We have entered a startling era of uncertainty in the long battle for civil rights and social justice. For 40 years, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest has partnered with the private bar and community leaders to bring the power of law and organizing to where it’s needed most. With collective progress now threatened by the new federal government, we have a renewed call to action in seeking dignity, equality, and justice for all New Yorkers.
NYLPI works with hundreds of nonprofit partners towards creating a New York where all people can thrive in their communities, with quality healthcare and housing, safe jobs, equal schools, and healthy neighborhoods. All New Yorkers should be able to live with dignity and independence, with the access and resources they need to succeed.
The promised policy changes in the next administration attack these core components of health, immigrant, disability, and environmental justice. The leaders in the new administration and Congress openly repudiate environmental protection and deny climate change, attack immigrants, signal a rollback of civil rights, and threaten newly won healthcare for 22 million Americans. We have no choice but to take federal leaders at their word—not in predicting the inevitable future, but rather in preparing for the battles ahead.
We see the potential personal impact up close. A seriously ill immigrant who loses her health coverage, putting her life in danger. A great employee who loses his first job with the revocation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the work authorization that came with it. Pending complaints with the federal Office for Civil Rights on behalf of children with disabilities left stagnant.
This election year provided a shocking reminder of the hostility and fear our clients, and many of our staff, experience every day. Hundreds of clients have called; people with disabilities scared of losing their healthcare, immigrants desperate to stay with their families. Children of staff members shared stories of being bullied in school based on their ethnicity, a personal window into the 400 percent spike in hate incidents reported by the NYPD since the election. In a time when many of our communities have had their hopes dissolve and their lives demeaned, the urgency to act is both collective and deeply personal. We must work together to ensure that campaign threats do not become reality.
In the days since the election, we have received an outpouring of support. The flood of pledges of resources, pro bono expertise, and donation—and your messages of solidarity—have lifted us up. We are proud that so many in the legal community have taken a stand with us in defense of civil rights, and to make sure that New York is a model of opportunity and inclusion. Many of our sister organizations have shared similar stories that together light a new path of resilience.
We must hold the line on the hard-won victories that make New York a beacon of hope. New York is a sanctuary—a place that welcomes immigrants, protects our most vulnerable residents, and ensures access to healthcare, a quality education, and opportunities to thrive. With many strong partners in justice, we commit to protecting and expanding healthcare coverage, holding strong for the rights of New Yorkers with disabilities, protecting civil rights and environmental laws from rollbacks, actively fighting anti-immigrant policies, and advocating for the strongest possible state and local-level greenhouse gas reduction and climate justice policies. New Yorkers know that these policies not only make good economic sense, but they are also the right thing to do.
In the challenges ahead also lie opportunities for progress through state and local innovation. New York must take the lead on climate justice and planning a just transition to lower carbon energy; ensuring basic health coverage for all; creating investments in accessible and healthy living and working environments free of health hazards; formalizing policies that ensure that the state remains a sanctuary for immigrants; and expanding health coverage for seriously ill immigrants to provide life-changing care.
We depend on the talent, resources, and resolve of the legal community to pursue equal justice for all.
Volunteer. From President Kennedy’s White House meeting with 244 bar leaders in 1963 that launched the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to the work of thousands of lawyers with our Pro Bono Clearinghouse and hundreds of other New York nonprofits, the private bar has helped fuel the engine of progress.
Join. Work through bar associations and other membership groups to act.
Speak up. Lawyers know the power of words. Refuse to let bullying, xenophobia, and hate become normalized. Silence is assent.
Give. Dozens of legal nonprofits fight on the front lines and need more resources than ever. Find those that speak to you—their issues, vision, geographic focus, or client community. Then give early and often.
Forty years ago, young lawyers joined with leaders of the City bar to launch NYLPI. It was a time of protest and unrest defined by ethnic tension and threats to civil rights. Our clients then, as now, struggled daily with the ways in which poverty, race, disability, and immigration status limited access to health, shelter, education, clean air, and other essential needs. The threat may have increased, but the need is not new. With your help, we can turn hope into action, and action into change.