Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a movement – a movement against the social injustices inflicted upon our Disabled and Queer brothers and sisters, a movement to defend Standing Rock and Bears Ears, a movement supporting Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives, and a movement fighting for dignity of working peoples.
It is a movement that established Indigenous People’s Day in Salt Lake City. It’s a movement made of women marching against the patriarchy, of conscientious community members protesting concentration camps at the border and resisting the terrorism orchestrated by ICE. It is a movement that recognizes climate crisis.
But I wonder: Why did this movement take so long? Why have our country, our state, and our city been so quiet and so indifferent about these issues until now?
My name is Moroni Benally. I am running to be your District 2 representative on the Salt Lake City Council.
Our voters deserve a candidate who can understand and empathize with their suffering. It takes someone willing to walk away from their career, who can forego a comfortable lifestyle to move into spaces of discomfort, insecurity, and precarity. It is that type of person who makes change happen.
Years ago, I left my job teaching public policy at The Evergreen State College to move back home to the Navajo Nation, giving up the security my university position provided, because it was the right thing to do. To do the most good for the people who needed a voice, I became a public servant for the Navajo government, and because I would not yield to the political corruption, I had to find work elsewhere.
In that transition, I experienced homelessness, unemployment, self-doubt, and a sense of abandonment. But the injustice inflicted upon the least of us compelled me to fight, not only for myself but for the survival and wellness of the people suffering around me.
And that is what brought me to Salt Lake City three years ago.
When I moved here, I immediately noticed the injustices around housing, healthcare, working families, Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, and the LGBTQ community. Outraged, I quickly got involved with other organizers and created the Utah League of Native American Voters. We worked on issues important not only for Native voters but also for those who were themselves victims and survivors of existing policies. These struggles include working-class parents with 2 or 3 low-paying jobs to afford rent, getting an Uber to and from work because of inadequate public transportation, straining their meager means to survive.
And in my current job working for Restoring Ancestral Winds, a sexual-assault and domestic-violence-prevention organization, I have met with many people who have known survivors or are survivors themselves of acts of such violence. To be clear, if we do nothing about sexual assault and domestic violence, one in three women and one in seven men in this district will be a victim of such violence this year. I do not need to tell anyone here the severity a traumatic impact of this type of abuse will have on generations to come.
We need an active, engaged voice in the city council for the marginalized in our communities, not only to address these extreme issues but also other, more immediate problems that impact our daily routines and our safety: from poor infrastructure-maintenance like all the potholes, to the 900 west road diet debacle, and to the underfunding of streetlights in this district that endangers the Disabled, women, and our Trans and Two-Spirit brothers and sisters. These are all examples of the city neglecting its responsibility to engage our communities and properly place resources where they are needed most.
The structural neglect of our district has led to the fiasco with the monopole on Emery Street. But this negligence is not limited to things like the monopole, for it also covers the inland port and how the decision-making process left out not only our district’s voices but also the city’s voices.
This port comes with real human costs: We recognize that people are interested in the outcome of the inland port because of the prospect of the jobs that it can bring to this district. But we also realize that it could put many lives in danger: there is a possibility for increased drug and human trafficking, broader ICE presence, and further endangerment of the livelihoods of our undocumented brothers and sisters. And the port’s negative environmental fallout will most likely be directly absorbed by the people in this district, further increasing our district’s already low health quality.
If we do not transform how the council thinks and works, we can expect further economic, social, racial, ableist, gendered, and environmental inequities. Without real change, we can expect more people unable to afford a home, more workers with difficulty making a living wage, and more tenants facing economic instability.
The status quo is unacceptable. We need a city council member who will fight for all of you. In the city council, I will represent and listen to everyone in District 2. I will bring marginalized voices to the table. I will be a champion fighting for economic rights that benefit workers, tenants, undocumented brothers and sisters, those experiencing homelessness, and the LGBTQI and Disabled communities.
I will push for a city attorney who can help tenants fight against state laws that limit their rights.
I will advocate for all undocumented people’s right to an attorney.
I will do everything possible to reduce unnecessary civilian–police interactions and the use of police force.
I will support community land trusts and farming to increase access to healthy food and produce.
I will oppose policies that criminalize homelessness.
I will increase accessibility throughout our city. Our Disabled brothers and sisters must no longer be an afterthought.
I will prioritize incentives for businesses willing to provide a living wage to their employees.
I will create programs to help neighborhoods stop heinous acts like domestic violence and sexual assault.
And I will work with community organizations to lobby the state to make transformative reforms around housing, wages, access to healthcare, and city autonomy.
We live in a minority-majority district. And it is about time that someone represents our minority communities in the city council.
My name is Moroni Benally, and I am running to be your city council member for District