NYC Allows Legal Immigrants to Vote in City Elections

The New York City Council has overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow more than 800,000 lawfully present immigrants to vote in municipal elections, becoming the largest U.S. city to do so. As a founding member of the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights, created in 2003 to research, recommend, and advocate for the ideas that culminated in this new policy, I could not be prouder. Even though I moved to Chicago in 2014, part of my heart will always remain in New York City and I am so happy that New Yorkers who support vibrant democracy have finally carried this initiative over the finish lines.

If this is the first time you are hearing about noncitizen voting –which was widespread in the U.S. until early in the twentieth century– please wait before you pass judgment. Many of the arguments of opponents simply do not hold water. The word “citizen” comes from the days when people’s allegiances lay with their cities because nations did not yet exist. The NYC policy does not allow voting in state or federal elections, so does not remove an incentive for recent immigrants to become U.S. citizens. To the contrary, it helps prepare them to become full federal citizens as they wait until they are eligible.

Below is the testimony that I delivered to the New York City Council for November 14, 2005 hearings on Intro. 628, the first bill introduced in favor of municipal voting rights for lawfully present non-citizens.

“Why the Voting Rights Restoration Act (Intro. 628) Is Good for New York City”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on why New York City should allow non-citizens who reside legally in this city to vote in municipal elections. My name is Michele Wucker and I am a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute at The New School, where my research focuses on immigration and citizenship issues, particularly on how immigrants integrate into their host communities, on the policies that can promote or retard that process, and on the consequences. With Ron Hayduk, I am a co-founder and co-director of the Immigrant Voting Project (www.immigrantvoting.org), which documents and analyzes the initiatives to enfranchise non-citizens around the United States and the world, both throughout history and during a revival of the practice that began in the 1960s and accelerated in the 1990s through the present.

You’ve heard important testimony today about rights, democracy, and the ways that non-citizens would benefit from being given a voice in the city’s affairs. But I wouldn’t blame you, or your constituents, for asking, “What’s in it for me?”

All New Yorkers should care whether or not non-citizen New Yorkers can vote in city elections for the same reason that we care whether anybody votes at all. It’s not at all hard to see why people are alarmed that the voter turnout last week was below 40% and the lowest in five mayoral elections. Municipal voter participation reflects how much residents care about the city where they live and how much of a stake they feel they have. A recent New York Times Magazine article argued that, given that the likely benefit to any one individual of casting a vote is tiny, it’s a wonder that anyone votes at all. The broader community benefits far more than any individual does when he or she casts a vote.

In Fall 2003, the Los Angeles community of Lynwood, where 44% of voting-age residents are not citizens, discovered the hard way what happens when a large part of the community is disenfranchised. Taxpayers were funding Lynwood City Council members’ exorbitant salaries, fancy meals and junkets to Rio de Janeiro and Hawaii. The whole city suffered because the local government was not accountable to all of its residents.

When a city fails to create engaged local citizens, the consequences can be devastating, as has been happening in the immigrant suburbs of Paris. Similarly, the 1992 Washington Heights riots here in New York City were caused in part because community residents were isolated from the rest of the city and felt they had little say or influence over policies that affected them. The solution was to develop policies to address residents’ needs. In Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood in 1991, ethnically charged riots inspired several suburbs to respond by granting local voting rights to noncitizen residents as a way of making sure that their concerns were addressed before they reached a breaking point.

When I first heard about the idea of noncitizen voting rights, my reaction was similar to the one I often get today when I tell others about the work of the Immigrant Voting Project and the New York Coalition to Expand Voting Rights. Why would someone bother to become a citizen if they already enjoyed the right to vote? While it is an understandable reaction, because Americans are far more likely to vote in national elections than local ones, it also is mistaken. The New York movement, like many similar ones across the country, only involves city-level voting rights; you still must be a citizen to vote for, say, President of the United States.

Adopting a new nationality is an emotional and very personal decision. Legal residents must wait five years before they can even apply to become a naturalized citizen, a long and often frustrating process. For many immigrants, the big hurdle in deciding to apply for naturalization is emotional: when they say the Pledge of Allegiance, they want to mean it. They want to feel like they belong to a place before they do the paperwork and undergo a process that is so complicated and frustrating that only those who really want to be citizens will go through. Giving incipient Americans a voice in their communities is a way to create involved, educated citizens at the local level, which will encourage many of them to go on to become U.S. citizens as well. At the same time, by cultivating all immigrants as citizens of this great city, New York will benefit immensely by welcoming into our civic life even those individuals who may not ever naturalize.

Becoming a “citizen of the city” is very different, both emotionally and in terms of results, from being a citizen of a nation. While it is only logical to think long and hard before changing their nationality, people are arguably citizens of a new city the minute that they take a job, sign a lease, enroll their children in schools, or begin a school semester of their own. Everyone who lives in a city immediately have an interest in securing safe and clean streets, good schools, and reliable and affordable transportation and health care. City officials’ decisions have immediate and tangible effects on the daily lives of every single resident: whether we have to walk through garbage or pass by crack dealers on the corner, how long we have to wait at the bus stop or subway station. We cannot afford to wait until the newest New Yorkers become U.S. citizens to make them full citizens of the city.

All residents depend on their neighbors being willing and able to participate in making sure that elected officials know what their needs are and meet them. Last year, I moved to Washington Heights, a neighborhood that is heavily populated by recent immigrants who, because of their citizenship status, cannot vote. I had to depend on the “A” train, which I quickly learned was unreliable at best. But, because the residents of Washington Heights had only a limited political voice, nobody expected more frequent or reliable train service any time soon. Meanwhile, lower Washington Heights finally succeeded in ending the skip-stop 9 train and increasing 1 train service, a feat achieved only when the number of likely voters to be courted hit critical mass. I think about the businesses that depend on reliable transportation for their workers no matter what their citizenship status and about the citizens who cannot get the services they need because their neighbors have no voices. And in these examples, I hope that you too will see clearly the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”

YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK

YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK: The New Art and Science of Navigating an Uncertain World, is now available at your favorite bookseller. Please support your local independent bookstore.

The book is:
A Next Big Idea Club Spring 2021 Nominee
An AudioFile Earphones Award honoree (audiobook edition)
A Porchlight Books Editor’s Choice

YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK: A Review by Anne Janzer
Q&A with Deborah Kalb
Grist: The World Is Getting Scarier

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 40 Books for Summer Reading
BookBits: Six More for the Investor’s Bookshelf
Practical eCommerce: 14 New Business Books for 2021

What drives a sixty-four-year-old woman to hurl herself over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Why are cor­porate boards paying more attention to risky personal behavior by CEOs? Why are some countries quicker than others to recognize—and manage—risks like pandemics, technological change, and the climate crisis?

The answers to these questions define each person, organization, and society as distinctively as a finger­print. Understanding the often-surprising origins of these risk fingerprints can open your eyes, inspire new habits, catalyze innovation and creativity, improve teamwork, and provide a beacon in a world that suddenly seems more uncertain than ever.

How you see risk and what you do about it depend on your personality and experiences; culture and values; the people around you; and even unexpected things like what you’ve eaten recently, the temperature in the room, or the fragrance in the air. Being alert to these often-unconscious influences will help you to seize opportunity and avoid danger.

You Are What You Risk is a clarion call for a new conversation about our relationship with risk and uncertainty. In this ground-breaking and accessible book, Michele Wucker examines why it’s so important to understand your risk fingerprint, and how to make your risk relationships work better in business, life, and the world.

Drawing on compelling stories from risk takers around the world and weaving in economics and social psychology, Wucker bridges the divide between professional and lay risk conversations. She challenges stereotypes about risk attitudes, shows how the new science of “risk personality” is re-shaping business and finance, and reveals how embracing risk empathy can resolve conflicts. Wucker shares insights, practical tools, and proven strategies that will help you to make better choices, both big and small.

“There’s a huge need in the business world to better understand the human factors behind how we perceive and evaluate risks, and there’s no better guide than Michele Wucker. Drawing on the stories of compelling risk-takers, practical research, and proven strategies, You Are What You Risk treads essential new territory for executives who want their organizations to be innovative, creative, and industry leaders.” — Danielle Harlan, author of The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who are Redefining Leadership

“The world is complex. But if we can’t be aware of all things happening everywhere all the time, can we at least have a framework for understanding what risks loom large and small in our lives, and start to think rationally – as individuals, companies, governments, and societies – about how to respond? You Are What You Risk delivers that story, that framework, and that action plan.”
  — Parag Khanna, author of Connectography and How to Run the World

“As Silicon Valley illustrates, risk attitudes and behaviors are at the heart of why organizations and economies thrive or head for disaster. In You Are What You Risk, Michele Wucker explores the dynamics behind individuals’ and companies’ relationships with risk, from personal experience to cultural values to policy ecosystems. Her original insights and practical recommendations will help readers choose healthy risk-taking over dangerous missteps in business, life, and the world.”

  — Deborah Perry Piscione, author of Secrets of Silicon Valley and The Risk Factor

“Whether you’re an investor, entrepreneur, of simply trying to forge your career strategically in any field, you’ll benefit from Michele Wucker’s innovative, clear-eyed approach to taking wise risks and navigating uncertainty. This book will help you to get from ordinary to extraordinary.” — Laura Huang, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and Author of EDGE: Turning Adversity into Advantage

The Gray Rhino in BTS hit single”Blue & Grey”

The gray rhino inspired a lyric in the hit single “Blue & Grey” by the global K-pop phenomenon BTS released with its album BE in November 2020. BTS, which is known for smashing music records and bringing needed attention to under-appreciated issues, shone a full-on spotlight on mental health with “BE.” Vox called the release “essential pandemic pop.” The hit singles “Life Goes On” and “Blue & Grey” (which Rolling Stone called the album’s standout song) in particular refer to the pain of depression and loneliness during lockdown but offer a message of hope: we can get through this and life goes on.

A rap line in “Blue & Grey” uses the gray rhino as a metaphor for anxiety and depression: “This lump of metal does feel heavy/ A grey rhino that is coming toward me/ Absently, I stand with vacant eyes.”

Listen to the song along with real-time translations here:

My tweet about the song, which BTS’ official account “liked,” went viral and generated headlines in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea.

Watch below as BTS’s V (Kim Tae-hyun), who wrote the main text of Blue & Grey and was producer for the song, interviews J-Hope (Jung Ho-seok), who wrote and performed the song’s rap overlay including the gray rhino lyric. J-Hope begins discussing the concept around 9:10 in the video, explaining that “It’s also a term used in economics… It’s a term used to describe a danger that you’re aware is approaching, but you neglect and ignore it. Grey rhino is used to describe those dangers. And when I used that term it was like having a face-to-face with myself. The job I have has many dangerous factors, and there are other dangerous factors. But for these parts I have to carry with me the dangers I can’t be sure of. So instead of being afraid of it, I wanted to face it. And that’s what I wanted to convey.” In response, V says, “When I saw the lyrics, ‘gray rhino,’ I told our producers, ‘Holy moly, baam. Wow, grandfather!’ I think I’ve used all the exclamations I can think of!”

YOU ARE WHAT YOU RISK -Coming April 2021

The #1 international bestselling author of The Gray Rhino offers a bold new framework for understanding and re-shaping our relationship with risk and uncertainty to live more productive and successful lives.

What drives a sixty-four-year-old woman to hurl herself over Niagara Falls in a barrel? Why do some people wait until the last minute to get to the airport while others get there much earlier than they need to? Why do entrepreneurs thrive in the face of uncertainty, while others cringe at the thought of leaving a stable nine-to-five job? Why are some countries quicker than others to face up to risks like pandemics, technological change, and climate crisis?

The answers to these questions define each person, organization, and society as distinctively as a fingerprint. Our risk fingerprints are a critically important but overlooked catalyst for innovation and creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and success. They explain why we seize opportunities and avert obvious dangers –or succumb to stagnation, fear and failure. We ignore them at our peril, yet traditional risk management

In You Are What You Risk, Wucker examines why we avoid risk, when we should embrace it, and how we can re-examine our relationship with uncertainty, danger, and opportunity for both personal and professional success.

Risk-takers are motivated by factors as broad as culture and values, as specific as their personalities and past experiences, and as strategic as calculations about how much they have to gain or lose. But the deciding factor in whether they make good or bad bets lies in their awareness of the often-unconscious influences on their perceptions, choices, and behaviors.

Drawing on the stories of risk takers around the globe, and integrating economic, anthropological, sociological, and psychological insights, this ground-breaking and accessible book offers a completely new way to understand and face a changing world.

Wucker reveals insights, practical tools, and proven strategies that will help readers seize ownership of risk and make better choices, whether big and small. She shows how the new science of “risk personality” is beginning to shape business and finance, drawing on examples of activists, businesses, and countries seeking to create a healthy risk ecosystem that supports creativity, innovation, and positive entrepreneurship. 

You Are What You Risk answers important questions: Why are some people good at averting crises at work but a mess in their personal lives? Why are we more likely to take chances when we are part of a group than when on our own? Are we born with our risk attitudes or do we pick them up along the way? What is the right amount of uncertainty to live with?

Risk decisions have never been more crucial, particularly in a world where political turmoil, economic insecurity, technological transformation, and climate change have exposed us to unprecedented levels of vulnerability. You Are What You Risk is a clarion call for a new approach to risk, one that will surprise and challenge us as we look towards the future.

In the US: Pegasus Books (April 2021)

International English: Simon & Schuster International (May 2021)

Audio: Oasis (April 2021)

China: CITIC (2021)

Taiwan: Commonwealth (2021)

South Korea: Mirae Books (2022)

Pre-order HERE or at your favorite bookseller.

THE GRAY RHINO Kindle Sale: $2.99 for July only

For July 2020 only, the Kindle/ebook edition of THE GRAY RHINO is on sale for $2.99 across all digital platforms. Don’t miss this chance to get your copy of the #1 best seller in financial risk management –and even better, gift it to friends and colleagues!

A Metaphor for Our Times

If the nobody-could-have-seen-it-coming black swan metaphor was the narrative of the 2008 market meltdown, author and strategist Michele Wucker’s highly probable, obvious “gray rhino” metaphor tells the story of the crisis we are in today. 

Amid the double calamities of the COVID-19 pandemic and market meltdown, both of which followed repeated public warnings that went ignored, the gray rhino has struck a chord and generated a flood of headlines around the world.  

Cover of New Model Advisor Magazine -a rhino's horn in front of a cracked wall with headline "The Signs Were There"

Crisis Response Journal recently called the gray rhino “A metaphor for our times.” The UK financial magazine, New Model Advisor, made the gray rhino the cover story of its new issue, relegating the black swan to a sidebar.

Nassim Taleb, who coined the term “black swan” for highly improbable and unforeseeable events, has declared on twitter and in multiple interviews, including on Bloomberg News, that the combined pandemic and financial crisis was and is not a black swan. It was neither unforeseeable nor even improbable.

Michele coined the term “gray rhino” to draw attention to the obvious risks that are neglected despite – indeed, often because of– their size and likelihood. The gray rhino metaphor has moved markets, shaped financial policies, and made headlines around the world. She introduced it at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in 2013, and developed a five-stage analytical framework in her 2016 book, THE GRAY RHINO: How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies around the world and influenced China’s financial risk strategy

Michele’s recent Washington Post op-ed challenged the tired black swan trope that has given portfolio managers and policy makers a convenient “nobody saw it coming” cop-out when they ignore obvious dangers: “Let’s trade the black swan for the gray rhino: a mind-set that holds ourselves and our government accountable for heeding warnings and acting when we still have a chance to change the course of events for the better instead of waiting for a crisis to act.”  The Wall Street Journal quoted her Washington Post article, offering the gray rhino as an alternative to the black swan. 

Axios, Fast Company, and The Economist’s The World Ahead podcast have adopted the gray metaphor to describe this crisis. The term also has made pandemic and financial collapse related headlines in Australia, China and Taiwan (too many articles to link), Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Middle East, South Africa, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Czech Republic, Chile, Venezuela, Canada, and Mexico.

The black swan has been misused to normalize complacency. By contrast, the gray rhino provides an alternative that challenges decision makers to be held accountable for failing to prepare for and head off clear and present dangers.

It provides not only a new way to think about the twin pandemic and financial crises, but also a framework for how we can do a better job holding decision makers accountable when they fail to keep threats from turning into catastrophes. As Crisis Response Journal put it, the gray rhino is indeed a metaphor for our times.

Author Julia Alvarez Shouts Out WHY THE COCKS FIGHT in the NY Times

The author of “IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES” and other beloved novels recommends WHY THE COCKS FIGHT: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola, alongside other classic works on the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in The New York Times“By the Books” column April 11, 2019:

What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about the Dominican Republic?

I always find novels a great way to understand the character, not just the content, of a culture. Dominican-American novelists who write about the island, not just the immigration experience: Junot Díaz, Nelly Rosario, Angie Cruz. Mario Vargas Llosa’s “The Feast of the Goat” owes much to the riveting nonfiction account by Bernard Diederich, “Trujillo: The Death of the Goat.” Crassweller’s “Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator.” But how can we write about the Dominican Republic and not include Haiti? We are one island, after all, sharing a history of occupation, appropriation, slavery, dictatorship and more. Michele Wucker’s “Why the Cocks Fight” is a compact history of both countries and their relationship. I also admire Madison Smartt Bell’s “Haitian Revolution” trilogy, and “The Farming of Bones,” by one of my favorite writers, the Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat. Ditto for how can we write about Hispaniola and not include most of the southern American hemisphere, and for that, the incomparable Eduardo Galeano’s books, most saliently “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent,” in which Haiti and the Dominican Republic figure frequently.

Books That Inspired Me in 2018

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and peaceful and prosperous 2019!

Wrapping up 2018, I’m reflecting on the books I’ve read over the past year that have made the biggest impressions. They reflect a range of interests, from ruminations on the nature of risk and uncertainty, to how we classify personalities and attitudes, to a memoir of celiac disease, to a wide-ranging list of fiction.

Risk

Before he died on New Year’s Day 2015, Ulrich Beck was as close to a cult figure as a German academic sociologist could get. In the first five years after its publication, his classic book Risk Society sold more than 60,000 copies. Yes, with four zeroes. He’s not an easy read, but amid the dense academic prose in Risk Society and the later World at Risk are flashes of brilliance.

In similar tone and style, Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty reflects on “a society impotent, as never before, to decide its own course with any degree of certainty, and to protect the chosen itinerary once it has been selected.”

Personalities

Merve Emre tells the story of the mother-daughter team who invented the ubiquitous Myers-Briggs personality test, leading to the $500 million psychometric testing industry and the controversies that surround it, in The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing

In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World, Michele Gelfand explores the cultural context of just what the title says: how wedded groups of people are to the rules they’ve set up to shape their society, and how willing they are to take risks in breaking those rules.

Celiac Disease

After she saw me put our waiter through the Celiac Inquisition as we caught up over brunch, a mutual friend of author Paul Graham recommended his memoir of learning to live with celiac disease, In Memory of Bread. His account of how he ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed is epic: an orgy of traditional bread baking (and eating) and craft beer brewing (and drinking). His baking tips are helpful. But what I really loved was how he put into words the worst part of celiac disease: the angst it causes in social meal situations. I gave it to a friend who also cannot eat wheat or other gluten products, and she loved it as much as I did before passing it on to her (also gluten-free) daughter.

Fiction

When Scott Turow spoke at a recent Authors Guild event here in Chicago, I picked up a copy of his recent international legal drama, Testimony, involving the atrocities of the collapse of the now-former Yugoslavia. I’m enjoying it as much as his earlier books, which gave me a glimpse of Chicago many years before I moved here.

Two of the year’s most celebrated novels fully deserve the praise heaped on them.

Madeline Miller’s Circe, a #1 New York Times bestseller, tells the story of the witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs. Since my dad has a master’s in classics and I grew up on Greek and Roman mythology, I particularly loved this fresh take on the Odyssey and related myths.

The family of “Marsh Girl” Kya, the protagonist of Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, abandons her in their home in a swamp when she is seven years old. She raises herself, furtively interacting with the townspeople until their stories intertwine. Both a mystery and coming of age story, the book benefits from Owens’ own expertise as a naturalist.

Most of the other fiction I’ve read over the past year comes from around the world.

I cannot say enough how much I loved Turkish best-selling author Elif Safak’s The Architect’s Apprentice, the story of a boy turned elephant caregiver, architect, and man, and his interactions with royalty and ruffians in Ottoman-era Istanbul. Amazing detail, characters, and plot.

Two Chinese contemporary authors explore the nature of uncertainty through the (mis) adventures of two protagonists making their way through contemporary Beijing.

Orange Prize Finalist Xiaolu Guo’s semi-autobiographical Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is the story of a plucky would-be actress who leaves her country home for a career in Beijing.

The narrator of Xu Zechen’s Running Through Beijing has just been released from prison, and has to figure out how to make a life out of air permeated by the fine yellow dust that so often descends on Beijing. He hawks pirated DVDs and tries to make sense of old and new relationships.

After my trip to South Korea late last year (with a day trip to the DMZ), I discovered several wonderful authors. Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist, is an epic family saga set in the wake of the Korean War, which drives the protagonists to a complicated new life in Japan.

I picked up Han Kang’s Human Acts in Seoul on the recommendation of a Korean friend who said that it was even better than her Man Booker Prize winning novel, The Vegetarian. She tells the story of the violent student uprisings that took the lives of some of her characters, exploring people’s motivations in taking extreme risks on behalf of family members, friends, and their society.

My friend also recommended Gong Ji-Young’s Our Happy Time, perhaps an odd title for a book about a suicidal young woman and a death row inmate. But it works. The subject interested me in part because I’d heard about Korea’s high suicide rate, but what made the book work was the portrayal of the struggles of the main characters.

And from Japan, Keiko Furukura, the title character of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, is a singular personality, probably somewhere on the spectrum. An unlikely but welcome heroine, she breaks with social expectations and makes her own way through life in Tokyo.

I’ll be continuing my literary tour of the world in 2019 and am looking for books to add to my list. What books have moved you recently?

This article is part of my new weekly series, “Around My Mind” – a regular walk through the ideas, events, people, and places that kick my synapses into action, sparking sometimes surprising or counter-intuitive connections. 

Click the blue button on the top right hand of this page to subscribe to “Around My Mind” and get notifications of new posts. Please don’t be shy about sharing, leaving comments or dropping me a private note with your own reactions.