Interviews & Profiles

Community organizing takes the lead: An interview with Theodore Moore

City & State catches up with the new executive director of the Alliance for a Greater New York, best known as ALIGN.

Theodore A. Moore

Theodore A. Moore Submitted

Theodore A. Moore is taking the reins at the Alliance for a Greater New York. Moore was tapped to lead the economic and environmental advocacy group, also known as ALIGN, starting in October. A life-long New Yorker, Moore has long-demonstrated a passion for helping his community, and with a community organizing background, he has worked on legislation with everyday New Yorkers in mind. 

Starting as an organizer with various campaigns, including the Working Families Party and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality, Moore is now taking the helm as executive director of ALIGN. The organization represents a coalition of labor and community organizations that, among other things, advocated for a higher minimum wage and helped organize opposition to Amazon HQ2. Moore is leaving his role as New York Immigration Coalition’s vice president of policy and programs to take up the new position leading the alliance as they advocate for economic and climate justice. 

The new position is a homecoming for Moore, as he was a staff organizer at ALIGN when it was founded. Moore talked to City & State about what brought him back to ALIGN, where he hopes to take the organization, and how he sees ALIGN working in the current state of the labor movement. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you see as the current priorities for ALIGN? Are there any current campaigns that excite you the most? Do you have new campaigns in mind?

We’re currently still in the process of deciding what our campaigns are going to be for the coming year. But what I'm interested in is building on the legacy that ALIGN has created in such a short amount of time. So being able to build on some of the big wins, like the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, and build on the defeat of Amazon, they’re headquartered here in New York City. And continuing to support some of the environmental justice campaigns around the state is what I’m really excited to do.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing ALIGN today?

I think the biggest challenge is that because we’ve had such amazing victories in the past, ALIGN isn’t an underdog any more. When you take on the biggest and the baddest, it kind of puts you on notice. The Amazons of the world know that ALIGN exists, and quite frankly, once you have that kind of target on your back, you make yourself susceptible. Which is why it’s great that this organization exists to really bring together labor and community organizations to fight back against huge multinational corporations that do harm to the environment. It’s the workers not only here in New York, but around the world. So I think the bosses and the corporations themselves are the biggest challenge. But this organization is best suited and better suited than many others to actually accept that challenge and defeat them.

Given that the labor movement is in a moment of growth, and we are seeing a surge in labor action and organizing, how do you see ALIGN making the most of this moment?

It's been such a great year, it's been an amazing summer. From watching what Starbucks workers are doing around the country, locally watching what the Amazon warehouse workers are doing right here in New York, continuing to watch the writer strike and the actors strike – labor is hot right now. People are really understanding the strength of collective power, I think, in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. That really makes it exciting, because it’s really only through collective power that we can come together and actually win improvements not only for workers, but for all the people in our communities.

Is it difficult to coalition-build when the labor movement faces internal conflicts? 

That’s why ALIGN exists. People can sit around and hash out those difficulties and come together, work on campaigns and build that cross-organizational and cross-industry collective power. So you'll see various labor partners coming together with us to work on legislation. Same thing with community organizations and environmental justice organizations. They’re all sitting at the table to figure out whether it's feasible and what's possible, and people come to the realization that what is possible expands exponentially when we work together as opposed to separately. So that's the reason why ALIGN exists, and will continue to exist, to find those unique points where we're able to work together and achieve victories.

Speaking of achieving victories, New York state and the city have passed some major labor reforms recently with pay transparency, higher minimum wages and banning captive audience meetings. What kind of policies are at the forefront for ALIGN?

Obviously, minimum wage. We did get a minimum wage increase, but we want to make sure that we get the minimum wage increase that we are proposing from the forefront and then we want to make sure that it’s indexed. And then around the state, we want to see various things that would make us more sustainable. I think there’s a lot more that we can be doing,increasing solar and wind, building up those industries and making sure that the workers that are added to those industries are union members. There’s a lot that can be done all across the state, and there's just so many opportunities.

You have a huge background with organizing first, and then moving into more legislative work. How do you see that combination of the two working to help you do your job as director?

Starting off as a community organizer with the Working Families Party, I also worked for an organization called FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality). Having a basis of what’s happening on the ground and a strong understanding of how to talk to community members on a one-to-one basis really helps me with legislation. Either really talking to legislators about what's needed or even drafting legislation myself, because I think of it in a holistic manner. Like, how will this affect the person in Bed-Stuy, how does this issue really affect someone in Buffalo, and being able to craft policies that once they’re implemented will actually improve the lives of individuals.

Given your history with ALIGN as a staff organizer during its founding, how does that inform the way that you will lead the organization? 

I was one of the OG staff members, when ALIGN was born from the merger of Urban Agenda and New York Jobs with Justice. So really understanding what the purpose of ALIGN was from its inception and seeing the growth throughout the past decade is something that I bring to this position. Having that experience, building some of those first community and labor partnerships, working on campaigns and understanding it from that level, helped me connect with the staff, with our labor and community partners. 

With the migrant crisis in New York, a lot of labor unions have been focused on getting work permits for everyone. Is this something that ALIGN is also considering working on? Have you had any conversations to think about how you would work on these plans?

I think on an organizational level, it's about looking at the industries that migrants, asylum-seekers and our newest New Yorkers are actually going into, and making sure that there's job training and workforce development and making sure that the industries that people will go into have the right safety conditions to make sure that individuals are successful not only in the workplace, but as they transition into their new lives.