Wherever you go in New York City, whatever you read, and whomever you talk to, there are a few topics that tend to dominate the conversation, and some of those are gentrification, education, and environment. Alex Gleason, a Policy Associate and Adjunct Professsor who works for the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and teaches at a number of different colleges throughout the city, spends his days advocating for reforms related to these issues, and spends the rest of his time researching possible solutions.
In a city teeming with young people building careers, he thinks it is still a great place to start—but maybe not for long, unless some of these deep-rooted problems begin to change. Gleason loves what he does, and hopes to return to school to earn his Ph.D., but he’s got no intention of retreating to an ivory tower from there. He thrives when his boots are on the ground, actively working to create or force meaningful change.
Where do you live, how old are you, and what is your official professional title? I live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and am 25 years old.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened? I was always interested in collective action and power-building. I grew up year-round on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and became civically engaged at a young age, because our schools were always under attack. As a student, I felt it was my obligation to advocate and fight for myself and others to have a great public education. It wasn’t until my time at The New School when the dots connected, and I decided to devote my time and energy to workers’ rights. Working people have been under sustained attack or forty years in this country, and it is going to take a lot of people, effort, and time to reverse that.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career? For the moment Brooklyn is still viable, but unless regular, working people fight back against ‘I want it all’ developers, greedy property managers, and the 1099 economy, I’m not sure for how long. Unless New York City can successfully grow our economy from the bottom-up, middle-out, I don’t know how any young person in the future will be able to foster a career anywhere in the five boroughs.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? A lot of the problems I’m working on—climate change, retirement security, wealth inequality—will all still exist. I’m not sure exactly where I will be in ten years, but I hope to continue making my small contribution to the large, systemic problems requiring collaborative, multi-sector and stakeholder solutions.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path? I think it’s a reasonable, rational thing for any person in their mid-20s to question their work and contribution, but nothing has made me want to leave my job. I would at some point like to go back to school and earn a PhD, but taking permanent refuge in the ivory tower isn’t my goal.
What’s felt like your biggest professional accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment isn’t a discernible win like a campaign, piece of legislation, or organizing victory; it’s the intangible, unspoken confidence to do the work I do, and having my ideas and contributions valued by my colleagues, principal officer, and our board.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry? If I could give one piece of advice it would be to do the best you can, stay in your lane, and give as much and as unselfishly as possible. You are one small part of a much bigger picture. In other words, do your best to see the woods through the trees.
Who are your role models in your industry, and what do you hope to see happen or change in the industry in the (near-ish) future? My role models in the industry are the folks who’ve worked their entire lives to effectuate change, and haven’t been beaten-down or ostracized by the cynics or politics of contempt. I would like to see true solidarity amongst institutions, interests, and communities. If working people can stand together, then nothing will stop Us.
Who would be your pick for a 30 Under 30? I would choose one of the brave individuals fighting back against the ongoing social engineering [read as gentrification] to displace long-time residents. We can build reasonably-priced housing and lift marginalized communities—it’s not a mutually exclusive choice—and those workers and communities matter.
To learn about more sub-30 standouts, visit this year’s list of 30 Under 30.