OneNYC Background Hero
OneNYC Background Hero
Volume 2 of 9

A Vibrant Democracy

New York City will involve every New Yorker in the civic and democratic life of the city, welcoming immigrants, advancing justice, and leading on the global stage.
OneNYC 2050 : Volume 2 of 9 : A Vibrant Democracy

New York City will involve every New Yorker in the civic and democratic life of the city, welcoming immigrants, advancing justice, and leading on the global stage.

Read The Story

We cannot fix the problems facing our city or nation without first fixing our democracy.

As we confront the challenges of climate change, affordable housing, and the racial wealth gap, we need an engaged, empowered public that trusts the power of democracy to improve our lives. A vibrant democracy requires participation. Yet for too long, many New Yorkers, especially communities of color, young people, immigrants, and individuals who have had an interaction with the criminal justice system, have been disengaged, disenfranchised, or shut out from local and national democratic processes.

It is easy to understand why. Nationally, our civic institutions have eroded, and voter suppression continues to be a troubling reality. Despite recent reforms, New York State’s election system has made it far too difficult to cast a ballot. On Election Day in New York City, as many as four in five registered voters stay away from the polls. Increasingly, we hear from immigrants that their documentation status has made them afraid to participate in civic life. New Yorkers want to volunteer in their communities or join a broader effort to bring change, but don’t know how to get involved. Entire communities are disconnected from the political process because of past criminal justice policies, institutionalized racism, and the widespread sentiment that City leaders aren’t listening.

We need to ensure the voice of every New Yorker is heard, participating in the democratic process becomes easier, and people learn to trust their civic institutions again. OneNYC 2050 outlines strategies to expand voting rights, ensure residents are better informed about democracy, and create opportunities for residents to directly impact their communities. We will better enable immigrants to take part in civic life, and work to ensure all New Yorkers are afforded transformative justice, basic human rights, and racial and gender equity. New York City can help shape the future of democracy in and beyond our borders. Our city — and our world — deserves nothing less.

Context

Throughout its history, New York City has been a leader in civic activism, fueled by its diverse and passionately engaged population. Historically, New Yorkers, many of whom came here from different countries and backgrounds, have participated in political and civil rights movements with the hope of creating a more equitable future for all. The Stonewall Uprising for queer liberation, the Young Lords Party for the self-determination of Latino and “third world” communities, and the shirtwaist garment workers strike — such organization and acts of resistance are examples of New York City’s central role in civil rights and social justice movements.

Today, the city has never been more diverse. Nearly 40 percent of the population is immigrants, and 68 percent of residents are people of color. We continue to welcome newcomers regardless of where they come from or their religion or sexual orientation, and we support their effort to seek opportunity and the chance to build a new life.

Yet, renewed forces of exclusion are more vocal now than ever, globally, nationally, and on our own streets. Anti-immigrant sentiment, hate crimes, nationalism, intolerance, and populism threaten the values and communities that make New York City a model of inclusion around the world, and compound existing problems of democratic engagement. Across the United States, monied interests have an outsized influence on our politics, and voter suppression, misinformation, voter fraud, and gerrymandering continue to disenfranchise communities, increase mistrust in democracy, and limit the ability of the government to be truly representative of diverse identities
and beliefs.

In New York City, the federal refugee restrictions, travel bans, overly aggressive immigration enforcement, and heated rhetoric surrounding federal immigration policy have increased levels of fear and threatened to dampen participation in public life. Apathy is widespread, with many New Yorkers — especially the young and low-income voters — staying away from the polls. As few as one in five are casting ballots in nonpresidential elections, and more than 700,000 eligible New Yorkers are not registered to vote.

Voter turnout in City elections has decreased over the past two decades.

Voter turnout in City elections has decreased over the past two decades.

Source: Campaign Finance Board

What We Heard from New Yorkers

Approximately 15 percent of the more than 14,000 respondents to our citywide survey cited topics related to achieving a Vibrant Democracy as among the City’s most pressing needs. These topics included a diverse, inclusive, and good government, as well as immigrant rights. Voicing a need for increased community involvement in government, one respondent suggested “further efforts to proactively involve communities in defining issues and codesigning solutions.” Another made a request for officials to “come to the neighborhoods, hear what communities have to say, and come up with a plan that makes sense for everyone.” Respondents emphasized a desire for better representation in City positions, dissemination of information to the public, and recognition of racial inequities. As one resident put it, “City agencies should be led by diverse groups to make sure there is equity in decision-making.” New Yorkers also want to see stronger protections, supportive services, and legal aid for immigrants. As one respondent said, “New York City should provide an opportunity for immigrants to access benefits without fear.”

Progress

New York City has made great strides since 2015 in the areas of civic innovation, immigration, criminal justice, and gender equity.

In 2018, New Yorkers answered the call to expand democracy by passing a charter reform to increase participatory budgeting, make community boards more accountable to residents, and improve civic engagement. The City created a chief democracy officer position charged with inviting residents everywhere to participate in democratic processes, both locally and nationally. We also launched the Civics for All initiative to educate students in the foundations of civic life, expanded the City’s identification card (IDNYC), and made critical resources available to immigrants facing a changing federal legal landscape.

We took bold steps to address gender-based disparities by creating the Commission on Gender Equity, which addresses issues of inequity and discrimination facing girls, women, and transgender and gender non-conforming persons. We also took significant steps to support and affirm LGBTQ communities, by launching the NYC Unity Project, the City’s first multi-agency policy and program initiative aimed at developing affirming services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and LGBTQ communities across NYC. In 2017, New York City became the safest large city in the United States, with the lowest crime and incarceration rates. This was achieved through engagement and meaningful partnerships with communities, proving that a big city can keep its residents safe through greater community involvement and less reliance on enforcement and incarceration.

New York City has also been active on the global stage. World leaders convened at the United Nations in 2015 to commit to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of eradicating poverty, fighting inequality, and addressing climate change. In 2018, New York became the first city in the world to submit a review of progress on implementing the SDGs directly to the United Nations. New York City has also established itself as a global leader in the areas of climate change and immigration, partnering with cities around the world in coalitions such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, and leading more than 50 cities in 2018 to advocate for the inclusion of local voices in the negotiations around the Global Compact for Migration. When the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, Mayor de Blasio took practical action by signing an executive order committing the City to the principles of the Paris Agreement, inspiring cities around the country to do the same.

What We Will Do

To create a vibrant democracy, the City will engage in a dual strategy of reducing barriers to participation in civic life, particularly for underserved New Yorkers, and expanding resources to empower communities to improve their neighborhoods and bring about meaningful change. To reduce barriers to participation, we will expand voting rights, make polling sites more language accessible, enhance legal-assistance resources for immigrants, and create programs targeting the needs of specific races and justice-involved communities. The City will ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census, educated in the foundations of the democratic process, equipped to combat misinformation, engaged in participatory budgeting, and better able to access economic opportunities. We will continue to be on the front lines of city diplomacy to make sure our voice is heard in global policy discussions that impact the lives of New Yorkers.

We need further efforts to proactively involve communities in defining issues and codesigning solutions.
– Resident of Jamaica, Queens