How Translation Helped New York City Promote Racial Justice
- Client Racial Justice Commission
- Project Translation for the Racial Justice Commission
- Service Translation Services
- Service Multimedia Localization Services
In 2021 former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio formed the Racial Justice Commission (RJC), a charter revision commission tasked with examining structural racism within NYC. The Commission identified barriers facing Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern and all People of Color in NYC and put forth ballot initiatives aimed at promoting racial equity. In a city as linguistically diverse as New York, the process of raising awareness and educating the public on these initiatives required robust, multilingual outreach.
changing the New York City Charter
As a first step, the Commission launched a citywide public engagement campaign to hear from New Yorkers themselves. By listening to residents in their neighborhoods, in virtual spaces, and through partnerships, RJC identified broad, bold, long-term structural changes that would advance racial equity in the City. The Commission proposed three additions to the New York City Charter.
The first initiative sought to add a preamble to the Charter to guide City government in fulfilling its duties in a more equitable manner. This statement of values aspires toward a “just and equitable City for all” and strives to remedy “past and continued harms.” The commission’s second proposal was to establish an Office of Racial Equity and a Commission on Racial Equity and require citywide and agency-specific Racial Equity Plans every two years. The final ballot initiative requires the City to create a true cost of living measure to track the actual costs of meeting essential needs in NYC and report on it annually.
Before being added to the Charter, the initiatives needed to win the approval of the voters in the November 2022 election. And for the ballot questions to succeed on election day, the RJC needed to inform the public about the issues and ways their votes could help root out systemic racism in NYC.
engaging multilingual New Yorkers
In the summer of 2022, the Commission launched a non-partisan voter education campaign to inform City residents about the ballot initiatives in advance of the November election. This gave the Commission only a few months to reach and educate New York’s 5.5 million registered voters about the ballot proposals and help them understand the difference their vote could make.
New York City is a mix of races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and languages. In July 2022, Eriksen was brought on to translate the literature, messaging, and other communications for the RJC. Campaign materials were to be translated into between 11-14 languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Korean, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Yiddish.
translation, typesetting, and voiceover
This was truly a multimedia, multifaceted campaign. Our work ranged from the translation and typesetting of palm cards, newsletters, and public meeting notices to FAQs and public service announcements. The campaign called for translated ads that would be run in local newspapers, on bus shelters, and on the MTA. The translation of Google display banners and social media posts helped support digital engagement, and we provided translation and voiceover services for TV and radio ads.
As a first step, we developed a glossary. RJC provided key English-language terms which we translated into the thirteen languages that would be most frequently used throughout the campaign. This glossary established the approved terminology upfront, so it could be used consistently across all materials. Because the content focused on just three carefully worded ballot initiatives, strict adherence to the glossary was critical to maintaining a cohesive campaign with consistent messaging. Our project managers worked closely with the translators and editors, ensuring rigorous adherence to the established terminology.
Many of the advertising materials required fast turnaround times to meet deadlines with the media outlets, often requiring delivery of all languages in two days. Because the text was repetitive and key terms were locked in place upfront, the process was streamlined, which helped facilitate fast deliveries and reduced the need for additional rounds of client review.
We worked closely with RJC on the development of the multilingual content. In some cases, this included advising on ways to make the language for radio and TV ads a better fit for translation or avoiding those things that do not translate well, such as a hashtag in a sentence.
making history in NYC
In November 2022, New York City voters made history by approving all three ballot measures by large margins – each initiative passed with more than two-thirds of the vote. The City Charter revisions lay a solid foundation for reducing barriers, promoting racial equity, and dismantling structural racism.
On behalf of the commission and the RJC staff, please accept this note of extreme gratitude. Our ballot proposals passed with overwhelming margins! Thank you for all of your time, effort, patience, and the willingness to work towards achieving racial justice within New York City.
Rachel Cato, Chief of Operations, NYC Racial Justice Commission