New Yorkers make progress. It’s what we do. It’s not always easy—in fact, it seldom is. Every progressive victory in New York history has been hard-won, and, in November, New Yorkers must once again choose progress. Every 20 years, New York voters decide via referendum whether we want to rewrite our Constitution with a constitutional convention. Proponents argue that a convention is the only way to reform Albany. That just isn’t true. The Constitution has already been amended more than 200 times since 1894, with another two amendments proposed for this coming November alone. A constitutional convention would threaten every progressive reform ever adopted by the state of New York. The new Constitution would be written by 204 delegates, and those delegates would be chosen by political machines with the money and influence to get their people elected. During the last convention, less than 10 percent of the delegates were African-American or Latino. It was dominated by judges, legislators and other political insiders. Average people can’t compete. That convention targeted every public resource and freedom in New York, and there’s no reason to think this convention would be any different.
Through unrelenting effort, New Yorkers have been able to create a Constitution that protects our rights and prioritizes our needs. For instance, the New York State Constitution has some of the most powerful voting rights protections in the country. Voter ID laws disproportionately target people of color and low-income men and women, preventing them from voting if they do not have an ID. The New York Constitution guarantees that the only identification you need to vote is your signature. The Constitution also includes provisions for spending public money to assure that low-income New Yorkers have affordable housing. This type of spending is one of the most powerful tools we have in the ongoing battle to make New York affordable for people other than the ultra-wealthy, and there are plenty of private interests that want to destroy them.
In New York we’ve raised the age of criminal responsibility, reduced stop-and-frisk and required videotaped police interrogation for serious offenses. A constitutional convention could wipe away these reforms and all other reforms in a single year. And, as we all know, immigrant communities across the country are currently under attack by the federal government. New York City and New York State are both self-described sanctuaries, but a convention would open our laws to influence from hateful groups funding an anti-immigrant agenda.
I fight every day to help our communities achieve financial stability, good jobs, affordable housing and justice on all fronts. We cannot afford for all of our rights and protections to be up in the air and vulnerable during a convention we have no say in. On top of everything else, the estimated cost of a convention is upward of $300 million—money we could spend helping the 88,000 homeless people in New York. Don’t let political insiders waste our money. Vote no to protect every progressive reform in New York history.
Afua Atta-Mensah, Esq. is executive director of Community Voices Heard and Community Voices Heard Power.