Political Profile: Vinay Nayak for Ward 1 Alderman
The main message of Grassroots is that anyone can make an impact on their community. Not only that, but everyone should do something. Regardless of age, people have the ability to stand up and make a difference in their communities. Vinay Nayak exemplifies this notion.
Vinay Nayak is a 19-year-old sophomore at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and is running for Ward 1 Alderman in that city.
He summarizes his case on his campaign website, “I’m running because I believe our city government can and should work harder for all of its citizens, everyday, on and off campus. From my perspective, this can boil down to three simple but powerful goals.”
Those goals have been his platform and the main reason he decided to run. In terms of New Haven, “I want to keep us safe, make government more transparent and accountable, and finally revitalize our economy.”
Vinay is a native of Oakbrook, Illinois, a large suburb of Chicago. He defines his childhood as being incredibly idealistic, as his parents provided him with enough opportunity to succeed in whatever he set his mind too. He consistently would be reading the local and city news while garnering an interest in politics. From there, he felt that he could make tangible changes within his own community.
In the midst of a Chicago Bears game back in 2007, Vinay watched a little known Chicagoan announced his candidacy for President of the United States. That man was obviously, Barack Obama. No quicker then you can say his name, Vinay was on a train into the city to the Obama Volunteer Center. This gave him his first taste of the political scene. He truly felt like he was involved with something he could become really passionate about.
One of his friends, now a fellow Yale Student, gave him the idea of starting a group called “Students for Barack Obama” as his group became more active in his high school. He witnessed the excitement for Obama grow throughout his high school while his group became more active. He was soon named the deputy high school director of the Students for Barack Obama campaign in Illinois, and he helped students from other high schools get involved.
The experience provided Vinay with a strong sense of accomplishment, but he says, “I obviously don’t think I was the reason for Obama winning, or even a big part of it. But everyone involved, whether it was someone who made one phone call or someone who just went to vote for him, we all felt like we were a part of something that was so much bigger then ourselves. For all of us, it simply felt like we were actually a part of something that was going to have real change, and impact in our community and society.”
After the election, Vinay stepped away from the political scene. He felt his time working in the election gave him a sense of what he wanted to do, to witness a group of people come together to make a change. He did this by becoming part of multiple organizations and charities within the community for the rest of his tenure in high school.
New Haven was mentioned to Vinay a multitude of times throughout high school. When it was time to decide what college to go to, Yale was his first and only choice.
“The people there were so intelligent, that I could only hope to embody them in some little way. It’s honestly been the most magical place, I’ve ever been.”
In his first year at Yale, Vinay worked alongside the Board of Alderman. This provided him with the opportunity to see first hand how the board works, as well as the ability to see the people within the board who share the same goals and passion to help make a difference within a community.
He didn’t seek out working with Alderman with the intention to run but when the opportunity presented itself, it seemed too good to pass up. This would allow Vinay to make tangible changes within the community as well as strengthen the relationship between the residents of New Haven and the Yale student body; these students represent 95-97% of the community within Ward 1.
“It truly is a unique position. Ward 1 is filled with people who care so much about New Haven, or people who simply want to know more,” Nayak expresses, “When I hear students express their interest in the community, it enables me to become more engaged.”
In addition to engaging Yale students and the New Haven community, Vinay has a strong determination to limit the amount of crime by creating programs to help ex-offenders. Every week in New Haven, 25 people are released from prison back into society, and find that it is very difficult to find a job. This is the result of a policy that enforces people to state on a job application their criminal history. Because of this, employers are neglecting any applications that contain information within that box, regardless of the offense.
“If the box is checked off, that application and person will fall right on their face,” Vinay reveals, “70% of violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders and that’s the result of them not being able to assimilate back into society.”
Nayak is hoping to extend the “Ban the Box” practices to the private sector so that an ex-criminal can reveal his past in the second interview, and allow them the opportunity to explain the circumstances regarding their incarceration. It’s important not to group these minor criminals with dangerous felons.
Vinay elaborates, “I would further work on passing ‘collateral consequences legislation’ that details all the barriers that stand in the way of the re-integration of ex-offenders into society.”
These criminals are not all rapist or murderers. Many of the crimes are low risk offenses that may have happened when the offender was much younger. If they were given the chance to rehabilitate their lives, the violent crime percentage would be dramatically decreased because of their rehabilitation, creating a better and safer community for all.
Similar to what Jeremy Spencer spoke about in the previous political profile blog, Nayak wishes to make government more accountable, accessible, and transparent. He intends to achieve this by: streaming live Board of Aldermen and committee meetings, making it easier to file complaints against law enforcements officials; if justified, and empowering New Haven’s civilian review board to be able to conduct it’s own investigations.
His concern and interest for the criminal justice system in New Haven has given Vinay a glimpse of his future after college. He is already involved in the Mock Trial club and wishes to go to law school after Yale. If elected, he will use these platform initiatives to continue his passion for the criminal justice system. Vinay also wishes to be a lawyer for the US Marines at one point or another.
To compare the Grassroots message with Vinay Nayak’s campaign, he explains, “My campaign consists of a group of undergraduates writing policy, working on communications, and knocking on doors. To me, that is the definition of grassroots. It is truly inspiring.”
There are multitudes of ways that people can get involved, any of which can be quite meaningful. Vinay believes that if people think they can make any type of difference in their community, they absolutely should give it a try. The younger generation should be aware that politicians would hear their voices if they are not only voting, but also caring about the issue. This enables the younger generation to be taken more seriously.
Grassroots is all about putting yourself out there to make a difference. Whether it is by voting, working on a campaign, or running for office, the sense of accomplishment comes from the attempt to achieve something you think is for the betterment of a community. For Vinay, he understands this notion declaring, “What is going on in this campaign has been the most heartening experience of my entire life. Even more so then when I worked on the Obama campaign.”
Win or lose, the experience has led Vinay to feel that the entire experience has been worthwhile. We are hopeful that the film Grassroots can inspire the same reaction among many.
You can read more about Vinay Nayak and his platform at www.vinayforward1.com
By: Mike Nelson
‘Do or do not. There is no try.’