Community Catalyst Jaslin Kaur on Her Path to Politics


October 27, 2023


Culture, Features, Journalism


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NEW YORK, N.Y. — Jaslin Kaur’s Instagram bio speaks volumes to her unapologetic love for Queens: “Glen Oaks forever.” 

Kaur’s failed bid for city council in 2021, to represent District 23, was closely tied to her own upbringing in Glen Oaks. Now, Kaur is a manager for Alumni Support at Run for Something, a political organization that provides a safety net for rising progressive leaders. 

Her decision to run was ultimately a culmination of systemic failures that had plagued her community for far too long, in her view.

“It was definitely a pattern of just – I am being failed and my family is being failed at so many different points,” said Kaur. “And so I think it became just a calling of, I don’t see anybody else who’s going to do this. And I’m not going to wait around for somebody to do something about this.” 

She ran on three main issues – transit justice, equitable gig economy, and affordable housing – that she knew would resonate in her neighborhood. 

Despite her resolve, launching her campaign came with moments of self-doubt, Kaur admitted she didn’t possess a background in public policy or political science. In fact, she had attended New York University, for a brief period of time, with the intention of becoming an engineer. 

Even before her campaign took off, Kaur faced criticism from her own community. 

“People were running smear campaigns against me, telling neighbors complete lies about who I am and even saying that I wasn’t a real Sikh,” said Kaur. “And I think that was one of the most offensive parts about running for office, where people questioned your identity.”

In times of vulnerability, Kaur drew strength from role models like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. admiring her unwavering commitment to her values despite political pressure. 

“I have that mantra written down somewhere where she’s telling herself, ‘I am good enough. I am strong enough. I am capable enough. I am smart enough.’ All these affirmations that I think women, particularly in politics, don’t tell themselves often enough,” said Kaur. 

Kaur trailed frontrunner Linda Lee on election night by a narrow margin. Kaur was behind Lee in the District 23 race by 925 first-choice votes, but after six rounds of ranked choice voting, she fell behind by 1,181 total votes. Lee ultimately won 54.5 percent of votes — ahead of Kaur’s 45.5 percent.

Kaur’s proudest moment came at a considerable cost. After an eight-day hunger strike that left her in “immense physical pain, vision loss, and nausea,” Kaur’s efforts helped secure millions of dollars for NYC cabbies in early November 2021.

After an escalating strike, taxi drivers reached an agreement with the city to restructure the debilitating debt that devastated many taxi medallion owners. This came after the 2014 taxi medallion market crash that exacerbated city-level failures for working class immigrant families. 

Kaur, the daughter of a taxi driver, ran on this issue to highlight the struggles of gig economy workers in Queens.  

“Nothing, I think, will compare to what it felt like once we found out that this campaign won,” said Kaur. “I just immediately started sobbing. It was crazy. I’ll never forget what that feeling was like. It really, really changed so many people’s lives.”

While Kaur is content with her role at Run for Something, she might consider another run for office in the future. 

“I’m working on some wellness resources for candidates once they lose their election. And those are resources I really wish that I had when I didn’t win my election too,” she said. 

When asked to look five years ahead, Kaur said, “I hope I’m still in this neighborhood. I hope that I can still afford it. I hope that I can still make some meaningful inroads out here.” 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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