Guest Op-Ed: The Moment Is Now for Big, Structural Change

By Joe Gravellese, Candidate for State Representative

Back on February 28 – which feels like a lifetime ago – I was quoted for the first time in the Chelsea Record about my interest in the State Representative race. At the time, I said “Revere, Chelsea and Saugus need leadership to fight for big, structural changes” to address environmental and health challenges, housing and education costs, and other major issues facing Massachusetts’ working families. 

“With the state facing such urgent challenges, the voters deserve a race that focuses on where we stand on the issues [and] how we plan to invest in the future of our Commonwealth.”

Sadly, everything that’s happened in the last 3 months has only made it clearer how much we need serious, structural change. 

COVID-19 hit our communities especially hard, exacerbating problems that were already present.

Our local population was already at-risk to respiratory problems due to environmental hazards, like increasing tailpipe emissions, natural gas leaks, the expanded airport, and the nearby incinerator. These risks contributed to our high rate of COVID-19 infection. Back in March, I laid out an aggressive agenda to address environmental hazards. It’s never been clearer that our next representative needs to get to work immediately on environmental policy. 

Our residents were also vulnerable due to inadequate transportation and overcrowded housing. Maps of COVID infection tracked closely with areas where people rode delayed and cramped buses to work, or lived in crowded indoor settings. Before COVID hit, my campaign was laser-focused on ways to improve our transportation system; these investments are now even more important.

Essential workers like grocery store employees, healthcare workers, and bus drivers found that the government was quick to clap for them and arrange flyovers, but slow to acquire needed PPE or give them representation on discussions about how to reopen. We are still waiting for the Massachusetts Legislature to pass additional emergency paid sick time, to ensure that essential workers don’t have to choose between getting a paycheck and going to work with symptoms while COVID is still with us.

The national outcry over the killing of George Floyd put another crisis on our plate. This one has been especially traumatic for our young people and our communities of color. The ensuing dialogue has forced us to look hard not only at our public safety policies, but also at how lack of access to education and opportunity has entrenched inequalities. 

Why are thousands of kids sitting on waiting lists to attend vocational schools? Why do we not have more programs like ROCA in Chelsea, which connects at-risk local youth to job opportunities to help them get on the right path? Why is our transportation system limiting access to good jobs for working-class people? Why are we letting lower income communities get their school budgets devastated by funding cuts, when higher-income communities will be shielded due to their property tax base?

I stand by my comment back in February that we need big, structural change. Recent months have made it clear. If we respond to this moment of crisis correctly, we can build a Commonwealth that is stronger, healthier, and more equitable – but we need leadership willing to fight to make it happen. If elected on September 1, I pledge to work with leaders across the Commonwealth to transform our education, transportation, and public health policies. Joe Gravellese is a candidate for State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus), running in the Democratic primary on September 1.

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