As the legislative sessions in Illinois and Maryland swing into high gear this spring, the Just Democracy Coalition in Illinois and a voter coalition in Maryland are working to expand access to voter registration and the ballot box by advancing Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) legislation in their respective legislatures.
Ensuring a more inclusive democracy is central to the Center for Popular Democracy’s mission. So we are working with these state coalitions, along with partner organizations in Illinois—ICIRR and Action Now—and in Maryland—CASA de Maryland and Maryland Communities United—to address registration disparities that leave more than a million eligible citizens left out of the electoral process. Last year, Oregon and California adopted two versions of AVR, and now Illinois and Maryland are working hard to join these states in their commitment to expanding democratic participation by reducing the barriers to voter registration.
The Just Democracy coalition and the Maryland Voter Coalition have been active at the state house, mobilizing support for AVR in targeted districts across each state and launching a robust digital campaign to support organizing efforts. Notably, Illinois’ AVR effort got a boost when President Obama spoke to the Illinois state legislature, calling on them and other state legislators across the country to reduce the barriers to voting by making automatic voter registration “the new norm across America.”
AVR will increase political participation in Illinois and Maryland by reducing the procedural barriers to voting and enabling base-building organizations to invest more time and energy into voter mobilization and education programs. AVR shifts the responsibility for putting eligible citizens on the voter rolls to the government by electronically transferring voter eligibility information from government agencies that eligible citizens already interact with like the DMV, public assistance agencies or state health exchanges. AVR systems provide the opportunity for eligible citizens to decline registration and should include strong privacy and data security protections and safeguards to ensure that ineligible people are not registered to vote and are protected from legal consequences of inadvertent registration.
Members of Make the Road PA (MRPA) and the Shut Down Berks campaign continue fighting to shut down the family detention center in Berks County, PA. Run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Berks County Residential Center is one of only two in the country where immigrant families with children, often toddlers or younger, are imprisoned after requesting asylum.
In addition to the injustice of locking up asylum-seekers, consider their treatment while detained: Just last week, a six-year-old was diagnosed with the highly contagious shigella virus. She had been ill for weeks. Leaked documents showed that her mother had been seeking treatment for her daughter since December. In response to this mother’s plea for help, an immigration officer said that she should deport herself if she didn’t like the center’s conditions.
After months of coalition work to shut down the center by MRPA and allies, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services revoked the center’s license earlier this year, citing inconsistency in its use of a child residential center license for federal immigration detentions. Immigration and County Commissioners, however, have appealed the revocation—while continuing to hold families with children prisoners.
MRPA and allies organized a demonstration on February 21, the day the revocation would have taken effect. Imprisoned mothers and children joined as best as they could behind the gates, gathering under the watchful eyes of guards, local police, and ICE’s deportation officers. An eight-year-old girl courageously asked to take the mic, bringing the crowd of protesters to tears as she pleaded for her and her family’s freedom.
The partners from Shut Down Berks include the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition and GALAEI. MRPA also had the support of Make the Road New York, Make the Road Connecticut, and Make the Road New Jersey, who sent delegations of their members and staff to the demonstration.
Our partner organizations’ efforts have gained traction: the license revocation, while caught up in appeal, is a significant development and sends a strong message to ICE and the county that locking up innocent men, women, and children seeking asylum is an unjust practice that we intend to shut down.
Workers should never have to choose between their health or the health of their family and economic security. In the last two years, the Center for Popular Democracy and our partners have been instrumental in the passage of paid sick days legislation in both New York and New Jersey, and we’re now thrilled to report on a big state-level victory involving our partner organizations in Vermont!
For more than a decade, a coalition of community and labor organizations has worked on passing a statewide policy for paid sick days. In the spring of 2013, the Vermont Workers' Center (VWC), a partner of the Center for Popular Democracy, was part of an expanded effort with the coalition’s anchor organization, Voices for Vermont's Children (VVC), to demonstrate broad support, collecting stories from men and women facing the challenges of working without paid time, and sharing these stories with the press and with policymakers. Despite the broad public support, the bill only made it out of one committee before dying in the House of Representatives in the spring of 2014.
In 2015, James Haslam, who led the VWC for 15 years, joined a broad range of progressive leaders to found Rights & Democracy (RAD), a newly expanded grassroots organizing effort operating in both Vermont and New Hampshire. RAD was launched in partnership with CPD and the Working Families Party to lead efforts at mass organizing to win legislative fights like paid sick days and other issues to advance economic, social, and environmental justice. In 2015 a new paid sick day bill was introduced and RAD began leading the effort to win, along with VWC and a new Vermont chapter of the Main Street Alliance, which conducted major outreach to bring many new small businesses into the fold as supporters of reform.
RAD organizers and members knocked on thousands of doors all over the state inviting people to sign cards, share stories, and take photos to add their support to the cause. Within a matter of months, the collective work paid off: the Vermont House passed the bill in spring 2015, the Senate passed the bill in February 2016, and Governor Shumlin signed the bill on March 9. Effective January 1, 2017, employers must offer at least three paid sick days for full-time workers.
The VWC is continuing to organize and educate workers to ensure that basic workplace standards are enforced. And looking to build on the momentum of this hard-won victory for Vermont workers, RAD recently launched Raise Up Vermont, a new campaign to raise working standards through legislative reform.
On December 16, Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) allies and partners launched NY Renews, an unprecedented statewide effort to fight for climate policies grounded in equity and justice for working people and their communities. With a kickoff event in New York City gathering over 700 people and a coordinated event in Buffalo attracting hundreds more, the launch received wide press coverage and represented a major step in efforts to push the state into a national leadership role on climate and equity.
The coalition is led by Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), the Center for Working Families, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, CPD partners Make the Road New York and New York Communities for Change (NYCC), and dozens of other allies throughout the state.
Together the coalition is advocating for an ambitious climate-justice agenda, which includes: establishing binding state commitments on pollution reduction, clean energy, and energy efficiency; creating clean-energy jobs; focusing existing resources towards vulnerable, impacted, historically disadvantaged, and frontline communities; and ensuring government accountability and action.
NY Renews is rooted in a powerful cross-section of allies, tapping the collective wisdom of the environmental justice and sustainability movements, faith leaders, labor organizers, and other civic organizations. One such leader is NYCC member Rachel Rivera, a Superstorm Sandy survivor. “I lost everything during Sandy and I cannot afford to lose it again, nor can thousands of working families who are just starting to recover,” she said at the launch. “If we do not want another Sandy, New York needs to commit to reducing emissions and set a path to clean energy.”
With an aim to win a statewide, legally enforceable mandate for 100 percent clean energy grounded in equitable policy, the NY Renews campaign presents a major opportunity to work toward collaborative solutions crucial to addressing the climate crisis, while simultaneously building a more just and equitable society.
The New York State Progressive Electeds Network (NSPEN) is a newly formed group of 100 progressive elected officials in New York State committed to equitable policy and transformative legislature. NSPEN is the inaugural state affiliate of the national network Local Progress, and is jointly staffed by New York Working Families, Local Progress, and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD).
In late February, the network convened for an official launch weekend in Albany, bringing together 80 progressive elected officials. Launch highlights included keynote addresses from Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller; Kathy Sheehan, Mayor of Albany; and congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout. Over the weekend, convention attendants discussed a ten-point policy plan central to their “Vision for New York in 2016,” holding substantive policy discussions within eight breakout sessions on issues including “Reimagining Police and Criminal Justice Systems,” “Preserving and Developing Affordable Housing,” “Empowering and Including Immigrant Communities,” and “Progressive Strategies for Budgeting and Taxation.
Workshops such as “Developing the Next Generation of Progressive Leaders” reflect the group’s emphasis on running a strong, inclusive, and sustainable movement that builds on intergenerational talents and energy. NYSPEN members brainstormed over recruitment strategy for getting activists and organizers into elected office and building up more formal and informal support networks among progressive officials. Within and beyond these goals, the group emphasized a crucial and “deep collaboration with strategic institutions that share common values and are accountable to the communities that they serve."
NYSPEN’s progressive leadership spans the political landscape of New York State—visible in its organizing committee membership, which is made up of: Albany Councilmember Dorcey Applyrs, Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, Brookhaven Councilmember Valerie Cartright, Poughkeepsie Councilmember Tracy Hermann, Freeport Village Trustee Carmen Piñeyro, Croton Village Trustee Brian Pugh, and Rochester Councilmember Molly Clifford.
The Center for Popular Democracy is excited to play a role in this formidable network for change. You can get updates by visiting our website and signing up for the latest alerts on our campaigns.
Read more about NYSPEN and Local Progress.
The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and its core partners are moving forward on an ambitious campaign to advocate for large-scale investment in childcare and early education. This agenda has twin goals: providing access, affordability, and quality care to working parents, while ensuring stable, living-wage jobs for workers.
Rooted in state and municipal campaigns, and linked together at the national level with the Center for Community Change, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the campaigns seek to create a steady drum beat while organizing bases of parents, workers, and providers pushing for greater investment in childcare across the nation.
Childcare has emerged as a core issue within the fight for economic justice, reflecting the urgency of the issue for both working parents and workers in the industry. As wages stagnate, low-wage sectors boom and workers’ schedules shift unpredictably. Low-wage workers face stark challenges: poverty wages, poor conditions, little or no benefits, and a lack of job security. Of the approximately 1.3 million workers in the childcare workforce, 95 percent are women and 34 percent are people of color. Childcare workers, including those in informal settings, make poverty wages—approximately $9.38 per hour, or $19,510 per year.
One model for change was born from the work of CPD core partner Organizing in the Land of Enchantment who, together with AFT, have built a broad coalition of parents, workers, and providers under the banner “People for the Kids (P4K).” On February 10, P4K organized the 1,000 Kid March and mobilized educators, parents, community organizers, union leaders, and legislators in New Mexico to pressure Governor Susana Martinez and the legislature to fund an expansion of the childcare system. The state currently ranks 49th in the nation in child well-being, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report.
To learn more about our workers rights campaigns and other economic justice initiatives, visit the Issues page of our website.
The movement for a Fair Workweek is growing! Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) partners, allies, and workers-rights leaders across the country are advocating for policies that provide hardworking moms, dads, and students with schedules they can count on to pay the bills week after week. In February, we launched two exciting campaigns in Seattle, WA, and San Jose, CA.
Working Partnerships USA, a CPD partner, along with core partner AFL-CIO, the South Bay Labor Council, and the Silicon Valley Rising coalition, filed the Opportunity to Work ballot initiative in late January. This groundbreaking initiative targeting the crisis of underemployment in San Jose would guarantee the city’s 64,000 part-time workers the choice to work more hours at their current job if they become available. The rate of part-time workers desiring full-time work in San Jose has risen at least 30 percent from the pre-recession period. Sign up for updates on the Opportunity to Work initiative here, and check out some press coverage on this important work.
Meanwhile, CPD's dynamic partner organization Working Washington, and workers from fast-food chains and businesses like Starbucks, launched their Secure Scheduling campaign, calling on the Seattle City Council to confront the crisis of underemployment, erratic hours, and unhealthy schedules too many Seattle workers must face.
Read more: Workers ask city leaders to help with unstable schedules
In Flint, Michigan, residents pay the highest water rates in the country (an average $140/month) for lead-tainted water unsafe for human consumption. How did this happen? Decades of systemic disinvestment and a law that disenfranchised low-income residents of color, imposing austerity measures with no regard for its impact on the health and welfare of its community members. In Flint– a poor, majority black city–children were poisoned to save money.
Residents are uniting to fight for their community. The Center for Popular Democracy's Director of Training and Leadership Development Art Reyes grew up in Flint. As the crisis unfolded, he returned home to help build Flint Rising, a coalition of community groups working to empower Flint’s struggling communities to take back their city. With the goal of enlisting directly impacted residents to lead the work, volunteers knocked on over 8,000 doors in February. They found community leaders and collected powerful stories along the way that highlighted the desperate needs of marginalized communities.
Many of these recruited leaders traveled to D.C. to attend the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on the crisis. Others raised their voices at the Michigan State Capitol, demanding Governor Snyder fix what he broke. Residents of Flint have also met with presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, relaying their stories and bringing Flint’s water crisis to the forefront of the presidential race. And Flint Rising successfully petitioned Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to meet directly with impacted families, visiting their homes and seeing the impact of this crisis firsthand.
Flint, a city that has been in economic distress for decades, now faces a public health crisis born of shocking negligence and abuse by elected officials. Dealt this further blow, there is nothing else to do but plan for a stronger tomorrow: unite and fight for justice.
If you’d like to donate to Flint Rising, you can contribute here.
The February release of our new report, Community Schools: Transforming Struggling Schools into Thriving Schools, jointly authored by the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) with the Coalition for Community Schools and Southern Education Foundation, is quickly driving momentum as our partners and education-justice coalitions move the needle on expanding community schools nationwide.
The day after the report’s release, Baltimore City Delegate Mary Washington led a press conference featuring the report alongside her new state community schools bill. Partner organizations Maryland Communities United and CASA, along with the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), worked with the delegate on the language of the bill—the first in the country to embed funding specifically for community school planning, site coordinators, and after-school programming into state funding.
A week later, upwards of 40,000 people across 33 cities participated in school walk-ins, an action organized by AROS to demand the “Schools Our Children Deserve.”
After being pushed by Action United to make 25 new community schools a central promise of his campaign last year, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney unveiled ambitious plans to open a community schools office within the city government to make good on this promise. Action United, with Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), are in meetings with the new director and her staff to review the cornerstone six-pillar community schools strategy of the CPD report, advocating for restorative justice, authentic parent engagement, and a student-centered curriculum.
In Los Angeles, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) used this new report to buttress their argument that teachers and parents working together in neighborhood community public schools are the solution to what ails children in our poorest communities, not corporate moguls who want to turn LA’s schools over to unaccountable charter operators. The report spotlights a model community school in San Fernando Valley, a fact reported by the Oakland-based Ed Source, who wrote a summary of the report’s findings and recommendations.
Read the full report here
This month in Maryland we won a hard-fought victory to restore the vote for ex-offenders reintegrating into their communities.
The Maryland General Assembly successfully overrode Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s veto and restored the voting rights of over 40,000 Maryland citizens, previously barred from voting because they are on probation or parole. The law will go into effect on March 10, and ex-offenders will be able to register and vote in Maryland’s local, state, and federal primaries in April.
The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and partner organization Maryland Communities United, organized a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations, reentry organizations, labor, progressive government groups, faith leaders, and other allies to help pass the legislation during the last legislative session. When Governor Hogan vetoed the legislation, the coalition organized to override the decision.
It took grassroots mobilization, citizen lobbying, savvy press and digital outreach strategies, and the pressure of state and national partners to persuade the Maryland General Assembly to bring the override vote and to eventually get the 29 votes in the Senate and 85 votes in the House to win an override.
While this was a huge victory for democracy, our work isn’t done. Now we go to work to engage, register, and turn out the vote of our newly enfranchised sisters and brothers in Baltimore and around the state of Maryland.
This is just the beginning of the long fight to expand our democracy. With nearly six million Americans locked out of the democratic process because of a prior criminal conviction, CPD will be working with state partners across the country to follow Maryland’s lead and restore their right to vote.