Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the idea that you can run for political office to help people, Benji Ramirez-Gomez is a non-binary Xicane (a person of Indigenous/Mexican descent) who grew up on the north side of Madison and is challenging out gay incumbent Patrick Heck to serve as alder in Common Council District 2.
In a WORT-FM debate with Heck in late January, Ramirez Gomez talked about the impacts of local housing costs on friends as a stark example of how being a renter during the COVID crisis in the evolving Tenney-Lapham neighborhood is challenging for working people.
“Friends were displaced by plans for development in the 400 block of East Washington between Franklin and Hancock,” said Ramirez-Gomez. “The landlords in the area sold to the developers and didn’t communicate that with tenants. It took my friend having to hear from another neighbor that within the next year her housing was going to be torn down for luxury apartments to go up. There was no direct communication from her alder, Patrick Heck, or her own landlord, and moving is such an immense expense for working people. It was a heartbreaking story that pushed me into action.”
Among their priorities are insisting that those who are BIPOC have a right to thrive and that can only come about by defunding the police, re-funding people, and prioritizing affordable housing. They have a clear stance on demilitarizing police, giving teeth to a civilian oversight board that still does not have hiring and firing power of police, and banning the use of tear gas against civilians engaged in protest activities.
“As a staunch abolitionist, we have to acknowledge that our progressive city is still a police state that targets blackness and Indigeneity,” elle explained. “Moving the needle towards abolition means being proactive in our redefinition of public safety. Right now it’s being approached from a white supremacist perspective. We should focus on mental health support and advocacy and the other things that make a safe community: Access to food, access to housing, access to education. Another gun in my community in the hands of MPD is not going to feed my homies. That’s the message I want to bring to the city.”
The District 2 race is unique in Madison in that the candidates include a young, non-binary Latine who is challenging an out-gay, white, cisgendered man. Ramirez-Gomez says that while Heck describes his experience as a gay man as being a path to his understanding of the intersectionality of oppression, Benji wants to a chance to be a part of what they describe as an explosion of young people of color vyying for leadership roles in the wake of the era of Trump, Black Lives Matter, and threats of ICE raids.
“I think that for me being a member of the trans community, it’s dangerous for me to be open about my femininity,” they said. “For me to be public about who I am is inherently dangerous. I don’t want to detract from Patrick’s own struggle, but he has had an opportunity to learn and grow as an elected official, and I don’t want him to rob me of that experience or detract from my own potential to learn and grow in these spaces.”