When you personally get the call to be Ulster County legislator, you have to say “let me think about it,” which is exactly what happened when a position opened up and Megan Sperry got the call to run for office. Ulster County Legislator Megan Sperry is a jack of all trades. Filmmaker, professor, avid bike rider and dog mom are just a few of the other hats Sperry wears aside from legislator.
Sperry has been a legislator for two years and is up for reelection! She’ll continue to focus on her advocacy for food security and housing when she gets reelected for her second term. “I submitted a resolution that asked any developer seeking funds from Ulster County for housing in any way, shape or form, to consider putting a food pantry on premise and also building out community gardens and then I also submitted a resolution that is connecting local farmers to provide CSAs to low income families who are on SNAP or food stamps.”
These initiatives are designed to provide lower income households with better access to fresher produce and local foods. When asked “why food?” Sperry answered that food’s really important. She’s always been intrigued by agriculture, sustainability and using food as medicine.
Since COVID-19, food prices have gone up, but the SNAP benefits provided by the state have remained the same. “Any way that we can help supplement what’s already there is really important to me. It’s also really important that people have access to fresh food. A lot of folks that are living on public assistance that have only a certain amount of money, they try to make it last as long as possible and what they’re purchasing super processed foods and they might live like two miles away from a farm, that’s growing beautiful produce, that’s way more nutritional for them,” Sperry said.
Recently, one resolution was approved unanimously in support of the Think Differently Initiative, an open source initiative for all communities through state and nationwide levels to help put in place accessibility. Their mission to provide the state with better accessibility sounds like one many people can get behind. However, there was a lot of debate over whether this bill should be passed, because it was by Marco Dinero, a Republican.
“That’s what’s polarizing everything in politics. It’s ‘that’s a Republican issue’ or ‘that’s a dem issue and I’m not touching that’ and ‘we’re not going to work together.’ Which I think is problematic,” explained Legislator Sperry. She even went on to explain that she had to co-sponsor the bill with a Republican colleague to show that this isn’t a partisan issue, but truly an accessibility issue. The initiative is to encourage all aspects of our county government to change it’s perspective on the ways accessibility might work for different individuals.
While Ulster County currently has a super majority with 16 Democrats and seven Republicans, there is still political divide amongst individuals and their ideals which Sperry believes slows down the change-making process. “It would be very easy to look around and think that we live in a super progressive area,” explained Sperry. New Paltz has gained the reputation of being a very progressive area, but it only goes so far. The landscapes are constantly changing all around us. People from the city are not only changing the residential landscape, but also the needs of the people.
Politics seems daunting, but it’s necessary for problems to get better.
If you’re expecting to stay in New Paltz or Ulster County for more than four years, consider getting involved with the town board and go to community meetings. That’s how Sperry got her start. “I lived in Williamsburg before it became the circus that it is now. I just got involved with the community. I was going to community board meetings and I was just helping wherever I could, in canvassing.” From there, she went on to combine her passions for social justice with filmmaking to create her film “Domino,” which documented the gentrification happening in Williamsburg as a result of the Domino Sugar Factory.
Getting involved with politics and your community at large doesn’t mean you have to become the next president. “I am a tenured professor now. I love teaching. I love my students. I love the flexibility in that schedule so that I can work on my own projects. There’s a creativity inside me of wanting to tell stories in a specific way and I can’t do that if I’m a state senator or assembly person so I feel kind of comfortable where I am.”
If there’s one thing Sperry wants students to take away, it is that, “I really want students to know that they do have a voice. And I know that there’s a lot of media and a lot of reasons to not believe that their vote counts, but that’s not true. We’ve seen this campus swing elections and you know just reiterating the idea that like you can get involved, there’s many different ways to get involved and you guys are the future. It is your future and so, the sooner you get involved, the better.”