Social Justice

Whenever one group is treated differently or denied protection under our laws, it undermines the foundation on which our country was built. Discrimination, whether against two people who love each other and want to marry, against a family whose only transgression is wanting to make a better life for their children in American, or against a religious institution seeking to locate near one of the most contested sites in the city, is patently un-American. The City Council should act as force against hate and intolerance, as well as fighting to bring those who live in the shadows more fully into our society.

Proposal for a NYC Historic & Cultural Markers Program

Council Members Brad Lander, Laurie Cumbo, and Jimmy Van Bramer wrote this letter to the Co-Chairs of the NYC Mayoral Advisory Commission on Monuments (NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker). We urge them -- in addition to their assigned task of addressing "symbols of hate" -- to consider establishing a new NYC Historic & Cultural Markers Program. Read more »

Join the Student Demonstration for Integration this Saturday. You won’t find better inspiration for justice.

This time of year, as graduations approach, I always get a little teary-eyed about the power of public education (and this year will be worse than usual, with my kids graduating from middle-school and high-school).

Public education is the foundation of our democracy. We put our tax dollars to work -- the biggest share of our spending in NYC by far -- for the concept that all our kids are created equal, and should have equal opportunity to fulfill their potential. Read more »

Help #CLOSERikers & Design a More Effective & Humane Jail System

For decades, Rikers Island has been marked by violence, corruption, and the needless destruction of human lives. Over 75,000 New Yorkers cycle through Rikers Island every year. 80% of the people detained on Rikers are New Yorkers that have not yet been found guilty of a crime. They are simply too poor to make bail while they await trial. Nine-of-ten of those detained at Rikers Island are people of color. Read more »

Before a vacation, a fair work week

My family and I are headed out on vacation next week. I don’t know about you, but at this moment, I sure need one.

Before we leave, though, it’s worth taking a minute to think about workers whose jobs don’t provide even enough stability to know whether, when, or how much they’ll be working from week-to-week.

Without a stable work schedule, who can build a stable life, pay the rent, arrange child care, or go to school? Much less save up for presents, buy new clothes for the kids, or go on a real vacation.

Unfortunately, unpredictable schedules are all-too-common, especially for poor New Yorkers. A new report from the Community Service Society (“Unpredictable: How Unpredictable Schedules Keep Low-Income New Yorkers from Getting Ahead”) highlights how NYC’s low-wage retail and restaurant workers suffer from abusive scheduling that exacerbates economic hardship. The CSS study shows that: Read more »

Darryl King, 1948-2016

Somehow, he did not let bitterness destroy him. Despite brutal injustice and suffering – 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit – Darryl King kept his spirit, his smile, his will to change the systems that wronged him and many others, and an earnest desire to do good in people’s lives. 

Darryl was born in Brooklyn in 1948, drafted in 1967, and served two years in the U.S. Army. Not long after being honorably discharged – down on his luck, without a job, having fallen into drug use – he was wrongfully arrested and convicted for a murder he did not commit. Read more »

Why I was arrested this morning

This morning, alongside dozens of committed advocates and elected officials across the country, I was arrested as part of the Fight for $15 campaign's National Day of Disruption. I wrote an op-ed, included below and published this morning in The Nation to explain why, in the age of Trump, the Fight for $15 offers a rare model of bravery, boldness, and solidarity:

Where will we find inspiration for the challenging days ahead? Where can we look, as we struggle to resist a President-elect who stirs up division, and whose policies will erode access to opportunity, even for his own working-class voters?

One place I will look: to courageous fast-food workers who have led the Fight for $15. Their courage, bold vision, solidarity across race and gender, and vision for economic fairness have transformed what is possible for low-wage workers. That’s why I’m getting arrested today, as part of their National Day of Action. Read more »

Still and always, grateful

Some years, gratitude is closer to the surface. Some years, it takes a little more digging.

Four years ago, as Thanksgiving came, we were recovering from a natural disaster.

Hurricane Sandy had taken the lives of loved ones, and battered our city. There were 500 nursing home evacuees living on the drill floor of the Park Slope Armory. But we found – no, together, we made – a “paradise built in hell” (the title of a brilliant book by Rebecca Solnit, about the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster). With food, music, art, volunteers, bathroom-cleaning, doctors, donations, smart organizing, love, and a deep sense of purpose, we turned that Armory into a place (as described by evacuee Miriam Eisenstein-Drachler) of “courtesy, gentleness, and goodness beyond description.” Even if it could not hold back the hurricane, she said, “it makes one feel more secure and very, very grateful.”

Today, as Thanksgiving comes, we are trying to recover from a political disaster. While the lives lost and damage done by Hurricane Sandy cannot be directly compared, the experience of loss for many of us is still real. Not just that we lost an election, though that will have profound consequences. What feels especially painful to me today is the risk that we’ll lose a vision that we’ve been so proud to hold up for our kids – of a country called to its best self, rooted in compassion, embracing difference, with a real belief (even when we don’t make it real) that everyone deserves a more equal chance across all our lines.

That very dream, and the effort to make it real, provoked a sharp back-lash (a “white-lash”, as Van Jones rightly called it). At this moment, it seems easier to mobilize the darker, more closed, more resentful, sides of humanity – rather than the hopeful, open, embracing ones. I’m afraid, honestly, about what that means for being human.  

Still and always, gratitude is a critical part of the way forward. Not as a way of “feeling better” (although gratitude turns out to be good for your health). And not only because bitterness can consume us (although John Lewis reminds us that hearts full of love will do a lot better to sustain us for a long-term struggle). But also because gratitude for what we do together, for what we can’t do alone, for the ways we need each other, is at the heart of creating an inclusive community. “Organized compassion” is not only how we fight but what we are fighting for.

So, in that spirit, here’s some of what I am so deeply grateful for, still and always: Read more »

Why I’m Sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance Today: With Liberty And Justice For All?

For every New York City Council meeting over the past seven years, I’ve stood, placed my right hand over my heart, and said the Pledge of Allegiance.  

Today, I’ll remain seated, in an act of solidarity and patriotism. Read more »

Council Members Lander and Williams Host Racial Justice Town Hall

Brooklyn, NY -- On Sept. 14, Council Members Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader, and Brad Lander, Chair of the Committee on Rules, hosted the Racial Justice Town Hall at Congregation Beth Elohim, where attendees explored racism, privilege, and the idea of what it meant to be an ally with people of color. The community event, which was hosted in Council Member Lander's district, was created in partnership with Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC) and Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). Read more »

Press Release: Raising the Floor for Workers in the Gig Economy

New report highlights innovative policies the New York City Council can adopt to strengthen rights, protections, and benefits for gig workers

City Hall, NY -- For Labor Day 2016, New York City Council Member Brad Lander released a new policy report identifying challenges facing workers in the gig economy, and outlining concrete steps that New York City can take to protect gig workers from wage theft and discrimination, as well as longer term efforts to offer portable benefits and a framework for worker organizing.

Since 2005, the “gig economy” has grown dramatically, as companies have sought to shed costs and employer responsibilities. From 2005 to 2015, the number of workers engaged in “alternative work arrangements” (independent contractors, freelancers, temps, on-call, and contract workers) grew by 9.4 million, while the number of traditional employees declined slightly. From graphic designers, to models, to temps, to for-hire drivers, studies show that between 16% and 40% of all workers earn their checks “by the gig” rather than by a traditional hourly or weekly wage. There are an estimated 1.3 million freelance workers in NYC alone.

While these arrangements can bring flexibility, convenience, and lower prices, it is too often workers who bear the cost. Typically classified as independent contractors, gig economy workers lack the rights, protections, and benefits of traditional employees, making it far more difficult to piece together a decent standard of living. More than 70% of freelancers report that they have been victims of wage theft or late payment. Others face discrimination with little recourse. And the IRS estimates that millions of workers have been misclassified as independent contractors when they are truly employees, and thus denied health benefits, retirement security, or paid leave. Read more »