The Fed Up coalition, organized by the Center for Democracy (CPD) and made up of over 70 community-based organizations, nonprofits, and unions advocating for a strong economy, brought the campaign to the nation’s capital earlier this month, transforming a series of Congressional hearings dominated by right-wing critiques of the Fed into a conversation about race and inequality in America.
The coalition brought 80 representatives to the House and Senate’s “Humphrey-Hawkins” hearings, where 12 House representatives and four senators publicly commended the coalition and pressed Fed Chair Janet Yellen to answer for the continued lack of economic recovery in Black and Latino communities as well as the Fed’s failure to adequately represent the public interest. (You can read our compilation of their questions and comments here.)
These 16 members of Congress were enlisted by the directed efforts of Fed Up coalition leaders, a strategy that paid off. That day the Washington Post reported on the “confrontational” nature of the queries: “Republicans have long fought to rein in the Fed’s powers, but even Democrats proved combative Wednesday, with several accusing the central bank of ignoring the plight of minority workers. ‘We have got to get the Fed to get off the dime and put the issue of African-American unemployment on the front burner,’ said Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.).”
CPD was joined by a broad array of Fed Up coalition partners, including Communities Creating Opportunity (MO), SPACEs DC (a new CPD core partner that joined the campaign this year), and CPD core partners Make the Road New York, New York Communities for Change, Action United (PA), Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (MN), RiseUp Georgia, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, and Sunflower Community Action (KS).
Earlier in February, CPD released a report with Fed Up coalition partners outlining how the Federal Reserve’s leadership structure is skewed in favor of major corporate and financial interests. This profoundly undemocratic system delivers economic policy that privileges the concerns of the wealthy over the welfare of low-income communities, historically and disproportionately affecting people of color. The findings of the report,“To Represent the Public”: The Federal Reserve’s Continued Failure to Represent the American People, were featured in a major Wall Street Journal article and summarized in CPD’s op-ed in The Hill.
“To Represent the Public” shows that the Fed’s December decision to raise interest rates—which reduces aggregate demand, slows job creation, undercuts workers’ bargaining power, and leads to lower wages—was the result of leadership dominated by bank executives who profit from higher interest rates and corporate executives who profit from lower labor costs.
Today in Maryland we won a hard-fought victory to restore the vote for ex-offenders reintegrating into their communities.
This morning, 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, 2016 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 and our partner, Maryland Communities United, organized a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations, reentry organizations, labor, good government groups, faith leaders and others to help pass the legislation last session. Then, when Governor Hogan vetoed the legislation, the coalition organized the support to override his veto.
It took grassroots mobilization, citizen lobbying, smart press and digital strategies, and the pressure of state and national partners to persuade the Maryland General Assembly to bring the override vote and to get the 29 votes in the Senate and 85 votes in the House to win an override.
While today is 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 5.8 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 the right to vote in their communities.
Thank you for standing with us in our pursuit of a more popular democracy.
The presidential campaign kicks off every election cycle with the Iowa caucuses, where the presidential candidates compete for the first time and the national political agenda begins to form. The Center for Community Change (CCC), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) and organizations from across the Midwest gathered together to attend sessions on bold, progressive visions on racial justice, environmental justice, and economic justice, to shape the national agenda toward the ambitious goal of investing in disinvested communities – particularly communities of color and rural communities.
Community members also had the opportunity to question Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders in front of a packed crowd of 750 Iowans and others from the Midwest.
The day before the event, CPD partner, Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (MNNOC) convened an historic convening of 25 Black EDs and Senior Staff of Black-led organizations from across the Midwest to begin building relationships with each other and exploring the possibility of building a shared framework for addressing racial justice issues in the Midwest together. The Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), and Sunflower Community Action were among the CPD partners in attendance.
This group also made a big impact on the event. To open up the Presidential Forum, six leaders of the Black ED meeting addressed the crowd sharing why they came together, what their communities are facing, and why they came to Iowa. Kandace Montgomery from Black Lives Matter Minneapolis ended by asking the crowd of mostly white Iowans to stand with young Black leaders when they are taking actions, occupying police precincts, and shutting down malls and airports, which was met by a standing ovation and chants of “Black lives matter!” by the whole crowd. It was electric and the response from the crowd was overwhelmingly more supportive than the organizers had anticipated.
Staff at CPD led sessions on the Fair Workweek and Fed Up campaigns, and on over-policing and mass incarceration. Rod Adams of MNNOC asked Martin O’Malley about the Federal Reserve, Montague Simmons, the ED of Organization for Black Struggle also asked Martin O’Malley about racial justice. Finally, Anthony Newby, the ED of MNNOC got Bernie Sanders to agree to invest $1 Trillion into economically distressed areas, if elected.
In Iowa, the grassroots leadership of CPD has begun to build power in the Midwest in a lasting way and is moving the national dialogue toward visionary, transformative change for communities of color.
On January 20, 2016, the Maryland House of Delegates voted to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that would restore the right to vote for Marylanders upon release from prison. The Maryland Senate is expected to take up the override on February 5, and if approved, over 40,000 Marylanders who are on probation or parole will have their right to vote restored.
For over a year, the Center for Popular Democracy has been working with our state partner, Maryland Communities United, to organize a diverse coalition of grassroots organizations, reentry organizations, labor, community groups, faith leaders and others to help introduce and pass rights restoration legislation. With formerly incarcerated citizens taking the lead, the coalition mobilized broad support for restoring the voting rights of returning citizens who live, work, pay taxes and raise their families in the community. “To build power to create change on issues affecting our community – education, housing, criminal justice – we need to have the right to vote,” said Perry Hopkins, a formerly incarcerated citizen and an organizer with Communities United.
The restoration of rights legislation passed last session with large majorities in both chambers but was prevented from becoming law by Governor Hogan’s veto. Unwilling to accept defeat of the legislation, the coalition has been working with the bill’s sponsors, Delegate Cory McCray and Senator Joan Carter Conway to organize support – both inside the State House and across Maryland -- to override the Governor’s veto in 2016.
The override victory in the House of Delegates was due in large part due to the dedication of constituents in the community as well as faith, labor and community leaders. The coalition is now mobilizing to win in the Senate when it comes up for a vote next month. With the 2016 primary and general elections fast approaching, CPD is working to ensure that the more than 40,000 returning citizens have a voice their democracy.
Emma Greenman, Director of Voting Rights and Democracy for Center for Popular Democracy said in response to the win in the House of Delegates:
“Democracy is on the March in Maryland. This is one step in a long fight to bring the voices of the most marginalized into our democratic system.
“This is a critical time for our democracy. With nearly 5.8 million Americans shut out of the democratic process because of a prior criminal conviction, we will be working to empower states across the country to follow Maryland’s lead and expand democracy. Our state partners in other states are looking at Maryland’s example as a model to restore the vote in their communities.”
CPD and PICO National Network co-convened the first-ever Economic Justice Strategy Meeting in Washington, DC from November 16-18th. This three-day strategy meeting included both CPD and PICO Executive Directors and Campaign Managers from New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE), the Center for Public Integrity, Wisconsin Jobs Now, Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), Working Washington, Action United, Spaces, Good Jobs Now, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Working Families Party-DC and the corresponding PICO in-state affiliate, as well as PICO affiliates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Colorado. Collectively, this group represents the potential to organize for pay raises for around 11 million workers and for paid sick days for 3.5 million workers.
During the convening, partners developed a multi-state, multi-year collective agenda with an intention to lead with a sharp racial and gender focus.
This collaboration is a part of a broader strategy centered around 2016 minimum wage and paid sick day campaigns. We aim to succeed on 5 core fronts: To deliver concrete, material gains to a broad constituency; To organize workers into powerful independent political organizations; To build stronger independent state power and infrastructure for future wins; To engage women and people of color as leaders and critical voting constituencies; and To advance a pro-worker, racial and gender justice narrative.
For three days in late November, 125 staff and member-leaders from 30 CPD partner organizations gathered in Austin, TX to deepen relationships and make preparations for CPD’s 2016 National Gathering for Community Power. The meeting concluded with a vote and a decision that Pittsburgh, PA would serve as the host city for the 2016 progressive gathering.
While assembled, we marched in solidarity with local partners Workers Defense Project and Texas Organizing Project to demand that Governor Abbott stop playing politics with the lives of immigrant families.
Looking ahead to 2016, CPD and partners are deeply engaged in advancing their shared campaign efforts. The work that started in Austin will help shape what will be our largest gathering yet, as thousands of member-leaders gather next year in Pittsburgh to build a world more deeply rooted in justice and equity.
By a Thousand Cuts: The Complex Face of Wage Theft in New York, a new report released by the Center for Popular Democracy on November 17th, highlights the pervasive nature of wage theft in New York City and state across numerous sectors of the economy.
The report supports the efforts of the New York Coalition Against Wage Theft to bring greater awareness and accountability to the issue of wage theft. On the date of the release, the Coalition held an action to target one of the egregious employers profiled in the report: NY Insulation, an asbestos removal contractor convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from its workers. The action drew more than 100 attendees, including workers, advocates, and elected officials. City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Leticia James were featured speakers.
Despite the passage of New York’s landmark Wage Theft Prevention Act in 2010, wage theft remains endemic in New York City and state. CPD estimates that 2.1 million New Yorkers are cheated out of a cumulative $3.2 billion in wages and benefits they are owed each year. The 11 case studies profiled in the report—from a small bakery to a mid-size construction company to ubiquitous employers like Bank of America and Domino’s—show that wage theft occurs in the form of wage nonpayment or nonpayment of overtime, but also accumulates in ways particular to a sector or job classification.
By “a thousand cuts” to their paychecks—a few minutes worked off-the-clock each day; a five percent “deduction” that employers take out of each tip; a wage that falls below the legal minimum; a uniform that employees must pay to launder each week—many employers are systematically robbing workers of their pay. Advocates report that employers sometimes threaten workers, retaliate against them, or actually fire them for trying to enforce their rights.
The report points to some common-sense first steps in improving wage theft enforcement in the city, state, and beyond, including a robust approach to wage theft research, outreach and education, and enforcement. To dissuade low-road employers, wage theft should be aggressively prosecuted and should result in fines and penalties that outweigh gains made by stealing workers’ wages.
CPD will continue to work with the New York Coalition Against Wage Theft to build the power of workers in 2016 and beyond.
On November 10th, the same day fast food workers and other low wage workers around the country staged strikes and actions calling for $15 and a union, New York State’s Governor Cuomo announced an executive action that would guarantee that all state workers would receive a minimum of $15 an hour as a minimum wage.
This precedent-setting victory makes New York the first state to set such a high wage for its public employees. The victory comes on the heels of other New York victories being driven by low-wage worker organizing, spearheaded by core CPD partners New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York and allies SEIU 32BJ, National Employment Law Project, Citizen Action, the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), and the Strong Economy for All Coalition, among others. With Cuomo’s executive order, In New York City, state workers will earn $15 an hour by the end of 2018 and, outside of the city, state workers will see wages rise to $15/hour by the end of 2021. All told, some 10,000 workers will see an increase in their wages. Since early 2015, large scale low wage worker mobilizations have helped obtain a 50% increase in NY State’s tipped minimum wage and a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. The current focus of the “Fight for $15” campaign is a pending bill to raise the state-wide minimum wage to $15 per hour for all New York workers.
On November 17, CPD released a toolkit called Building Identity: A Toolkit for Designing and Implementing a Successful Municipal ID Program that compiles lessons learned and best practices from municipal ID programs all across the country.
Last year, CPD worked with coalition partners including Make the Road New York and elected officials including the Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, Councilmember Menchaca, and Mayor Bill de Blasio to support the passage of legislation creating New York City’s municipal identification program, ID NYC.
Following the success of ID NYC, CPD has provided technical support to advocates and cities across the country – from Newark, NJ to Hartford, CT to Phoenix, AZ to Austin, TX – interested in passing robust municipal ID programs.
Building Identity provides a step-by-step guide for advocates to create and implement municipal ID programs that are responsive and tailored to the needs of local communities. To commemorate the toolkit’s launch, CPD and other immigrant rights activists held a press conference in front of New York’s City Hall.
Shena Elrington, Director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Popular Democracy spoke at the rally and said, “We hope this toolkit will be a resource and powerful tool that inspires advocates and community members everywhere to push for muni ID programs in their communities, showing what is possible when cities and localities take the lead. Now more than ever, when our Congress is dysfunctional and anti-immigrant sentiment is rising, it’s up to cities to take charge and lead the way to send a message of welcome.”
CPD and PICO National Network co-convened the first-ever Economic Justice Strategy Meeting in Washington DC from November 16-18th in Washington, DC. This three-day strategy meeting included both CPD and PICO Executive Directors and Campaign Managers from New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLE), the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), Wisconsin Jobs Now (WJN), Minnesota NOC, ACCE, LUCHA, WW, AU, Spaces, GJN, PCUN,WFP-DC [write organizations out in full] and the corresponding PICO in-state affiliate, as well as PICO affiliates from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Colorado. Collectively, this group represents the potential to organize for pay raises for around 11 million workers and for paid sick day entitlement for 3.5 million workers.
During the convening, partners developed a multi-state, multi-year collective agenda with an intention to lead with a sharper racial and gender focus, than in the past.
This collaboration is a part of a broader strategy centered around 2016 minimum wage and paid sick day campaigns. Its vision is to succeed on 5 core fronts:To deliver concrete, material gains to a broad constituency; To organize workers into powerful independent political organizations; To build stronger independent state power and infrastructure for future wins; To engage women and people of color as leaders and critical voting constituencies; and To advance a pro-worker, racial and gender justice narrative.