June 18, 2021, New Jersey Together organizer Boris Franklin spoke at the state’s first event commemorating Juneteenth held at Calvary Baptist Church in Paterson. At the event, he shared his story and the stories of those directly impacted by the criminal justice system that we’ve listened to in Jersey City & Morris County in recent years.
Gov. Murphy then signed into law the “Fair Chance in Housing Act” that prohibits landlords from asking about a person’s criminal record and limits their use of background checks. The law will be the strongest of its kind in the country.
If you haven’t read the New York Times article profiling Boris’s story and the legislation when the bill passed both houses of the legislature, take a few moments to read it now.
New Jersey Together testified about this bill in Trenton, sharing stories we had heard about the impact on individuals and families we had met who had struggled to access housing because of a past criminal record.
Leadership on this campaign came from Fair Share Housing Center, with strong support from organizations like the Reform Action Center NJ, the NAACP, and many others. Legislative leadership came from Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, Assemblywomen Shavonda Sumter, Senator Troy Singleton, Assemblywomen Angela McKnight & Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, as well as from Speaker Coughlin and Senate President Sweeney.
After three years of sustained organizing work by the leaders of CONECT, Gov. Ned Lamont signed the Clean Slate bill into law on June 10, 2021.
“Let this hard-fought win be a model for how states across the country can begin to end the continuing harm of mass incarceration, particularly in its targeting of Black and brown individuals, and build safer, more prosperous communities.” said Rev. Anthony L. Bennett, pastor of Mt. Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport and co-chair of CONECT.
Clean Slate is the automatic erasure of criminal records for certain convictions after between seven and 10 years, for individuals who remain free of the criminal justice system upon release from custody. There was a process to apply for erasure in Connecticut, but the application process was burdensome, costly, bureaucratic, and subjective.
To put this momentous win in perspective:
Clean Slate is a racial justice issue. In Connecticut, black people are 9.4 times more likely than white people to be incarcerated, and Latinx people are 3.9 times more likely to be incarcerated than white people. The effects of this systemic racism would persist for decades to come without Clean Slate.
Clean Slate improves public safety. When people's records are erased, they gain access to jobs, housing, and higher education. Recidivism rates dramatically decrease as a result. That makes everyone safer.
Clean Slate boosts the economy. One 2016 study estimates that the collective national impact of the shackles of a criminal record reduces our GDP each year between $78 billion and $87 billion. Based on Connecticut's population, this means the loss of between $859 million and $958 million in economic activity each year in our state. Clean Slate will create job opportunities for thousands of CT residents, thereby expanding our state’s economic growth.
Read CONECT's letter, with Clean Slate allies, commemorating the victory and urging legislators to continue to support Clean Slate.
When organizers set out to overturn Texas’s giveaway program for the oil and gas industry, they had a long game in mind. Over 20 years, the tax exemption program known as Chapter 313 had delivered $10 billion in tax cuts to corporations operating in Texas — with petrochemical firms being the biggest winners. This year, for the first time in a decade, the program was up for reauthorization. Organizers decided to challenge it for the first time.
At the beginning of last week, as Texas’s biennial legislative session approached its end, the aims of organizers remained modest. “We thought it would be a victory if the two-year reauthorization passed so we could organize in interim,” said Doug Greco, the lead organizer for Central Texas Interfaith, one of the organizations fighting to end the subsidy program.
At 4 a.m. last Thursday, it became clear that something unexpected was happening: The deadline for reauthorization passed. “The bill never came up,” Greco told The Intercept. Organizers stayed vigilant until the legislative session officially closed on Monday at midnight, but the reauthorization did not materialize....
“No one had really questioned this program,” said Greco, of Central Texas Interfaith. The reauthorization was a once-in-a-decade chance to challenge it. “We knew in our guts that the program was just a blank check, but we also are very sober about the realities of the Texas legislature.”
....As legislators met in a closed session to hammer out the bill, Greco heard from a colleague. “One of my organizers said there’s 20 oil and gas lobbyist standing outside this committee room,” he recalled.
Former Gov. Rick Perry, an Energy Transfer board member, tweeted his support for reauthorization. But as last week of the session ticked by, the bill didn’t come up. “It became clear that the reputation of the program had been damaged,” Greco said.
In 19 months, Texas’s subsidy program will expire, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.
“We know there’s going to be a big conversation over the interim — we are under no illusions that this is not going to be a long-term battle.”
Organizers, though, recognize that the subsidy’s defeat marks a shift: “The table has been reset.”
In Blow to Big Oil, Corporate Subsidy Quietly Dies in Texas, The Intercept [pdf]
Texas Legislature Dooms Chapter 331, Which Gives Tax Breaks to Big Businesses, Business Journal [pdf]
Missed Deadline Could Doom Controversial $10B Tax-Break Program, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Losers and Winners from Chapter 313, Central Texas Interfaith
The Unlikely Demise of Texas’ Biggest Corporate Tax Break, Texas Observer [pdf]
Jersey City Together Secures the First Fully Funded Budget for Jersey City Public Schools in Over a Decade
The Jersey City Together (JCT) Education Team led the charge for a huge win for public education in Jersey City. For the first time in more than a decade, the Jersey City Board of Education voted for a fully funded schools budget. The 6-3 vote is historic progress for a district that just a few years ago was $125 million underfunded according to the state funding formula. JCT leaders participated in this and previous meetings, testifying for the increased budget.
At their March action, Jersey City Together highlighted the history of underfunding in Jersey City Public Schools and called for a fully funded budget.
Jersey City BOE approves fully funded $814M budget at uncharacteristically brief meeting, Hudson County View [pdf]
After great debate, Jersey City BOE narrowly approves 1st reading of amended $814M budget, Hudson County View [pdf]
History of Underfunding in Jersey City Public Schools, Jersey City Together [video]
[At the beginning of the pandemic] members of community groups 'Mujeres en Acción' and 'Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action' (COPA) began meeting twice a week at the onset of the pandemic to figure out what community needs were after seeing the virus negatively impact their neighborhoods. They began making hundreds of phone calls to locals, going to their respective churches, schools and other places of gathering, building a list and figuring out what people needed to stay safe – and financially afloat – as the pandemic progressed.
“What we were finding is people almost knew that they have symptoms or believed that they were infected but they couldn’t afford to stay home,” says Maria Elena Manzo, program manager for Mujeres en Acción....
Organizers made a list of things they believed were needed to slow the spread of the virus in the hard-hit farmworker community. The list included better communication from employers about potential exposure and wage replacement for those who miss work due to self-quarantine.
Organizers met with Monterey County Health [officials, and] later began working with a wider group of community leaders, including representatives from the agriculture and hospitality industries and Community Foundation for Monterey County, called the COVID-19 Collaborative.
In December 2020, they presented to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, who voted to approve a $4.9 million budget for a community health worker program. That program, called VIDA (for Virus Integrated Distribution of Aid), is currently funding over 110 community health workers across 10 organizations, Mujeres en Acción among them, to provide resources to people in the communities that are hardest hit. One of the groups, Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, is providing information in Triqui, Zapoteco and Mixteco, indigenous languages from the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero in Mexico that are all spoken in Monterey County.
“One way to stop the spread was to hire people from the community as trusted messengers to talk to people to help them understand the need of being safe, using masks and distancing and all that,” Manzo says.
[Photo Credit: Jose Angel Juarez/Monterey County Weekly]
COPA Press Release, Dec. 21, 2020.
Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) is expanding living wage jobs and high quality job training through a strategic partnership with energy company Pepco in Washington D.C.
Base wages of certain infrastructure jobs will be raised to "$20 per hour, increasing to $22 per hour within one to two years" including underground work related to electric, natural gas, water, telecommunications, or other utility infrastructure.
'This enhanced partnership with WIN is a tremendous achievement, and supports efforts in building a resilient and equitable economy that provides all residents with more opportunity and continues to position the District as a leader in driving an innovative, inclusive and sustainable energy future,” said Donna Cooper, Pepco region president.
The plan also calls for the Department of Employment Services to expand its support of the DC Infrastructure Academy to increase enrollment from 100 to 120 students per year in the Pepco Utility Training School at the academy. Every graduate will be offered a job with Pepco or one of its contractors.
“We are so grateful that in this season of two major pandemics of both having serious social and economic reverberations throughout our city and our country, we are grateful that Pepco has stepped to the forefront to be a strong partner for justice, fairness, and opportunity,” said Rev. Joseph Daniels, lead pastor of Emory Fellowship in Washington and WIN co-founder." Rev. Lionel Edmonds, fellow WIN co-founder, concurred.
This agreement serves as a nationwide and even global example for what corporate accountability looks like when communities organize to put their interests in racial equity and economic justice on the table.
Pepco, Washington Interfaith Network Team Up for Jobs Initiative, The Washington Informer [pdf]
Arizona Interfaith Network Leverages Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Arizona Schools in Passage of Prop 208
Through an intense mobilization campaign that engaged voters across the state, Valley Interfaith Project, with Pima County Interfaith, Northern Arizona Interfaith Council and a coalition of education allies, leveraged passage of Prop 208 which will restore millions of dollars to K-12 education funding.
[Excerpts from Jewish News below]
“Quality education is at the core of who the Jewish people are and how we have survived for thousands of years,” said Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel, a member of the Arizona Interfaith Network Clergy Caucus. “And we look at quality education as reflecting the common good of the community.”
AIN was among five organizations that worked for the last four years to pass the Invest in Ed initiative. Other coalition organizations include the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, the Arizona Education Association, Children’s Action Alliance and Stand for Children.Read more
In September 2023, 900 children at South Lake and 600 children at Burnt Mills Elementary Schools will walk through the doors of new, safe, and welcoming buildings, heads held high and proud. 1500 children who have usually been left behind because they are Black, brown, and immigrants. Their teachers will be able to teach in classrooms without leaking ceilings, without cleaning rodent droppings, without overcrowding in a sea of trailer classrooms.
Over the past 10 years, Montgomery County has invested more capital dollars in the wealthiest district- Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac- than any other district. Action in Montgomery's congregations and public schools fought together over the past two years to ensure that the children of South Lake and Burnt Mills were not once again neglected. Hundreds of parents and AIM congregations worked for over two years to tell the story of a dilapidated structure that wasn't good enough. They successfully got South Lake and Burnt Mills prioritized by the Superintendent and the Board of Education in the fall of 2019 only to have the County Council renege on their commitment to AIM. In May 2020, the Council voted unanimously to delay South Lake because of COVID even while other schools in wealthy districts remained on schedule.Read more
GCC's dogged persistence pays off as Cuyahoga County announces contract with the ADAHMS Board for Oriana House to operate and house a crisis diversion center
Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), the largest community power organization in Northeast Ohio, has claimed victory in its efforts to make a much-needed offsite (separate from any jail or prison facility) pre-booking mental health and addiction crisis diversion center a reality in Cuyahoga County as the County announced it has contracted with the ADAHMS Board for Oriana House to operate and house a diversion center on Cleveland’s East Side.
The creation of a crisis diversion center has been a top priority for GCC over the past three years, culminating in an action last February attended by over 1,000 of its supporters where key public officials pledged their support for such a facility.
“This announcement is a win for our community, one we have been working for quite some time,” said the Reverend Jawanza Colvin, pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland. “We know that diversion centers are critical to transforming criminal justice. By directing mentally ill and addicted individuals toward treatment first we are one step closer to fixing a broken system.”Read more