Grantee: VOCAL-NY

With the drumbeat of chaotic attacks on democracy on the national level, it can be hard to see that people are building local community organizations to ensure that we can come together to fight for justice. Grassroots organizing has created changes for New Yorkers in terms of our physical safety, housing and access to economic opportunity. Here are some of the victories that our grantees have achieved here in New York this summer:

Criminal Justice Victories

Many grassroots groups including VOCAL-NY fought long and hard to force Governor Cuomo to approve a Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission to increase accountability for prosecutors. Prosecutors in New York State have a long history of misconduct, which has often led to false convictions and subsequent exonerationsthis new commission will impose a system of checks and balances on prosecutors who are abusing their powers.

VOCAL-NY was also a key player in making local phone calls from Rikers Island and other city jails free.

After a long and arduous battle with the NYPD, Communities United for Police Reform was successful in getting them to finally turn over internal records in the case of Ramarley Graham, a 17-year-old who was killed by police officers in 2012.

Thanks to a coalition led by the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYCAIC), the New York State Assembly passed the Humane Alternatives to Long Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, which restricts the use of segregated confinement. This is the first year that the bill made it out of committee after years of effort. The next hurdles are the State Senate and the governor.

Release Aging People in Prison was a big part of a support team that led to former Black Panther Robert Seth Hayes being granted parole at his 10th parole appearance, despite targeted opposition due to the politicized nature of his crime. They hope that this initial victory will lead to more humane and realistic parole decisions for incarcerated people who post a low risk upon their release.

Immigrant Justice Progress

Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson and the Worker Justice Center of New York have done an amazing job leading campaigns to push the cities of Kingston and Poughkeepsie to adopt municipal identification cards for immigrants and other vulnerable populations, paving the way for other Hudson Valley cities to follow suit. Gaining a form of an identification means that folks in these cities can access meaningful services like opening a bank account.

UndocuBlack Network led the charge in the campaign that helped free Sadat Ibrahim, a black queer immigrant, who spent 921 days in detention for seeking asylum. And they were active along with the Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project on the recently successful case of Udoka Nweke, a gay Nigerian immigrant who is fighting a drawn-out asylum case because of his fear of returning to Nigeria, where a 2014 anti-gay law has created danger for people.

Members of the Yonkers Sanctuary Movement and the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) made an appearance alongside other organizers and advocates on stage with the rapper Logic at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Angy Rivera from NYSYLC also made an appearance in Maroon 5’s Girls Like You video.

Housing and Economic Justice Wins

Picture the Homeless has been fighting since 2004 to demand solutions for the city’s flawed temporary housing subsidies and in a major victory this July, the New York City Department of Homeless Services finally announced that they’re ending the LINC voucher program and replacing it with a rental subsidy that does not expire.

Riders Alliance, in coalition with many other organizations, campaigned for discounted MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers and won.

Six months after the well-publicized eviction of 85 Bowery, the residents will finally return to their homes, thanks to a strong campaign from the Chinese Staff & Workers Association.

At least a half-dozen of our grantees organize tenants and are also members of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development. The association’s recent campaign for fair lending means Signature Bank released a strong set of multifamily lending best practices, setting a high standard of commitment to ensure that their mortgage lending does not contribute to the harassment or displacement of tenants.

In June, the Laundry Workers Center released an eye-opening report highlighting the widespread hazards, low pay, and harassment of laundry workers throughout the city.

In a group effort that included the Worker Justice Center of New York, farmworkers sued the Environmental Protection Agency for illegally shelving new pesticide training materials which puts workers and their families at risk.

Worker’s Justice Project opened a new workers center in Bensonhurst! With this new worker center and 15 OSHA Certified trainers, their members are committed to increasing workplace dignity and promoting good jobs with a living wage.

Though the political climate is unforgiving and even discouraging, our grantees continue fighting and striving hard to make change. Local wins make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers and can provide momentum for citywide, statewide and national wins.

If you’re a grantee and want to share more news with us, email news@northstarfund.org.

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