Founded in Brooklyn in 1997, Make the Road New York (MRNY) aims to “buil[d] the power of Latino and working-class communities [in the New York City area] to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education, and survival services.” Toward that end, MRNY “integrates multi-issue, multi-generational organizing – on workers’ rights, tenant rights, LGBTQ justice, youth power and policing, public schools and education justice, immigration justice, and climate – with an array of wraparound services that create a space of safety and support for entire families.” MRNY’s efforts are designed chiefly to help nonwhites, immigrants, homosexuals, transgenders, women, and poor people – on the premise that members of those demographic groups are victims of widespread “abuse and exploitation” in modern America. The goal is to help these victims “collectiviz[e]” their “experiences and voices” in a way that empowers them to “change … entire systems.”
MRNY’s founders were a pair of New York University law students, Oona Chatterjee and Andrew Friedman, the latter of whom was a grandson of Communist Party members. The organization’s original name was Make the Road By Walking; it adopted its present name in 2007, when it merged with the Queens, New York-based Latin American Integration Center.
MRNY’s work today is divided into seven major issue areas:
1. Education: “Due to systemic underfunding by the state, our schools are overcrowded…. Our schools have more police officers than guidance counselors, and [nonwhite] youth face disciplinary measures that put them in the school-to-prison or school-to-deportation pipeline, rather than on track to college.” MRNY also provides instruction in English, computer skills, citizenship preparation, and health care to more than 1,300 adults each year.
2. Health Justice: “We defend the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid from threats to dismantle it, mobilizing thousands into the streets with our allies at crucial moments…. We also co-lead the Coverage for All campaign to expand coverage to immigrants regardless of immigration status.”
3. Housing & Environmental Justice: “Each year, our attorneys represent hundreds of families in housing court cases involving evictions, hazardous conditions, and housing discrimination.”
4. Immigration: Condemning what it describes as President Trump’s “all-out war on immigrant communities,” MRNY said in 2019: “This administration continues to target and criminalize immigrants of color and seek their deportation through aggressive immigration enforcement…. We provide a full range of services to 17,000 people each year, including legal representation in immigration, housing, and worker exploitation cases. We teach English as a second language to 1,600 people annually, and have helped over 12,000 people gain U.S. citizenship…. We provide Know Your Rights training to thousands of people with a new Deportation Defense Manual.” InfluenceWatch.org reports:
“[MRNY] has also backed bills granting illegal immigrants substantial public benefits and voting privileges in state and local elections. [It] advocated for the Obama administration to scrap a federal reporting database of immigration violations and also released a report demanding New York City increase its funding of immigrant priorities…. The group co-sponsored a march of immigrant activists on Washington the weekend before [President] Trump’s inauguration. In the 2017 New York State legislative session, MRNY backed a proposal to compel all New York police departments not to cooperate in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, making New York a ‘sanctuary state.’ … The group has also vehemently opposed deportation efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, participating in workshops with other immigrant advocacy groups on assisting illegal immigrants and tracking ICE enforcement actions.”
5. Policing & Criminal Justice: “[MRNY] leads the way to ending the over-policing and brutality that target our communities. We’ve led coalitions that have won victories impacting millions of New Yorkers, like the passage of the Community Safety Act, which dramatically reined in biased ‘stop and frisk’ policing.”
6. TGNCIQ Justice: “Queer folks in our community — many of whom fled violence in their countries of origin — experience isolation, disproportionate levels of poverty, the threat of homophobic violence, and discrimination on a daily basis. Make the Road New York is a space of warmth, safety, and support for our TGNCIQ community members.”
7. Workplace Justice: “We train hundreds of workers every year on critical health and safety issues and rights, and provide legal support when workers confront violations on the job. Every year, the MRNY legal team helps thousands of workers to recover unpaid wages, access workers compensation benefits, and address health and safety violations.”
One of MRNY’s most vital initiatives is its Health Access program, which provides one-on-one assistance designed to help people access a wide range of publicly funded benefits, such as health insurance, food stamps, and access to food pantries. Another key MRNY initiative is its Leadership Development program, which provides the “political education” necessary for the production of new “social justice leaders.”
Over the years, MRNY has had numerous significant ties to the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). As the Washington Free Beacon reported in May 2017:
MRNY also has longstanding close ties to Bill de Blasio, who, during de Blasio’s tenure as New York City’s Public Advocate from 2009-13, worked with MRNY to oppose the establishment of a federal immigration detention center in Queens. After de Blasio’s election as Mayor of New York in 2013, his office invited MRNY members to help stack the new mayor’s first town hall rally with vocal supporters.
MRNY receives funding from a wide array of sources. For example, it took in more than $20 million in government grants between 2002 and mid-2017, including $10,996,247 during 2012-14. (Federal grantors included the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, and Health & Human Services. Other government grantors included the New York State Departments of State and Education, and the New York City Department of Education.) On August 10, 2017, the Department of Education awarded MRNY another grant totaling $420,000. And on September 28, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security gave the organization $250,000.
MRNY has also received financial support from other nonprofit organizations as well as labor unions and charitable philanthropies:
In addition to the aforementioned “Corporate Backers of Hate” campaign, MRNY has been actively involved with several other anti-Trump initiatives as well. For example: (a) It was behind the purportedly “spontaneous” protests – which in fact were planned long in advance – at New York’s JFK Airport following President Trump’s January 2017 executive order placing a moratorium on travel to the U.S. from seven majority-Muslim countries that were hotbeds of terrorism; (b) It participated in the #DeleteUber pressure campaign to punish the Uber company after it had permitted pickups from JFK Airport during the aforementioned anti-Trump protests; (c) It was a part of the #GrabYourWallet campaign, which called for boycotts of retailers that sold Trump family products.
As of June 2017, MRNY consisted of approximately 19,000 dues-paying members. By May 2019, that figure had increased to 23,000.