Expanding Voting Rights to 1 Million Immigrant New Yorkers

Expanding Voting Rights to 1 Million Immigrant New Yorkers
Image Detail: Tabling for "Our City, Our Vote;" Courtesy of MinKwon Center for Community Action

Huanjie Li from MinKwon Center talks about efforts to restore “Our City, Our Vote (OCOV)” legislation, its impact, and how artists can help.

“Our City, Our Vote (OCOV),” a law permitting non-citizen New Yorkers with work authorizations to vote in city-level elections, was set to go into effect in 2023, but now it’s at risk. Huanjie Li, Civic Participation Associate at Flushing, NY-based organization MinKwon Center for Community Action, works with immigrant communities to bring it back and talks about the importance of storytelling. 

New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA): Tell us about your role in MinKwon Center, the current status of the “Our City, Our Vote (OCOV)” campaign, and how the legislation will impact immigrants in New York City. 

Huanjie Li (HL): I engage immigrant community members across multiple languages that are commonly used in Flushing, Queens, informing them about social justice issues and mobilizing them to vote. 

Currently, I am working on raising awareness of the OCOV (Local Law 11) status: the legislation which was set to go into effect in 2023 was struck down by the Staten Island Supreme Court in June 2022. 

As a result, nearly 1 million immigrant non-citizen New Yorkers, including green card holders, DACA recipients, and other immigrants with legal work status who live in New York City, who were granted the right to vote in municipal elections because of the law, are now unable to participate in local elections. 

MinKwon Center and a coalition of advocates are working tirelessly to fight the court decision and filed an appeal on October 11, 2022. 

Meanwhile, we continue our effort to bring awareness to the issue and incorporate other creative ways to raise awareness on this important issue. MinKwon Center launched a pledge card campaign, developed a social media toolkit, and are using the hashtag #protectOCOV to raise awareness about this important legislation. Please spread it widely! You can also see the latest developments of the campaign here and sign the petition to support the campaign. 

We encourage artists across all disciplines to continue to express passion and pride about our community and heritage through our work and tell our stories through different media and formats! 

Five individuals who are advocating for immigrants' right to vote
Image Detail: Canvassing for “Our City, Our Vote;” Courtesy of MinKwon Center for Community Action

NYFA: How does the MinKwon Center foster and nurture immigrant communities? Can you tell us more about ways that immigrant artists and creators can engage with your programs and services?

HL: We nurture our immigrant communities by supporting them and advocating for their rights. We help our community members get healthcare and apply for affordable health insurance through NYC CARE. People come to our office to apply SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a benefit that can be used like cash to purchase food. 

If you experience issues with your landlords or are facing eviction, we have an in-house tenant lawyer who can help you. We also provide free immigration legal services consulting for naturalization, initial or renewal for DACA, deportation defense, asylum case, and screening for immigration issues. 

As we catered our services to immigrants, many of our services are offered in English, Mandarin, and Korean. One of our immigrant lawyers speaks Spanish. 

As a grassroots organization that works closely with immigrant communities, we recognize the importance of documenting and sharing immigrant voices. We partner with artists when organizing public events, designing arts and culture activities, and incorporating elements of immigrant history in the U.S.

We welcome artists who enjoy telling stories to collaborate with us on documenting and amplifying immigrant perspectives and become part of our community! You can also join our Korean Traditional Drumming Class (PungMul) which is free and open to the public. PungMul is an art-form developed from Korean peasant farmer’s culture using percussion instruments, song, and dance. In the U.S., it is widely known as a form of cultural activism. Beginners are welcome!

If you would like to get involved or learn more about MinKwon’s programs, please contact Huanjie Li, MinKwon Center’s Civic Participation Associate at [email protected]!

An individual wearing a MinKwon tee holding a flyer
Image Detail: Huanjie Li tabling for MinKwon Center, Courtesy of MinKwon Center for Community Action

About MinKwon Center for Community Action 

The MinKwon Center for Community Action empowers the Korean American community and works with the wider Asian Pacific American (APA) and immigrant communities to achieve economic and social justice for all. We envision a just and equitable society where all people can live in harmony, dream, and achieve their full potential.

Based in Flushing, NY, MinKwon Center focuses on Advocacy and Community Organizing, Civic Participation, Social Services, and Youth Empowerment programs for low-income, undocumented, and marginalized New Yorkers to achieve economic and social justice for our immigrant communities. 

–Ya Yun Teng, Program Officer, Immigrant Artist Resource Center (NYC)

This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #152. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.

Amy Aronoff
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