Vocal-NY organizes massive voter drive in Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses

Members of VOCAL-NY and other grassroots organization advocate for justice reform measures in the Queens DA’s office outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse in January  Eagle  photo by David Brand.

Members of VOCAL-NY and other grassroots organization advocate for justice reform measures in the Queens DA’s office outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse in January Eagle photo by David Brand.

By David Brand

With less than two months to go before the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney, a grassroots organizing coalition is set to embark on one of the borough’s most ambitious voter registration drives in recent history.

Starting Tuesday, VOCAL-NY will visit every apartment in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses in order to inform thousands of residents about the role of the DA and to sign up new voters in a community that is disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system.

The vast majority of Queensbridge and Ravenswood tenants are black or Latinx, and the median household income in Queensbridge is $15,843. VOCAL-NY advocates to end mass incarceration, homelesness, the AIDS epidemic and drug overdoses, especially in low-income communities of color.

“Our hope is to hit every door in Queensbridge and Ravenswood multiple times over the next two months,” said VOCAL-NY organizer Nick Encalada-Malinowski. “We want to get to everybody 10 times between now and June 25 in the hope that we’re able to increase the number of people who are voting in those two areas.”

After visiting each apartment, organizers will follow up with phone calls and mailed literature reminding people to vote.

It’s no easy task. Queensbridge is the largest public housing campus in the United States with more than 6,000 tenants in 26 different apartment buildings. There are 31 different buildings in the Ravenswood Houses.

Though the VOCAL-NY Action Fund — the political advocacy affiliate of the organization — has endorsed public defender Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA, Saunders said the voter registration drive will remain non-partisan.

The organization will continue to advocate for the next DA to enact sweeping criminal justice reforms, VOCAL-NY organizer Jeremy Saunders said.

“If you’re a registered voter, we’re going to tell you about the importance of this race and the ugly history of the existing DA,” he said. “And we’re going to register as many voters as we can.”

Richard Brown has served as Queens DA since 1991. He announced that he will step down June 1 and Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan will take over until the end of the year.

Justice reformers have criticized the Queens DA’s office for continuing to prosecute individuals for low level offenses, requesting high bail amounts at arraignment for people charged with non-violent offenses and for not denouncing the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in and around courthouses.   

Teams of VOCAL-NY canvassers will fan out in the buildings to knock on doors, register voters and identify particularly interested residents, Saunders said. A community organizer will follow up with the most engaged individuals as part of the second phase of the drive: holding the next DA accountable to the community.

“Immediately after the election, we are going to get a commitment from the winner to show up for a town hall,” Saunders said. “We are engaging in community mobilization so that no matter who wins the race we will hold them accountable to issues that are critical to people in Queensbridge and Ravenswood.”