In 2016, Moumita Ahmed was a millennial pied piper managing Facebook pages full of iconic memes that drew hundreds of thousands of young voters to Bernie Sanders.
In 2018, she was the social media director for the Justice Democrats during Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s successful primary run against 10-term congressman Joe Crowley that rocked the Queens Democratic Party machine.
More recently Ahmed has been focused on bringing Sanders’ “political revolution” to her corner of southeastern Queens. She co-founded Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress (BAPP). a first-ever political club in New York City for progressive Bangladeshis. This past year she orchestrated a campaign that elected a dozen young reformers to district leader positions across Queens, another step forward in the struggle to dismantle the party machine and make local government responsive to voters. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, she launched the Queens Mutual Aid Network to deliver groceries and medicine to homebound neighbors in Jamaica, Queens.
Now, with a Feb. 2 special election fast approaching to fill the vacant seat for City Council District 24 in Queens, Ahmed, 30, is running hard to be the first in a wave of leftwing candidates elected to the City Council in 2021, a year that will see more than half of the Council’s 51 seats come open due to term limits
The District 24 special election will be a test run for ranked-choice voting, which New York City will use this year for the first time in its party primaries, though not in the November general election.
“I have the opportunity to establish the tone of the races in 2021,” says Ahmed, a democratic socialist. “If I win, then everybody will have to realize that being progressive and having convictions is important to winning the hearts and minds of working-class people.”
Ahmed immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh with her parents when she was 8 years old. Twenty-two years later, she still lives in the same corner of Jamaica where she has made her mark as a rising community leader. She cites her grandfather, who was martyred during the Bangladeshi independence struggle of the early 1970s, as the inspiration for her serve-the-people approach to activism.
“I always grew up with this idea of taking care of another, to help people in need: to risk, to sacrifice, to support one another,” Ahmed told The Indypendent. “So if my grandfather could give up his life for his neighbor, how can I not fight for my people?”
When Ahmed became ill with COVID-19 this spring and found herself recuperating at home for two months and drained of her usual dynamism, she had an epiphany.
“It was just so profound to have something like that and not know if there’s going to be a next day, but also not being able to do any organizing work and the thing that you love,” she said. “That’s when I realized that organizing is my life. I can’t live without it.”
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In New York City, Bangladeshis can be found driving cabs, working at fruit stands, handing you your cup of coffee at the neighborhood deli. Ahmed would be the first member of her community to serve on the City Council and the first Southeast Asian to do so as well.
District 24 was previously represented by Rory Lancman, who took a job in the Cuomo administration this fall. To win, Ahmed will have to stitch together a multiracial coalition in a district that spans
Kew Gardens Hills, Pomontok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica and Jamaica Estates and encompasses both well-to-do homeowner enclaves and working-class immigrant communities like her own.
Former City Councilmember James Gennaro is the presumptive frontrunner in a field of seven candidates. Gennaro served three terms from 2002 to 2013, before joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration as a deputy commissioner in the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Special elections tend to be low-turnout affairs dominated by older voters who are more likely to come out to vote. This will likely favor Gennaro, as many older voters in the district will have already voted for him before. However, Ahmed insists the electorate in her district has changed dramatically since Gennaro last ran for office in 2009 and that her campaign can reach those new voters just as Ocasio-Cortez did in her run against Crowley.
“Just because Jim Gennaro ran for City Council 10 or 15 years ago doesn’t mean he can win now,” Ahmed says. “We have a huge chance. The district has changed. This is the future. This is AOC and Bernie’s political revolution. This is the edge of the ripple effect.”
One sign of the generational dynamics at work can be found online, where, as The Indypendent goes to press, the Gennaro campaign’s twitter page (@ElectJimGennaro) is defunct, while Ahmed (@disruptionary) has more than 13,000 followers and saw a recent campaign video quickly gain more than 60,000 views.
Another marker in this Boomer v. Millennial contest is that Gennaro is a homeowner in upscale Jamaica Estates (the same neighborhood where Donald Trump grew up), while Ahmed is a renter who calls for “a whole new approach to housing” that jettisons the up-zonings of whole neighborhoods and market-rate construction for the rich preferred by Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio for a model that relies on nonprofit developers and community land trusts to create housing for the working class. Ahmed is also calling for defunding the police and reinvesting the money in community services and for relief for small businesses battered by the pandemic.
Ahmed has been endorsed by progressive luminaries Ro Khanna, Zephyr Teachout and Cynthia Nixon, the Working Families Party, local elected officials — State Senator Julia Salazar, Assemblyman Ron Kim, City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer — and a number of civic groups including New York City Communities for Change, Asian American Chamber of Commerce, the Muslim Entreprenuer Association, The Jewish Vote, the Hispanic American Voters Association and Sister Diaspora for Liberation.
“We have to change the culture of organizing and of politics. Right now capitalism has the hegemony over mainstream politics, our institutions, our way of life,” Ahmed says. “There’s a pandemic and people are losing faith in the current system and so this is an opportunity for people like me who believe in compassion, believe in human rights to remind folks that there is hope.”
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