If there’s anything New Yorkers know how to do, it’s express our grievances and let our voices be heard. And, as we reported recently, we have a long history of civil disobedience.
Since Election Day, thousands of New Yorkers have hit the streets to voice their concerns about the country’s newly installed political leadership and policies.
But it’s not just the streets. Protesting is bringing neighbors together, as community groups throughout the five boroughs have formed via Huddle, an action plan from the Women’s March organizers. Others have gathered organically, meeting up at rallies and then showing up at potluck and local events. This not only helps people feel more connected to each other but helps effect change. (The New York Times recently profiled a handful of meetups across the country, including in neighboring suburbs and here in NYC.)
Resistance becomes the glue that binds neighbors
These local events have also added a new dimension to the term "neighborly," especially in a city that prizes privacy. In short order, the neighbor two doors down has become a dear friend.
Such was the case for Rovika Rajkishun, co-founder of Love Trumps Hate Sunset Park. “My co-founder and I have lived on the same block for many years, but we never spoke to each other before the group was created,” says Rajkishun, who works full-time as a non-profit fundraiser.
The group formed shortly after a post-election vigil in Sunset Park with Rajkishun hosting a neighborhood potluck. “We invited undocumented neighbors to come to our home and we had legal services there to help them,” she says of a gathering that now takes place every month. “By doing this at someone’s home, it feels personal and confidential—we’re creating a safe space.”
To date, the group now boasts over 460 members. “Ours is a very active organization,” She says. “It isn’t a place to post information, it’s a place to sign up to do something.”
Over in Park Slope, neighbors are busily gathering, too. Take Elise Coleman, a product designer and a Park Slope mom of three. Coleman has never been activist but felt compelled to act right after the election.
“A lot of my friends were wringing their hands, wondering what to do,” she says. “So I decided to get people together to see if we could make a plan and think about what we could actually do.”
Shortly thereafter, she and her husband invited 12 friends to her house for dinner and a brainstorming session. After that dinner, the group has met up at the Planned Parenthood Rally and the women’s marches in either New York City and Washington, DC, and they’ll meet up again in two weeks to discuss next steps.
And thanks to the Indivisible Guide, a guide to resisting the Trump agenda that has been downloaded over a million times since December, it’s become even easier to map out how to show up at congressional district offices and robo-call congressional phone lines.
At the New York Society for Ethical Culture, there’s been an incredible uptick in energy since the election as major activist organizations, including the New York Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), have sought Ethical NYC’s support and used its landmark Upper West Side building as a hub.
“We’re the safe space, the safe harbor,” says Anne Klaeysen, leader of the New Society for Ethical Culture. “Our building has been buzzing with new energy, but this harks back to our founding in 1876. After all, it’s only with ethics that you can be an activist.”
New Yorkers have always been quite loud when it comes to voicing their opinions, says Marium Khawaja, outreach and volunteer coordinator at the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“On a personal level as someone living in Queens, I can see the diversity in our city,” she says. “It’s always been about our liberal and progressive beliefs and the culture of New York is so amenable to people gathering.”
How to get to know your own neighbors through activism
Take Action NYC, an organization that helps New Yorkers find ways to mobilize toward social and economic justice is a good place for budding activists to start. The site provides a centralized comprehensive protest and political action calendar as well as listing of groups, resources and news sources related to activism.
The Indivisible Guide also offers an interactive map (see photo above), which helps you find groups meeting near you.
At CAIR-NY, volunteers are signing up to help out at events and student organizations, non-profits and community centers are contacting the organization for workshops.
“We cover issues with the Muslim ban, what to do if you’re a bystander to a racist act and how to help immigrants,” Khawaja says. “We try to help out whenever we can.”
So what’s the best way to stand up—with your neighbors? Invite friends of friends over for letter-writing sessions during which you voice your opinions via letters to your representatives on the local, state and national level.
If you don’t have a group at the ready, find likeminded New Yorkers via Facebook or a Meetup that might even be in another neighborhood.
“I’ve been reaching beyond my Park Slope neighborhood and signed up for a MeetUp weekly resistor brunch,” Coleman says. “We’re helping people affected by the Muslim ban. It’s been amazing making connections outside of my circle.
In the end, there are loads of ways to help. “If you can’t make it to a rally but you hear there’s a family that needs your help, try to get the resources to help them,” Khawaja says. “There’s no one way to give back.”
After all, New Yorkers have always helped each other and this is yet another way to feel less alone—kind of like a small town.
“We have people in our group who aren’t affected on a daily basis by policies and we have people who might be undocumented or have relatives who are,” says Rajkishun. “What we’re doing is really important. It’s a way to understand and get new perspectives on your neighbors.”
Ultimately, it’s diversity that makes our city what it is.
“Our New York values are rooted in the power and strength of diversity that comes from living in the most multicultural city in the United States of America,” says Deevee Kashi, CEO of DEED, a community of socially conscious individuals seeking to make a positive impact locally through volunteerism.
We couldn’t have said it better.