Reportback from Make the Road
New York’s Community Forum
By Liza Minno
February 27, 2008
On Saturday Feb. 23 Make the Road New York/ Se Hace Camino Nuevo York, formerly Make the Road by Walking, held their first open community assembly since joining up with Latin American Integration Center (LAIC) last year to bring the community together and discuss this year’s platform. The day after this winter’s first big snowstorm, at least 700 people made the soggy trek out to The Ganesh Temple in Flushing, Queens. Among the 700 were Make the Road New York community members and 10 elected officials from all levels of government. They included: Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Senator John Sabini, City Council Member John C. Liu, City Council Member Cathy Nolan and City Council Member Hiram Monserrate among others.
Make the Road New York is a non-profit community organization that focuses on immigrant rights and building a political power base among low-income New Yorkers. They strive to promote justice and equity in New York through “community and electoral organizing, strategic policy advocacy, leadership development, youth and adult education, and high quality legal and support services,” according to their mission statement. They have almost 4,000 members, 95 percent of whom are Hispanic.
As Make the Road by Walking, they concentrated their campaigns in Bushwick Brooklyn, but after the merger with LAIC, Make the Road New York serves communities in Staten Island and Queens as well as Brooklyn — what they refer to as the “fastest growing and most underserved boroughs in New York City.” Now, in addition to their center on Grove Street in Bushwick adorned with a large outdoor mural by Christopher Cardinale, they have centers in Woodside and Jackson Heights, Queens and Port Richmond, Staten Island.
“The goal was to have community members represented and given a chance to speak to elected officials,” says Wesley Aten, Director of Development at Make the Road New York, “It was a healthy and productive time when community members could speak directly. It holds elected officials accountable and it gives the communities they represent a human face. Most of the elected officials tried to speak bilingually if they could, which was nice.”
Make the Road New York community members presented the organization’s policy priorities for 2008, which include: Increased educational and economic opportunity, comprehensive immigration reform, healthy and affordable housing, equal access to government benefits and services and the expansion of civil rights across our communities for immigrants, workers, students and LGBTQ people. They shared about the hardships faced by immigrants in New York. One community member, Luz Espinal, originally from Honduras, asked when there will be immigrant reform in the country to help her and her family.
New York’s spirited 12th Congressional District Congresswoman, Nydia Velázquez, spoke mainly about healthcare and insurance for Hispanics, reminding the crowd that there are 44 million Hispanics in America and a gross 62% of them are uninsured. She said, “Shame on us! We try to promote democracy in Iraq when we have neighbors with no healthcare,”—Ms. Velazquez is a staunch critic of the war in Iraq.
Christine Quinn, the openly gay City Council Speaker (who has recently been catching heat from the LGBT community for her support of the NYPD’s new “parade” regulations that prohibit a public gathering or march of more than 50 people), was there saying she stands ready to “remain in partnership” with Make the Road to work on issues of education, housing and police reform. She also thanked Make the Road for their past work and for their deep involvement in their community that, in turn, allows her to be involved in the community. Quinn also promised to pass the Tenants’ Rights Bill in the City Council this week in order to protect tenants from discrimination and harassment by their landlords.
Between presenters were lively cheers of “Si se puede! Si se puede!” and “El puelo unido jamas sera vencido!”
The presentation ended with a humorous street theater-type performance put on by members of the Make the Road New York community. The style was half cartoonish, half Soap Opera, but was about immigrant rights and healthcare!
Since it was the first Community Assembly, Aten wasn’t sure what to expect but says it was “everything he’d hoped for and more.”