Museum of the City of New York Celebrates the 10th Anniversary of its Ongoing Exhibition, ‘Activist New York’




The ongoing exhibition Activist New York, now celebrating its tenth year, opened in May, 2012 at The Museum of the City of New York. Exploring issues of political and civil rights, religious freedom, immigration, gender equality, environmental advocacy, and economic rights—and drawing on artifacts, images, and interactive components— Activist New York provides a sweeping look at the passions and conflicts that underlie the city’s history of agitation and the New Yorkers who have mobilized to fight for the city they want to see.

Each section includes a timeline of key events, objects, images and a bio of the activists who worked hard in support of their movements. The timeline will take viewers from the 1600s to today.

Below are a few images taken, as we walk through the ongoing installation ~ Activist New York, ten-years later, in 2022.

As one of the primary destinations for immigrants from across the globe, New York has long been a center of activism for assisting or deterring these newcomers. In this section, Activist New York features the first “settlement house”, founded in 1886 by Stanton Coit ~ a true house of welcome for immigrants.

Activist Literature

As the nation’s publishing capital, New York was the center of the proletarian literary movement. Literary-minded activists formed organizations such as John Reed Clubs and the League of American Writers to spread their message; established magazines such as New Masses; and held debates at clubs and conferences. The proletarian literary movement was part of a broader cultural wing of the “Popular Front,” a broad anti-fascist political alliance initiated by the Communist International, in which artists used literature, music, theater, photography, and film to advocate for a global leftist politics

Activist Garment Workers

New York working people had been organizing unions since 1794, when the city’s industrial revolution began creating wage workers distinct from business owners. But the garment activists of 1909-1911 transformed the city’s labor movement and ushered in a new era, one in which labor unions—and working women in particular—became central players in the city’s economy.

Alongside labor activists, elected officials and Tammany Hall reformers made New York a model of workplace legislation, and unions became crucial to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.


The first group in the United States to organize explicitly around trans rights and self-determination, STAR emerged from the organizing after Stonewall. Rivera and Johnson sought to create family support structures for other trans youth of color through STAR House on East 2nd Street, the first shelter of its kind in the nation. STAR also called for radical change within the gay liberation movement and society at large.

Protesting discrimination and violence against their bodies, clothing, choice of sexual partners, and other markers of identity and expression, trans activists in STAR, the Queens Liberation Front, and other pioneering New York groups won their first victories in the form of state protections in the early 1970s. They also pushed for inclusion in the gay and women’s liberation movements.

Trans Activism

It was the summer of 1969, and the group had blocked traffic on 110th Street with piles of garbage to protest inadequate sanitation services. They had already asked the city for brooms to clean their neighborhood’s streets and, when refused, they went ahead and took them.

The “garbage offensive” was the first campaign of the city’s Young Lords Organization, a radical “sixties” group led by Puerto Rican youth, African Americans, and Latinx New Yorkers. New York’s Young Lords, although originally part of a national organization, reflected the lived experiences of Puerto Ricans in New York City. The group mounted eye-catching direct action campaigns against inequality and poverty in East Harlem, the South Bronx, and elsewhere.

Many of their campaigns emphasized the need for increased health resources for Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and other communities of color in New York. These campaigns called for improved sanitation services, lead paint detection, free breakfasts for children, testing for tuberculosis, and safe reproductive rights for women. One of the largest campaigns targeted Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, long known for its decrepit building and inadequate care.

Young Lords

El Barrio was the home to Hiram Maristany, a founding member of the Young Lords and their official photographer. He sadly passed away in March, 2022, but he left his community with a plethora of images, documenting those years.

Organizing Chinatown

As the largest port on the eastern seaboard in the 19th century, New York became the main point of entry for European immigrants. It also became a center of anti-immigration, or “nativist,” sentiment.

Art and politics in New York have long gone hand in hand, particularly in the 1930s. The Great Depression spurred the growth of radical movements whose members viewed art as a weapon for exposing the failures of the American political and economic systems.

Activist ~ Artists

As a complement to its ongoing exhibition Activist New York, now entering its 10th anniversary, Museum of the City of New York will unveil a new immersive mural installation by artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya that illustrates the resilience of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) New Yorkers, and solidarity across activist movements. Incorporating contemporary images and historical activist figures Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama, Phingbodhipakkiya’s installation Raise Your Voice” invites audiences to consider their own power for advocacy. 

Artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya in front of her new mural, Raise Your Voice, at the Museum of the City of New York

Activist New York is on view at The Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, NYC. or view the exhibition online.


Take a look-back at the exhibition City of Workers, City of Struggle, 2019.