The lawyer and community organizer Andrew Friedman is the executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a national organization that promotes the civic and social development of immigrants in the United States. Friedman was also a co-founder of Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group based in Queens, which has organized several campaigns covered by the ethnic and community press. Recently, Queens Latino interviewed him for the Q and A translated from Spanish below.
How did you get the idea for the Center for Popular Democracy?
In the last 40 years, opponents of civil rights and the regulatory state have built an infrastructure of control. This has allowed them to undermine national initiatives regarding job opportunities, fiscal equity, and the rights of immigrants and workers. They have carried out audacious campaigns ranging from the anti-immigration law in Arizona, SB 1070, to the attack on collective bargaining rights for public sector employees in Wisconsin. The Center for Popular Democracy strives to promote changes that bring tangible benefits to working class families by creating a community-based infrastructure that can launch an inclusive, enthusiastic, and democratic agenda.
What are the Center’s objectives?
CPD builds organizing power and transforms the local and state political landscape through deep and lasting connections with major community organizations and unions at the national level. CPD will gain progressive allies to ensure that the values of equity, opportunity, and a dynamic democracy become national priorities.
Where does the Center’s budget come from?
The CPD’s budget comes from contracts with ally organizations, donations from private progressive foundations, and contributions from individuals and workers’ unions.
Why do you say that we need to fight the rise of the political right in the United States?
The need for an agenda that supports workers and immigrants is clear. Jobs have been lost, and the economy hasn’t revived. Those who have managed to hold onto their jobs have seen their salaries freeze. The pace of workers getting robbed of their wages is uncontrolled. The cost of health care continues to rise, forcing employers to reduce benefits and the government to shrink programs such as Medicaid. Tens of thousands of families suffer mortgage foreclosures every year. Public schools are increasingly becoming pathways to jail for low-income youth and children of color. The uncertainty of whether there will be food on the table is rising. Meanwhile, the gap between the elite .01 percent and the rest of us is larger than it was in 1928, one year before the Great Depression began.
How can the center help to fight against the right?
CPD’s model for change is based on the successful foundation and political work of Make the Road New York, a community-based organization made up of more than 11,000 New Yorkers, mainly low-income immigrants, with dynamic community centers in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island. Over the past 15 years, MRNY has become one of the most effective forces for economic and racial justice in the city and the state. It has raised around $500 million in public investments to combat lead poisoning in children, to promote strict compliance with the housing code, to guarantee equal access to health and government services, and to provide crucial support to public school students learning English as a second language.
What do you make of the current situation of the Latino immigrant community in the United States?
The Latino community in the United States is an emerging political force.
Who is helping the Latino community in the United States?
Participatory democracy works by people helping themselves, and it is essential to build institutions and opportunities for immigrants and workers so they can defend themselves and won’t need to rely on others to stand up for them.
Do you think the Democratic Party is helping this community and if so, how?
Like the Latino community, the Democratic Party is vast and diverse. In many ways, many Democrats have been advocates for equal opportunities and pro-immigrant policies. Many others have created obstacles.
What role will the political action committees, or PACs, play in the development of the immigrant and Latino community in New York City?
PACs are political tools to help people and institutions achieve their political objectives. It is important for the immigrant community to have and use the same powerful tools that others use to accomplish their goals.
Do you think the Latino community in New York has leadership, or is there a lack of progressive leaders?
In general, there is a need for a leadership on the left that is more dynamic, more established, more creative, and more responsible.
How do you define a “progressive vision”?
CPD works to innovate, organize, and reproduce state and local policies that promote fair treatment for everyone, and to fight attacks against the civil, economic, and democratic rights of immigrant and working-class communities.
What does comprehensive immigration reform mean to you?
Immigration reform strives to create an inclusive society that honors immigrants’ enormous contribution to our nation, keeps families together, and promotes opportunities for everyone. It is essential to legalize the large majority of immigrants that are already living in the United States, and to create opportunities for immigrants to keep coming to this country so that they can continue to enrich our society and economy with their intelligence, energy, and dynamism.