Sanctuary State

Art Chang
5 min readAug 27, 2017


How New Yorkers can protect hard-earned rights, resist Washington, and advance our progressive vision.

Sanctuary means far more than immigration. Sanctuary is a haven for the values of a safe, inclusive, generous, kind and respectful society. Sanctuary is about local, grassroots action against unjust laws and public policies.

When I was born in 1963 in Atlanta, my family lived in a no man’s land between Jim Crow and anti-Asian immigration laws. Later, in my Akron, Ohio childhood, we were the only minority family in our community. Today, after 32 years as a New Yorker, I look back at what America has accomplished in my lifetime: civil rights, women’s rights, immigration reform, gay rights, protections for the environment and, almost, gender equality. So much remains to be done, but I have come to expect continuing social progress as the essential promise of America.

Not everyone shares my view. In just six months, the Trump administration has effected a startling reversal of protections, freedoms and rights painstakingly gained over decades. Looking forward over the next 42 months, I can only imagine the extent of the damage to come.

As the Federal government regresses, states can preserve gains and continue making progress. According to J.H. Snider of the Constitutional Convention Clearinghouse, fourteen states allow voters to call conventions to update their state Constitutions. By the year 2034, state Constitutional Convention votes will occur approximately every other year.

This year, on November 7, every New Yorker will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on a Constitutional Convention to modernize New York’s governing document. I believe that New York can be a Sanctuary State and the vehicle is the state’s Constitution. By voting for a Constitutional Convention, New Yorkers can set a national standard for what it means to be a Sanctuary State for the rest of the country:

  • Protect our freedoms, protections and rights by institutionalizing them in the State’s Constitution
  • Resist Federal policies that threaten our community and run counter to our values
  • Advance a vision for our children’s New York, until the next Constitutional Convention in 2037

The New York Constitution’s last major updates were in 1894 and 1938. Today’s context is:

  • New York’s economy is large enough to support comprehensive, independent and progressive reform. If states were countries, New York’s economy would make us the 11th largest country in the world, ahead of South Korea and just behind Canada. We produce this wealth with just one-third of Korea’s workers.
  • The rate of change is accelerating, with technology as the catalyst. Consider the growing impact of automation, artificial intelligence, driverless cars, drones, surveillance, cybersecurity, marketplaces, on-demand work and others yet to come. What are the effects on education, workforce, free speech, privacy and access? Think about how our expectations have changed for convenience, ease-of-use, transparency, responsiveness, and communications. What are the impacts on government and its relationship to people?
  • At the last Constitutional Convention vote 20 years ago, the Internet had opened to the public a few years before. The Internet has vastly changed attitudes and preferences among a majority of people. Were you 21 in 1993, when the Internet opened to the public? Today, you and everyone younger are 50% of the population and more diverse in every way than the older 50%. Our next opportunity to vote for a Constitutional Convention will be in another 20 years.

The time to act is now.

A Sanctuary State would not only protect the values that Washington attacks, but would also advance those values to force the Legislature to align state and local law with the Constitution. Here is my personal wish list:

  • Equal rights for all. All New Yorkers deserve equal treatment, free from discrimination, to ensure the most inclusive society with equal opportunity and respect.
  • Worker rights that acknowledge our changing economy. State employee pensions should be guaranteed. All working people deserve the right to collective bargaining, the right to a living wage, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to full-time employment with predictable schedules, and the right to retire in dignity.
  • Clean and healthy environment. All New Yorkers deserve the right to clean air and water and protection from the impacts of climate change. New York should preserve and expand public lands considered “forever wild.”
  • Equal Justice. New Yorkers deserve a judicial system where justice is applied equally to everyone, independent from party politics, with real transparency and greater participation by the people. The poor have the right to legal representation in criminal and civil proceedings.
  • Universal Healthcare.
  • Preserve the New York State Constitution’s Existing Social Safety Net.
  • Empowered Local Government. Local governments in New York deserve more control over their affairs.
  • Extend our rights to the digital world. New Yorkers deserve universal and equal access to the Internet, to know how government uses and protects our data, and protection from cyberattacks and cybercrimes. Government actions should be transparent, reported in real-time. Government services should be delivered by the most immediate, convenient and user-friendly means possible.
  • Modern Education. New Yorkers deserve an equal opportunity educational system that equips our graduates to be effective contributors to our civic society and have equal access to opportunities in a fast-changing economy.
  • Truly democratic election system. Today, New York ranks at the bottom of the country in terms of voter participation. New Yorkers deserve the most convenient and user-friendly way to register and vote. Level the playing field for candidates and eliminate gerrymandering.
  • Effective ethics rules and enforcement. Today, New York is considered one of the most corrupt state in the country. New Yorkers deserve tighter ethical rules for public officials and a truly independent ethics watchdog agency.

It is imperative that we create a grand and popular vision that preserves the hard-fought social gains of our traditional progressive coalition while addressing the gaping holes that the vast majority of New Yorkers fall through again and again.

The issues we will seek to preserve — and broaden — include workers’ rights, especially collective bargaining; our social safety net; marriage equality; women’s right to choose; our system of parks. Among the issues we will seek to reform or newly address include global warming; healthcare; the system of courts and criminal justice; and equal rights.

Together, we can make a new New York: a model for Sanctuary States around America.

What is your vision for a new, New York? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share your thoughts here or on our website, visit our Facebook Page, or tweet to @SanctuaryState.

Art Chang is working on the “Yes” vote for a Constitutional Convention through The Sanctuary State Project.



Art Chang

Fighting for Equity. Columbia Professor. Board Chair of Former 2021 Candidate for NYC Mayor. NYC Votes, Casebook, Queens West