New York City is home to hundreds of activist groups, some of which have been at the frontlines for decades and some that are newer to the fight. One day, eight organisations, 14 people…This is a cross-section of what resistance – New York style – looks like in 2018.
Darian Agostini and Reign Rolon, Make The Road NY
Make the Road New York builds the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice.
Tell us a bit about yourselves and your work…
Darian Agostini: I’m 23. Spent most of my life in Flatbush, being around this really black, immigrant, Caribbean culture. My own family had police officers come to my house when I was a kid, and do some really messed up stuff with my dad. I experienced hyper-aggressive policing since I was 13. I think in my senior year, that all crystallised with Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was killed through similar practice. I looked at Trayvon and just thought, This is my life. What separates me from Trayvon?I got a summer job at Make the Road NY. And I listened to people talk about the same things I was talking about. Like, why do we see all these police in our schools and neighbourhoods? Why don’t we have that same funding for education? Why are folks in our communities going through poverty and homelessness and drug addiction? And how do we solve some of these problems? So I joined the part of the organisation focusing on policing work. To this day, we do a lot of work that connects with the families of people who have been killed by police. The list, sadly, continues to grow.
Reign Rolon: I’m 19. Born and raised in East New York, which at one point was the crime capital of Brooklyn. It’s still kind of considered that. I’m black, but I’m Puerto Rican. I went to high school in Flatbush. And I feel like my high school years, it was like this realisation of, Oh shit, I’m black. I felt this in between-ness. My senior year of high school, I was in mad debates! My teacher really liked the fact I was doing that stuff. This internship programme came. I was not interested. She would show me the application and be like, it’d be cool if you signed up. Then she just kept appearing, lunchroom, drama class, everywhere she knew I would be at. So, I was like, yo, let me sign up to get this lady out my face. They tell me they’re sending me to Make the Road. I thought it was a construction company! So I showed up. And it was the first time I was surrounded by community folk. Like, I don’t know how to put it. They just resonated with me. And I didn’t feel I was always being challenged in the idea of what my blackness is. I don’t know, it just felt mad beautiful. It gives me hope, and this sense of community love.
Why do you think is it important to be involved in activism right now?
Darian: Our communities have always been repressed, as far back as slavery. One of the strategic principles of slavery was that people who were enslaved were not gonna be able to read and write. So they weren’t going to be able to spread ideas, specifically about freedom, liberation, justice, equality. These were things our communities were isolated from. So right now it’s important, specifically for young people of colour, to talk and take that message centre-stage. Because young people have always led change in society. If we don’t, who does?
Is policing getting better or worse?
Reign: I feel it’s not gonna get better ‘till it disappears. ‘Till it’s just gone in general. ‘Cause policing is totally, totally rooted in racism. It’s like, no matter how we shift power back to people, they will always be racist, and something’s always gonna be happening to bodies of colour, black bodies. It’s fucked up. The history of the NYPD is so violent.
Darian: James Baldwin said, ‘Their very presence is an insult … even if they spent their entire day feeding gumdrops to children. They represent the force of the white world … to keep the black man … in his place.” Everything about the inception of policing in the US started from slave patrols. To disrupt, dismantle and destabilize the small communities freed black peoples had… Ultimately, the police are not institutions of safety for us.
What are the things you like most about New York?
Darian: In a city that’s made for elites and corporations, really poor people have been able to survive. And not only that, but resist, powerfully. Resist oppression, resist the neglect the government has handed out to our communities. We’re becoming more powerful with every generation.