New Yorkers voters in addition to the positions of governor, state legislators and congressmen will have the option to comment on Amendments to the City Constitution
In the upcoming elections on November 8, voters in the Big Apple, in addition to choosing the positions of governor, state legislators and congressmen, will also have the unusual option, on the back of the ballot, to give their opinion on some changes in the Charter of the New York City, on a very specific and controversial topic: Racial Justice.
In other words, when voters receive the electoral card, in addition to choosing the executive and legislative positions, they will be asked three questions, in which they can vote “Yes” or “No”.
This special inquiry arose after the formation in 2021 of the New York City Racial Justice Commission (RJC), tasked with examining “structural racism” within New York City.
This commission examined the City Charter, also known as the “Constitution,” to identify structural barriers facing all people of color. And he developed these ballot measures intended to promote racial equity.
The three questions
The first question on the back of the ballot asks voting New Yorkers if they wish to add to the City Charter an introductory statement of the values and vision of “a more just and equitable society for all.”
In the second question, you will be asked if you agree with establishing a Racial Equity Office, Plan and Commission. And the third question will press whether to approve amending the City Charter to create a “true cost of living” measure for meeting essential needs, including housing, food, child care and transportation.
“The members of this Commission have recognized from the beginning that these efforts alone will not bury more than 400 years of racist damage. We view these bylaw revisions as aspirational. They make the City government responsible for starting some changes”, said Jennifer Jones Austin, president of RJC.
Mayor Bill De Blasio established this Racial Justice commission in 2021, after widespread protests against police brutality, sparked by the death of African-American George Floyd.
It is the first national commission of its kind, modeled on the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
The second board of this commission is the union leader Henry Garrido, who has been at the head of District Council 37, the largest union of municipal workers in the country, who values that these proposals for changes in the City Charter are the product of months of work and close consultations with the communities “most affected by systemic racism”.
“We offer these final proposals to the electorate of New York City, knowing that their votes will be needed to uproot hundreds of years of unfair accumulation,” Garrido said in a public letter.
However, he ponders that there is more work to be done educating and engaging New Yorkers to exercise their civic power by answering the three questions on the back of the ballot next November.
“We listened to hundreds of people”
For her part, the Mexican community leader, Yesenia Mata, who directs the organization La Colmena in Staten Island, was also part of this commission and assures that after listening to hundreds of testimonies she was able to understand, from different angles, the needs of New Yorkers, that are usually not obvious.
“As the daughter of immigrants, I know that communities of color must confront the injustices that the system has. We know that only with this step the structures will not change. But with the inclusion of these three specific points in the City Charter, we will have important advances”, she highlighted.
For the first time in history, the New York City Mayor’s Office is moving forward in creating a comprehensive strategy to improve equity and access to opportunity for its residents.
“We invite New Yorkers to have a voice in their government, which will prioritize decisions that matter to communities with the least access, rather than decisions that accommodate people who already have power and wealth,” highlights the final report’s conclusions. of RJC, which justifies this consultation to the voters.
A public health crisis
In addition to the uproar caused by the demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, which coincided with the ravages caused by the pandemic in 2020, disproportionately to communities of color, the New York City Board of Health decided to declare racism the last October 2021, as a public health crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified inequalities, causing disproportionate suffering in communities of color in our city and across our nation,” the New York City Department of Health (DOHMH) said in a statement.
Therefore, an internal ‘Data for Equity’ working group was established to ensure that an anti-racist lens is applied to public health reporting. And provide annual guidance to other City agencies on best practices for collecting and making available relevant data to track and improve more equitable access to health and prevention services.
To date, there have been more than 200 declarations of racism as a public health crisis in the country, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although the resolutions, commissions and electoral consultations of the City of New York are one of the first to link specific actions to their statement.
“Opportunities are not the same for everyone”
Faced with this reality, the community activist from the Bronx, Josefina Colón, is ready to participate in the electoral process and give her opinion on the three questions of racial justice in the Big Apple. The Dominican woman comments that as a “Latina of color” she knows perfectly well what she calls “an essence of racism and discrimination” in all spaces.
“Sometimes we make jokes about racism, but they are true. You see a brunette running, because he is exercising, and a lot of white people think they are running from the police,” she commented.
Colón points out that the recent public health crisis has “undressed” what we already knew: “Who lost their jobs? Who are they evicting from their apartments? Who were the ones who died the most?… Now is when with this inflation, we are having a hard time. Opportunities are not the same for everyone.
For his part, Colombian Miguel Dominguez, 52, is also a voter. And he is completely unaware that when he votes next November, he too will have the opportunity to weigh in on some efforts to defeat racism.
“It seems to me with so many years of living here, that any effort of this type will be ‘salt and water’, because it is not just a matter of laws, or of the constitution, but of helping people of color to increase their self-esteem. And don’t always live on the defensive. Of course there is racism, against blacks, against Jews, against Asians, against Hispanics, against indigenous people… but we must already forget about the discourse of resentment of slavery and the colony. And look forward“concluded the immigrant.
NY with very strong anti-racist laws
However, despite all the arguments about historical systemic racism, New York City has one of the strictest Human Rights Laws against racial discrimination in any country.
Since 2019, the campaign entitled “As long as I am black” has been launched, which addresses some common forms of discrimination that blacks face while carrying out daily activities, remembering the rights of all black New Yorkers to live without prejudice and providing information on how to report discrimination to the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Launched three years ago, this initiative made it clear that anyone who identifies as Black, including Black, Afro-Latino, Afro-Caribbean and African New Yorkers, have the right to live free from discrimination and harassment in New York City.
The announcements also serve to educate entities that have responsibilities and potential obligations under the law, including housing providers, employers, employment agencies, and business owners.
In Detail: The 3 Amendments
- The proposed first amendment to the City Charter would add to the preamble the statement that government should aim to correct “past and continuing harm and rebuild, revise, and reinvent our foundations, structures, institutions, and laws to promote justice.” and equity for all New Yorkers.” It also recognizes the atrocities of American slavery and the displacement of indigenous peoples.
- The second amendment under consultation would establish a new city agency, called the Office of Racial Equity, responsible for promoting fairness in government decision-making, budgeting and long-range planning. This new agency would be responsible for overseeing New York City’s equity plans every two years.
- The proposed third amendment is intended to create a more accurate measure of the city’s cost of living, to supplement the outdated federal poverty measure, which does not take public assistance into account. According to the Commission’s criteria, it will be possible to measure the cost of living, which includes housing, food, medical care, child care, transportation and other expenses, which will be clearer to determine eligibility for public benefits.