The Street Vendor Project
*by Kimberly Lok, PHD Student at Temple University and FCWA Intern*
The Street Vendors Project (SVP) is a member-based organization with nearly 2,000 vendor members working together to ensure the rights of street vendor operators in New York City. In partnership with the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit that provides legal advocacy and representation for marginalized New Yorkers, the Street Vendor Project was founded as a workers center for and by the street vendors of New York City. With over 40 affiliates in the United States, the SVP is also a member of an international alliance of street vendors who promotes solidarity and equal rights for street vendors around the globe.
Launched shortly after September 11th, the project was organized to provide street vendors with the legal support needed to fight New York City’s post-9/11 crackdown that forced many vendor’s off the streets of lower Manhattan. Street Vendor Project founder Sean Basinski, a long-time street vendor activist, a lawyer and a previous street vendor himself, says, “the relief programs after 9/11 weren’t thinking about vendors” and the “harassment from authorities was intense”. Basinski notes that vendors were increasingly targeted by both the police and health departments with surprise weekly inspections and aggressively fined for small infractions without a warning, for example, wearing a license inside of a pocket instead of around their neck, or parking a cart more than 18 inches from a curb. Since the Bloomberg administration, this discriminatory and arbitrary treatment against street vendors has become even more commonplace with the maximum fine increased from $250 to a $1,000.
Nearly 20,000 street vendors work across the five boroughs selling everything from soda to t-shirts, hot dogs, flowers and umbrellas. These vendors are enthusiastic entrepreneurs that work hard to make a living to sustain their livelihoods and care for their families. The city’s vendors are as diverse as the city itself. Ninety percent of the vendors are immigrants and people of color from 20 different countries around the world, while 10% are Veterans, with a recent increase of women vendors setting up their own businesses across the outer-boroughs.
As a largely immigrant population, street vendors face numerous challenges to start and operate their business as they try to navigate through the city’s red tape of regulations. The Street Vendors Project provides legal services, educational workshops, English-language programs and a loan program to support its nearly 2000 vendor members. Member meetings, interpreted in five different languages, are held each month to teach vendors how to obtain permits and licenses, set up their business and how to work within the city’s regulatory requirements. The SVP provides legal counsel and support to help members fight unwarranted fines and violations and to ensure that vendors know their rights. Essentially, the Street Vendors Project provides a safe space that promotes solidarity among vendors that allows vendors to voice the challenges they face, collaborate and receive the support they need to be successful entrepreneurs.
The Food Chain Workers Alliance is proud to have the Street Vendors Project as an alliance member and supports their worker solidarity efforts. To stay informed on SVP’s current campaigns, volunteer days and upcoming events, sign up at: http://streetvendor.org/.