Jon Kest’s Activism, New York’s Future

Thousands of Bill de Blasio’s grassroots supporters—as well as the small inner circle of advisers who helped catapult him into office and will help guide the newly elected mayor as he tackles the challenge of governing the nation’s largest city—were at the Park Slope Armory in Brooklyn on election night to celebrate this momentous progressive triumph. But one important face was missing. Jon Kest played a key role in building the progressive grassroots movement that became the foundation of de Blasio’s political base and would have been a major player in his stunning landslide victory. But Kest, who died last December 5, didn’t live to see the most impressive achievement of his decades of activism.

For almost three decades, Kest was the most effective organizer in New York City. He helped found ACORN, the Working Families Party (WFP) and New York Communities for Change (NYCC)—three key components of New York’s progressive movement. But Kest’s genius was not only in building effective grassroots organizations but also in forging coalitions with unions, faith-based groups, neighborhood associations and environmentalists so that the groups were more powerful than the sum of their parts. He was a linchpin of some of the most critical political battles in the city that mobilized low-income residents against the corporate and political establishment.

De Blasio’s victory, along with WFP leader Leticia James’ triumph as the city’s public advocate, was decades in the making. Neither would have been won without the seeds planted by Kest and his coalition allies working together to reshape New York’s politics.

Read this this piece in its entirety on The Nation: The de Blasio Victory: Jon Kest’s Legacy


John Atlas is a founder of Shelterforce and board chair emeritus. He is the producer of ACORN and the Firestorm, a film directed by Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard and author of SEEDS OF CHANGE: The Story of ACORN, America's Most Controversial Anti-Poverty Community Group. He is also the former executive director of the Passaic County Legal Aid Society.


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