearly shows he was pushed! Consequently the 2 officers were fired and were arrested and charged. They are awaiting their day in court but at least Mr Gugino (Marty) is still alive, unlike George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Gardner, and Buffalo’s own, India Cummings, Rafael “Pito” Rivera,     and John Hernandez Rossy.
 I told Univision’s reporter how Martin was a stand up gentleman who used his live-time experience to help uplift people and involved himself in causes he believed in! He knew he had more clout and privilege than this little old Latina woman. He joined and supported our community through PUSH (PEOPLE UNITED FOR SUSTAINABLE HOUSING) rally and demonstrations locally, and in Albany, for housing and climate justice against environmental racism and other systemic inequalities that plague our Black and Latino communities.
 I am sure the police thought this tragic and unnecessary event would go unnoticed, overshadowed by other events in the rally. But this is more than about one man being abused by police; it is 400 years of systematic racism, oppression, and abuse against black and brown people, perpetuated by a system built to do exactly what it does: control people, kill and destroy families, and incarcerate men of color.
We need economic systems to be built, equity to be made, good sustainable green jobs to exist and be available to front-line communities affected by systemic racism. There is too much government interference where communities cannot purchase good homes, where there is no quality education, no quality air, no quality food, no quality health — a total breakdown in the quality of public and private service.
Black Lives Matter: Too many people refuse to accept that BLACK LIVES MATTER, an attitude of a government with an arrogance and racism that has existed for hundreds of years, and perhaps, it will take just as long to eradicate!
 People must organize and use their expertise to solve and fight against walls built to keep people of color in place. Historically, they have used and applied an injustice system to incarcerate and lock-up our people in their concentration prisons.
Let us stop pretending COVID19 is the major concern in communities of color. In addition to this virus, our people are confronted with poverty, poor health condition, substance abuse/use, high unemployment, and a lack of education.
All these elements combined creates a pipeline that feeds our Black and Latino people to mass incarceration with no chance of parole or special treatment, as unlike Manifort who was released so he will not be exposed to the Coronavirus. How about the degraded Congressman Chris Collins, who is still waiting to serve his jail term at his convenience?
White Privilege: The use of force and violence is quite different when applying to the Black and White community. You can clearly see the double standards. For example, when the young white man shot up the all Black church, he was apprehended without any violence. He was safe and alive in the hands of police officers. The same occurred when the armed white men stormed and occupied the first floor of the governor’s building in protest of Coronavirus restrictions; there was no blood shed. Let one Black or person of color show up armed, they would have been killed in a heartbeat, no questions asked.
Yes, we know there is a double standard; we know it, and Martin knew it.
To accept it without questioning and fighting for the change long overdue is defeat. We have bowed down long enough! I will stand with all people who recognize that if we cannot accept that ”BLACK LIVES MATTER too, or these folks can’t say it, then we must accept that they are showing us their true racist side, and we must fight for Black Lives Matters. A better life is at stake for those who are brave and seek the change that is way overdue!
(Spanish Translation)

Por el Empuje de un Policia

 A este humilde servidor comunitario se le pidió que dijera unas palabras a Univision International  sobre Martin Gugino, el miembro de PUSH y activista comunitario de larga duración, quien fue hospitalizado recientemente debido a una lesión en la cabeza sufrida para todo el mundo para ver mientras se paraba en una manifestación de Black Lives Matter!
Martin fue videollamada caminando hacia oficiales de policía, que por razones desconocidas para nosotros, empujaron a este hombre de 75 años al suelo donde sufrió sus heridas. Aunque el Departamento de Policía afirmó que tropezó, ¡el video muestra claramente que fue empujado! En consecuencia, los 2 oficiales fueron despedidos y fueron arrestados y acusados. Están esperando su día en la corte, pero al menos el Sr. Gugino (Marty) sigue vivo, a diferencia de George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Gardner y de Buffalo, India Cummings, Rafael “Pito” Rivera, y John Hernández Rossy.
¡Le dije al reportero de Univision cómo Martin era un caballero que usó su experiencia en tiempo de vida para ayudar a elevar a la gente y se involucró en causas en las que creía! Sabía que tenía más influencia y privilegio que esta vieja latina. Se unió y apoyó a nuestra comunidad a través de PUSH  (PEOPLE UNITED FOR SUSTAINABLE HOUSING) mitin y manifestaciones a nivel local, y en Albany, para la vivienda y la justicia climática contra el racismo ambiental y otras desigualdades sistémicas que plagan a nuestras comunidades negras y latinas.
Estoy seguro de que la policía, aunque este trágico y innecesario suceso pasaría desapercibido, eclipsado por otros acontecimientos de la manifestación. Pero esto es más que un hombre siendo abusado por la policía. Son 400 años de racismo sistemático, opresión y abuso contra los negros y marrones, perpetuados por un sistema construido para hacer exactamente lo que hace: controlar a las personas, matar y destruir familias, y encarcelar a hombres de color.  Necesitamos que se construyan sistemas económicos, que se haga equidad, que existan buenos empleos verdes sostenibles y que estén a disposición de las comunidades de primera línea afectadas por el racismo sistémico. Hay demasiada interferencia gubernamental donde las comunidades no pueden comprar buenos hogares, donde no hay educación de calidad, no hay aire de calidad, no hay alimentos de calidad, no hay salud de calidad — un desglose total en la calidad del servicio público y privado.
Demasiada gente se niega a aceptar que LAS VIDAS NEGRAS MATTER, una actitud de un gobierno con una arrogancia y racismo que ha existido durante cientos de años, y tal vez, ¡tomará el mismo tiempo erradicar! La gente necesita organizarse y utilizar su experiencia para resolver y luchar contra las paredes construidas para mantener a las personas de color en su lugar. Históricamente, han utilizado y aplicado un sistema de injusticia para encarcelar y encerrar a nuestra gente en sus prisiones de concentración.  Dejemos de fingir que COVID19 es la preocupación principal en las comunidades de color. Además de este virus, nuestra gente se enfrenta a la pobreza, salud, abuso/uso de sustancias, alto desempleo y falta de educación.
Todos estos elementos combinados, crea un oleoducto que alimenta a nuestros negros y latinos al encarcelamiento masivo sin posibilidad de libertad condicional o tratamiento especial, como Manifort que fue liberado para que no se enferme del Coronavirus. ¿Qué tal el degradado Congresista Chris Collins que todavía está esperando para cumplir su pena de cárcel a su conveniencia? El uso de la fuerza y la violencia es muy diferente cuando se aplica a la comunidad blanca vs. negra. Se puede ver claramente los estándares dobles. Por ejemplo, cuando el joven blanco disparó contra la iglesia negra, fue aprehendido sin violencia. Estaba a salvo y vivo en manos de agentes de policía. Lo mismo cuando los hombres blancos armados irrumpió y ocupó el primer piso del edificio del gobernador en protesta por las restricciones del coronavirus, no se derió sangre. Que una negra o una persona de color aparezca armada, habrían sido asesinadas en un santiamén, sin hacer preguntas.
Sí, sabemos que hay un doble estándar; lo sabemos, y Martin lo sabía.
Aceptarlo sin cuestionar y luchar por el cambio que se ha atrasado mucho tiempo es la derrota. ¡Nos hemos inclinado lo suficiente! Me apoyaré con todas las personas que reconozcan que, si no podemos aceptar que LAS VIDAS NEGRAS MATTER o estas personas no pueden decirlo, entonces debemos aceptar que nos están mostrando su verdadero lado racista, y debemos luchar por las cosas de Vidas Negras. ¡Está en juego una vida mejor para aquellos que son valientes y buscan el cambio que está muy atrasado!
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I INVITED AOC TO VISIT BUFFALO

January 2019 Issue

PUSH in Washington, DC to support two housing bills sponsored by Reps AOC and IIhan Ormar
In Washington, DC with my PUSH members and mentors, John Washington and Sage Green, we had a great opportunity to meet with representatives from Queens, Hon. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC), and Hon. IIhan Omar from Minnesota.  I found them both to be warm and personable humble young professional women!
We were invited and asked to be part of a panel discussion to introduce PUSH BUFFALO and the work we do in Buffalo, NY, and to talk, specifically, about our housing struggles and the people we service!
We shared our expertise and experience around  housing and gentrification issues. We elaborated on our struggle and work on building tenant power, and our work in preparing legislation with the cooperation of the “People’s Action” organization, and other affiliated organizations, to get the necessary support for passage of the “Homes Guarantee/Housing is a Human Right Bill” to be introduced under the Green New Deal by Presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Passage of this legislation means a lot to Buffalo, NY, and to me personally. We must help to give a frontline perspective of what housing policies are needed or essential to our region in Buffalo and New York State.  We must work hard and be visible to ensure passage and implementation of the Bill. We are not playing around with politicians; we want support and to see action now! We will be returning to Washington, DC to continue our work and support. We worked in captivating the legislators. I threw down in my irreverent style and mannerisms, and spoke of what housing plagues have infected Buffalo’s housing market, green and housing  gentrification, inflated tax assessments, and my personal experience and perspective, almost becoming the new face of homelessness if PUSH had not helped me with mortgage refinancing. The struggle continues for me and others – as this is an ongoing problem, big developers attacking low-income families, including single parents and the elderly.
AOC to visit Buffalo: At the request of PRCCJ, and as the Chairperson of their Community Relations Committee, and as a PUSH Buffalo member, we took the opportunity to invite Rep. AOC, along with her colleagues (Rep. Omar and Sen. Sanders), to come to Buffalo and meet with the Buffalo community. AOC said “yes, she would like that very much, and would look into it.”   Upon her interest, I told myself when I get back to Buffalo, I will have to work with the Buffalo Latino community and other groups, to organize a planning committee, and work on actually bringing AOC to visit us. We would definitely love to have her visit the “city of good neighbors.” I believe her visit to Buffalo would be an awesome experience. Help us make it possible!

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A LETTER TO OUR COMMUNITY: OUR CLIMATE, AN EFFORT TO MAKE A POSITIVE CHANGE

 December 2019 Issue

Climate change is affecting everyone worldwide, from floods, super storms, heatwaves and all types of disasters never seen with such intensities before.  Buffalo is not immune. A group of community leaders this past summer won the most aggressive climate justice in New York State and in the nation.
Many in our communities, unfortunately, are oblivious to what it means to the everyday Michael or Miguel. It’s important to know, because we as frontline communities (communities of all color, low income, etc.…), are the people usually impacted by climate pollution the most.
This pollution is transformed in the worst health disparities in our communities. It  has  the worse level of asthma, respiratory problems, and other medical problems by way of where we live, and in the proximity of where corporate polluters have their companies, and how they practice their environmental carbon footprint, or how they reduce their carbon emissions and waste products in our cities.
We need to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050, or sooner within the next 10 years if we are to advert a worldwide catastrophe. I wish it was sooner rather than later!
We need to switch from extractive fossil fuel to a more renewable reusable solar, wind, geothermal, energies that will save us billions of dollars. If we did, it will stimulate the creation of new jobs, for retraining of fossil fuel workforce, green sustainability livable wages, new job markets that will prioritize frontline people to be trained and open job opportunities.
By 2030, if we can invest 50% emission reduction, via changing the way corporations change the way they do business, by using new and cleaner energy efficient, reducing pollutants, and other strategies. Our planning committee members are working with groups such as the NY RENEWS (labor and environmental coalition), our local PUSH BUFFALO, and other state and national affiliates.
Our local and state effort has taken notice on a national level; Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep Ilhan Omar, and Senator Bernie Sanders, have heard of our work regarding “Climate Justice and Homes Guarantee/Housing is a Human Rights”, and have publicly acknowledged our movement and hard work.
Our work and effort are being recognized on a national level, yet, not in our own local communities, and that is tragic! The public needs to know about our work and effort, that we are doing everything possible, and to our human capabilities, to protect families regarding their personal interest in fair housing, fair rent, maintaining our communities intact, and to make sure that our quality of life and health is maintained and preserved – now and for a secure future for your children’s, for our next generation; and to safeguard this movement, we need to be heard, and to be heard, we need community support.
Information on how you can get involved: Geovaira Hernandez, 716-884-0359, ext. 228; https://www.pushbuffalo.org/blog-list/

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THE PEOPLE’S MACHINE

November 2019 Issue

An organization founded by Christian Parra, a young and energetic Latino from the Bronx, who is now living in Buffalo, NY, and working with the PUSH agency.
 The “People’s Machine” is a multi-ethnic group composed of individuals, independent of their affiliations, who have gotten tired of politicos making promises they have not kept – improving our communities!
They say that one must be part of the “old boys’ network” to be heard. Well, we must stop that!
The People’s Machine is focused on real community service, it works to support and elect people that understand and support the Machine’s agenda. The organization is well represented, their membership included Puerto Ricans/Latinos, African, Asian, white, and others who are committed to “positive community change” – to endorse and support candidates that believe in our people’s plan; they must respect and support our needs, and we will hold them accountable.
It has been a long wait, for united and organized community voices, especially those most affected by political policies that are not reflective of their needs and concerns. The “Machine” is saying in effect, “if you say you represent, we better see the goods! We are holding you to real representation. We are here to do our part, help change the narrative, a narrative usually controlled by the politicos.”
I’ve been around a long time, me, Lucy Velez, an elder in my community, always advocating for the west side community for over forty (40) years, the couple of years living near the Peace Bridge, which severely compromised my heath and breathing, as well as an accident at a church, which added complications to my recovery. I know about public policy representation! I lived it and continue to live it.
Our local political parties are not addressing our needs, and their slip is showing. You have disenfranchised our voices, and you tried to dilute our vote, in the past and present, by unfair reapportionment lines, cutting and dividing our communities. That politico machine has stifled our people. But that must change!
The “People’s Machine” will make the change happen. This is how we are working to change the narrative: We will interview, endorse, and support candidates seeking city, state, and national office. The candidates must commit and pledge to support the People’s Machine’s “Community Plan for improvement and representation.
We are an independent machine, we are not, in any shape or form, affiliated with any agency or organization. We are a people’s association, with members from all walks of life, ethnicity, and religion orientation. We are inclusive, not exclusive.
We are solely driven by people community power and need. Just like the Sun, we are the new source of energy, fully sustainable and equity driven to be a part of the changes we need to see! For too long, our communities have been left-out of the “Buffalo Renaissance.”
We know our community have a few “sellouts”, but we are awake, able to see what’s going on, whose getting goodies without accountability. That shall change.
We are tired of “pay to play”, we are tired of “it’s not what you know, but who you know.”  We are fighting for our communities’ survival.
Join us! Contact me at sistervelez@gmail.com.

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WE DID IT! CLIMATE JUSTICE PROTECTION ACT PASSED IN ALBANY

July 2019 Issue

New York is finally taking back its role as a leader of Cities to lead the Nation in putting Climate Justice issue back on the State and Nations mind’s eye. It will be one of the most ambitious climate goals, including reduction in Greenhouse gas emissions, the law will move the State economy off fossil fuels by 2050.
However, there was a weakened version of prevailing wage passage as well as labor standards and the weakening of enforcement of the equity provision for frontline communities. We didn’t get the meteoric war wanted but there were concessions that we could live with rather than not having the passage of anything for another year. This is still a win for People Power and the organizing by more than 170 environmental agencies as well as community activist from across the state. This law gives the state 30 years to wean itself off fossil fuels and transition the state into a more regenerative economy where renewable reusable energy will leave little to know carbon footprint for ther nextt generation of our families. Though we must remember that climate scientist has said that we have 11 years to slow down the worst effects of climate change. We will l still see jobs in the conversion from fossil fuel to cleaner energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal.
There are many folks to thank for this effort is not without a lot of organizing and coordinating so I’d like to thank members of the Senators and Assembly that supported the seriousness of this legislation and not so much those  elected leaders who were only convinced after Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator and Presidential hopeful, Kristin Gillibrand, put their seal of approval on it. And you Politicos know who you are as its on public record your delaying sponsorship. Shame, shame and shame on you all, knowing that your constituents wanted it, visited you in your offices in Albany and still you dragged your butts about it.
Finally, I’d like to thank our local organizers and local friends at PUSH that helped support and spear head this legislation and its community members including like me in stepping up and out to speak at rallies, in front of the Senate and Assembly hearings and office. We All Did It!!! We proved that People and Planet come first and that there is no greater power than People Power!!

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WEST SIDE GIRL GIVES NYC CLIMATE CHANGE TESTIMONY

June 2019 Issue

(A public testimony by PUSH member, Luz Velez, before the Assembly Standing Committee on Environment Conservation, May 17, 2019, New York City. The purpose of the hearing was to hear from the public on how best to address the impact of climate change on communities and the workforce.)  — By Luz Velez
Good afternoon. My name is Luz Velez. Thank you for giving me a voice at this very important hearing. I am a resident of Buffalo, NY and a proud member of PUSH Buffalo, a grassroots community-based organization on the West Side of the city. I’m here today to urge all of you and your colleagues in state government to support the passage of the Climate and Community Protection Act (A3876/S2992)…  I moved to Buffalo in 1980 to pursue a degree at Buffalo State College. I graduated in 1985 with a BS in Social Work and a minor in Afro-American history. That same year, I became the full-time Senior Services Director at Hispanics United of Buffalo. In 1993, I had my son Felipe and became a single mom. Five years later I bought my first and only home, the one I live into this day, after moving 9 times from unhealthy and toxic apartments. And then in 2006 I became seriously ill and was medically retired. Throughout my entire adult life residing on the West Side I’ve lived near the Peace Bridge, an international commercial crossing for most trucks and large vehicles traveling between the U.S. and Canada. As a result, I’ve been exposed to diesel truck emissions all this time, and even those times when vehicle emission standards were much more relaxed.
Over the years I started developing a lot of non-descriptive respiratory lung infections, which sometimes left me wondering if I had a permanent cold or allergies. As my health deteriorated, I received from my doctors a 6 month to one-year life expectancy diagnosis. A state of depression quickly settled in and I physically, emotionally, and spiritually lost my voice. My doctors determined the source of the infection was environmental factors due to mold and air pollution. Due to my health conditions, and accompanying financial hardship resulting from my unemployable and loss of wages, this single mom’s house fell into disarray and disrepair. I experienced a lot shame. I feared losing my home to gentrification and disinvestment, or to a failing health and safety inspection. I even feared losing my kid. My isolation led to the devastation of my health, home, and humanity.
I heard over the radio about PUSH Buffalo’s Warm and Dry and roof repair program one Saturday. By Monday, I met a canvasser from PUSH who was in the neighborhood and I quickly set up an appointment for an energy audit to assess the conditions in my home. After completing some paperwork, I was placed on a waiting list for services. I’ll never forget the day the phone rang and I learned it would be a matter of weeks before contractors would enter my home to assess the problems and work with PUSH to come up with solutions that I believe would save my life and save my home. When the contractors arrived and completed their assessment, we quickly learned how serious the problems were. The roof in the back of my house had collapsed. Because of the roof damage there was black mold throughout the back of the house. It had permeated into the walls and into the HVAC system. I found out I needed a new furnace – the existing furnace hadn’t been serviced since 1972. I also needed a new hot water heater. The house had no insulation. For years I had been suffering from a cold house and high heating and electric bills from the use of portable space heaters. The bathtub on the second floor had caused extensive water damage and rot in the kitchen ceiling. And plaster was crumbling from the walls around my staircase. It was a hot mess to say the least. All these issues contributed to my respiratory problems, put my mental health at risk, and threatened my life.   PUSH Buffalo provided a holistic solution that healed both me and my home. They made me feel comfortable in choosing a contractor that looked like me, that was from my community, made me feel comfortable in my own home, and that didn’t judge me. PUSH spent a lot of time talking with me and listening. They helped me find my inner strength and regain my voice. With the repairs made I went from 4 doctors down to 2, and from 12 meds to 4.
As the project was winding down, I started going to PUSH meetings and learning about environmental racism – the factors outside of my control and the systemic oppression that people of color living in low income communities often face and fear. I began to understand how I was disproportionately exposed to the pollution in my community from diesel truck emissions as well as the toxic conditions in my home that were exacerbated by my lack of quality health care options and lack of access to capital. These and other environmental factors that I was exposed to led my doctors to wonder if in fact I suffered from cancer. I’ve come to learn more recently that in Erie County, home to nearly 50,000 Latinx people like me, cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants is 38% higher for people of color compared to white people, and exposure to air polluting facilities is approximately 2.8 times greater for people of color. That isn’t right.  I’ve also heard recently that some of our so-called climate champions in New York State favor a carbon neutrality and offset solution to the climate and environmental crises that I experience first-hand in my community.
Carbon neutrality? Not on my watch!  Now is not the time to be neutral on anything when our people are getting sick and dying, our communities are ravaged by severe weather impacts, and the future that awaits our children and grandchildren is being sacrificed for the short-term profits of corporate polluters. We need a just transition to zero emissions, 100% renewable energy economy. I’ve also heard that some of our so-called climate champions in New York State believe we can solve the climate crisis while ignoring environmental justice and racial equity. I refuse to be ignored. My community refuses to be ignored. We will not be silenced like I was silenced for so many years. The CCPA would commit 40% of climate and clean energy funding to communities like mine and people like me who have paid their fair share into the existing system. It’s a no brainer really, since our communities make up 40% of the State’s population.  Justice and equity cannot be negotiated
Not on my watch……. Recently, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown declared my city to be a “climate refuge.” And just last month the NY Times, in an article entitled, “Want to Escape Global Warming? These Cities Offer Cool Relief,” praised Buffalo as a destination where climate refugees will be welcome as the climate crisis worsens. In my mind, Mayor Brown and the author of this article weren’t talking about the nearly 10,000 Puerto Ricans displaced by hurricane Maria who were forced to resettle in my community under dire circumstances and have not received the support they deserve. Rather, their view on climate migration would seem to favor the investor class – those who are financially able to move and who would arrive in my community looking to take advantage of cheap land and housing and abundant freshwater resources. Without explicitly addressing justice and equity, as the CCPA does, climate solutions and climate migrations will threaten underrepresented people like me who will be at greater risk of gentrification and displacement. We will fall through the cracks and we will be silenced yet again. I refuse to be silenced. My community refuses to be silenced.  ——  Pass the CCPA / Pass the CCPA as is / Pass the CCPA now!

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WHY YOUR VOTE COUNTS

May 2019 Issue

Why you votes count by Luz Velez.jpg

Take Me Back

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