Vision For Justice: Reimagining Public Safety
Monifa: Welcome to “Pod for the Cause,” the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on the critical civil and human rights issues of our day. My name is Monifa Bandele, and I am on the Movement for Black Lives Leadership Team. I will be the host for today’s episode.
I am thrilled to have Thea Sebastian, director of Policy and Civil Rights Corps, Alphonso David, the President of Human Rights Campaign, and Eunisses Hernandez, the executive director and cofounder of La Defensa, reimagine public safety. Hello, Thea, Alphonso, and Eunisses. And thank you for joining me for what will also be the miniseries finale.
Alphonso: Thank you.
Eunisses: Thanks for having me.
Thea: Absolutely. Thank you.
Monifa: So, Thea, I’m gonna start with you. Can you tell us what sparked the Vision for Justice platform? Why does it exist? And what does it hope to achieve?
Thea: The Vision for Justice campaign started off as a platform that the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Civil Rights Corps helped to guide the drafting of back in 2019. And the goals of creating this platform were really threefold.
First, what we wanted to do was to really consolidate the views and the priorities of the progressive community around how they wanted to transform the criminal legal system to really end injustice and to start moving toward a new paradigm that would center safety in non-carceral approaches, and then investing in communities. That’s the first goal.
The second one was to start creating a way of really centralizing a lot of the amazing work that has been happening across the country. So the way that we have always viewed Vision for Justice is that it’s an umbrella for all of the other campaigns that are taking place across the country. For example, you know, some of the campaigns that we might share about today that have been going on in Los Angeles. It’s a chance for us to lift up the organizing work of people like JusticeLA, of the bail reform movement in Illinois, of all the other amazing organizations, and make sure that they’re able to learn from each other and to have the chance to share their lessons learned on the national stage.
And then the final goal of this platform, which has now become a campaign this year, is to just really help to shift the conversation even more toward how we think about safety. So that safety isn’t something that’s associated with jails, and with prisons, and law enforcement. But it is really centered in education, and health, and housing, and all the other sorts of non-carceral interventions that can actually keep a family safe. Our goal is really to just make a document and to make a movement that can help to drive that leadership forward.
Monifa: That’s so great and so amazing. I’m inspired every day that we are having these conversations that we could not have even imagined having 3 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago, where people are really talking about what safety really is, how do we reimagine the systems that are in place instead of just trying to make them less harmful. What are the new systems that we could put in place that actually don’t cause harm? So thank you for that. It’s so exciting.
Alphonso, at Human Rights Campaign, the focus is on striving to create inclusive and equal environments for all LGBTQ people. As we discuss public safety, what are the needs of the LGBTQ community? Are we in a time of making strides? If not, what needs to be done?
Alphonso: Well, thank you for that, Monifa. I think I would probably want to start with what we’re seeing in the states against transgender and non-binary people. So far, in 2021, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least 29 violent deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people. We say at least because too often these deaths go unreported or misreported.
And since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking these numbers in 2013, we have not witnessed numbers this high by this point in any year. And there are several possible reasons for this increase in violence, including increased awareness of this violence, which leads to increased reporting and more accurate reporting that identifies people correctly.
And some have asked, “Well, what leads to the violence?” We’re seeing dehumanizing rhetoric, especially by some political leaders and religious institutions and leaders. And those have had really real-life consequences for the community, especially black transgender women.
Black and brown transgender women in this country, especially face dehumanizing stigma and discrimination from others. A stigma that is only worsened by systemic racism and sexism. And it’s also important to note that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on black people, on trans people, and on those living at the intersections of those identities.
And then, finally, I would say that the anti-LGBTQ and antitransgender attacks that we’re seeing in state legislatures across the country are impacting the increase in violence. Antitransgender stigma is not just happening on an individual basis. It is fueled by what happens in the public, including lawmakers spreading lies and fear about transgender and nonbinary people. It is not surprising that the same moment in which antitransgender bills are at an all-time high is the same moment in which fatal violence against transgender people is at an all-time high at this point in the year.
Monifa: Wow. You know, I really just want to sit with that for a minute. Because when you started with the 29 violent deaths this year so far, and we are only halfway through the year, that specifically, the violent deaths, and then talked about what’s happening in the healthcare and in the public health sphere. So we know people sitting at the intersections are experiencing COVID morbidity and mortality at higher rates. But then I’m also thinking of all of the other ways that people who are dehumanized die at the hands of our healthcare system.
So we know that there’s these 29 violent deaths, but that’s increased by what’s happening through neglect, not being able to access care. We know that this is kind of like just the tip of the iceberg, as they say. And that there’s so much underneath that given the larger framework, you know, the larger dehumanizing messages and legislation that are coming down. So thanks for sharing that.
And you said you started tracking it in 2013. And that right now, maybe some of why there’s an increase is because we are better at tracking it. We’re better at identifying people. Do you think that perhaps, though, there is an actual increase? You know that it’s not just a statistical thing, of that we’ve improved, but that there’s actually an increase that’s happening right now,
Alphonso: Anecdotally, I think there is an increase. And based on conversations we’ve had with many members in our local communities, they are seeing increased violence, increased stigma, increased attacks against members of the trans community. The reason why it’s very difficult to answer that question scientifically is because, unfortunately, we don’t have sufficient data.
The federal government has historically not tracked LGBTQ identity. So when we’re looking at surveys and research tools that the federal government has historically used to determine how to allocate resources and where to allocate resources, the LGBTQ community is left out in the cold, because we’re not counted. We were not counted as a community in the census. We’re not counted when federal agencies are issuing reports to determine how to allocate their resources. Which is why we, in our Blueprint for Positive Change, the Human Rights Campaign requested that the federal government start tracking LGBTQ people. Because if you are not tracked, if you are not identified, it is as if you don’t exist yet as it relates to data collection and resources.
And thankfully, the Biden administration has welcomed our recommendation. And President Biden issued an executive order in his first week in office directing federal agencies to really reassess how they allocate resources and to make sure that they are tracking or really reevaluating how they track data for purposes of marginalized communities. So there’s hope on the horizon.
But I think when we talk to our community members, anecdotally, they’re saying that there is an increase in violence that they are fearful of walking down the street at night. And we cannot divorce it from the past four years. We went through four years where the President of the United States effectively tried to erase LGBTQ people and specifically focused on transgender people and black and brown people specifically.
Monifa: Thank you for that. We cannot solve what we can’t see. And so thanks for pushing for that greater data collection and transparency. So I get really excited whenever I talk about the amazing wins that our West Coast siblings have been doing in this work to not only in mass incarceration, but you know towards abolition.
So Eunisses, I’m gonna ask you the next question because in your work to develop and implement alternatives to incarceration with La Defensa, JusticeLA, the Los Angeles County Alternatives to Incarceration Working Group, and so many other organizations that we even look at here in New York to track your models and your success, what has been the most successful? What about some of the challenges that you came across might you want to share? And what can you share with other organizers who are currently doing this work, who want to get involved either with you or replicating the work that’s happening in LA and other parts of the country?
Eunisses: Thank you so much for that question and for having me here. Because I’m gonna give you a little quick background on LA County. You know, we’re in a space where we’re having conversations on Alternatives to Incarceration. But, you know, LA County has one of the largest jail systems in the entire country. It has the largest pre-trial population in the entire country, with over 6000 people there because they can’t pay their bail and because of the current pre-trial system. The sheriff’s budget is over $3.3 billion annually. And it gets over a billion dollars of our local taxes.
And so we are a place of moving forward, but it comes from struggling for decades. It’s taken over 10 years for us to stop LA County’s $3.5 billion jail plan, where they wanted to build a jail specifically for women in the desert over 50 miles away from city central, and where they wanted to build a mental health jail for people who have behavioral health needs, such as substance use needs or mental health needs, right in downtown LA. And so that’s the struggle that we come from.
But on developing the Alternatives to Incarceration, I think that’s a huge success for LA because we come from, you know, having these huge systems. They have changed some, but they’re still very much intact. COVID-19 has helped us reduce some of their power. But on the Alternative to Incarceration recommendations that we’ve been able to develop through the LA County working group have really changed the whole narrative within the entire system of LA County.
This report that we put together is a plan that’s broken out in an intercept model, where most of the recommendations and enhancements are in Intercept 0. It’s before law enforcement. It’s before 911. It’s community based. When you think about that, it’s like closing your eyes and figuring out, “Okay, where can I take my loved one if they’re having a mental health crisis?” Intercept 0, the recommendations, has to build out these systems of care and access to services. And it goes to 1, 2, and 3 and all the way above.
And although 2 is at the point of like, let’s say law enforcement is already there, the recommendations and Intercept 2 give options of how to…like safety valves, like how to get that person out of that situation, especially if they’re having, you know, behavioral health crisis or mental health crisis. And then it also talks about, you know, the reentry piece and the infrastructure piece. Because we talked about building out services, but the contracting piece really prevents us from expanding care. But Alternative to Incarceration roadmap that we developed talks about building out even though small details that is fit for LA County.
One thing that, I think, to share about this report, is that there were appointed committee members, such as myself, that got to vote on that. But the development of the language of that report, when you look at it, it was mostly written by people who are from the community who are directly impacted. When you look at the pre-trial section, Intercept 3, my colleague Yvette literally wrote those words. And that’s really the collaboration that happened with the county in that report.
In the implementation piece, I think that’s where we have some successes, but also the challenges. You know, we have now a department called the Alternative to Incarceration Initiative. We have investments, although small, happening into the Office of Diversion and Reentry.
But really, the money in the county budget has not shifted as much as we needed to. And this is where we talk about implementation work and not being…I don’t like to use this phrase, but like they describe it as a not sexy work. But it’s like this is the hardest part of the work, implementation, because this is where the system tries to maintain its power, its budget, its strength. So that’s why it’s the hard part. And that’s really where we’re at with Alternatives to Incarceration and county trying to implement these things, moving the dollars.
We have a department. We have the recommendations. How do we get the ATI department to really follow through with the recommendations from that report? How do we move the dollars out of the sheriff’s department?
I’ll say that since COVID-19 hit, over 5000 people have gone out of the jails. We have several reports that are at the front of the government, LA County Board of Supervisors and LA County saying, “Look, over 3000 people could be better served in community, if you put them in community and community-based services.” We have a report that says you can close down Men’s Central Jail, the oldest jail in LA county that they’ve been talking about closing for decades. Now, here’s a plan on how to strategically do that in a safe way to support people.
But it’s just about pushing the power holders over this last hump of the implementation piece. This is where I get to like some tips that I have or what I will share with other folks who are across the country is one, it’s a long journey. It’s taken us, like I said, over 10 years to get here. It’s taken us over a year to develop the Alternative to Incarceration report. It took us a year after that to get the Alternative to Incarceration initiative developed. And now they’re talking about implementing some of these recs. And so it’s a long, long journey to get to places and just people need to care for themselves and plan in the long term, right?
Instead of us focusing on the reactionary piece, like how do we get steps ahead. That’s why we call ourselves abolitionists because our moves are very strategic on how we move. We don’t compromise. But that doesn’t mean we’re not strategic. We just don’t leave people behind. We don’t give more money and more power to the system. And we don’t build things that we’ll have to destroy in the future. That’s how we move in. That’s, I think, one of the reasons why we’ve been successful.
So stick to your values but be strategic. And thinking long term will help you organize whatever legislative body you’re trying to move, and people power makes the landscape that you really desire is what we found here in LA County.
The last thing I’ll say is, you know, in LA County, we knew that in order to stop the advancement of new jails and in order to really close down the jail, we really need to focus on a multiangle strategy. And so when I talk about the large future population, when I talk about the top five charges of women in LA County being related to poverty and substance use, and driving without a license or suspended license, like, we know we have to develop all the angles in order to stop the behemoth that is special interest groups of new jails. And so just try to think about it like that. You’ll have many, many small fights in order to get over this big fight.
Monifa: You know, I just wanted to touch on a few of those because I want to make sure everybody heard it. The first one that you mentioned about paying attention to implementation was almost like triggering, right? Because how many times have we, as activists and organizers, work for something, got a big win. And then in the implementation, they just call what they were already doing something else, right, and just found a workaround to make sure that they continue to harm our folks or continue to incarcerate our folks.
I mean, one of the big things that comes to mind for me, because I’m here in New York was around the death of Eric Garner, you know. Chokeholds have been banned by the NYPD for decades. And so, when they got to the grand jury, the NYPD says, “Well, it actually wasn’t a chokehold. It’s something that we call a seatbelt maneuver.” You know, that’s just like one example. But all of these ways that you have a win, and you have to make sure that the policy that you pass, the administrative fix that you pass, the demands you make to put forth these alternatives that folks don’t turn around and just call the same harmful things they’ve been doing something else.
The piece about it being a long journey is so important. People kind of see, and I think you’ve probably noticed this too, Eunisses, is that they feel like last year just popped up out of nowhere. You know, like this uprising just exploded and it just came down. And now, everyone’s talking about abolition. Like, people have been seeding this for decades, you know, and watering it, and growing it. And like you said, there are many, many small wins that you’d have to achieve in order to get to where we are and beyond, sticking to your values.
And the part that I love. And I love whenever I hear it, which is to leave no one behind. A lot of times, we’re in those negotiating rooms, with even our own champions in our legislatures, they want to kind of negotiate down and carve out folks and essentially leave people behind. Thank you so much for all of that, all that was so good.
So we heard about LA. And so, now I just want to know, you know, from Thea and Alphonso, are there existing public safety models, whether in local spaces in the U.S. or even internationally in other countries that you’ve seen that have been effective to combat and address the issues that exists at a larger scale here in the U.S.?
I immediately think about a trip I went on with the Drug Policy Alliance to Portugal and how they are everything that has to do with drug use is considered a public health issue and not a criminal legal issue. Once they’ve made that change, they saw everything from not only a drop in “criminal activity” around folks, they saw a drop in people’s health issues and addiction issues around drugs. They also saw a huge drop in overdoses, you know, people dying just by completely decriminalizing having and using drugs. Just one thing, I think, but I wanted to open it up, Thea, you first and then to Alphonso. Have you seen models somewhere that we really need to do here and scale up?
Thea: I don’t see that. Maybe the word mindset is almost better than model. But I could explain what I mean by that. When I’m thinking about public safety models that work, I think that part of the answer is on the microscale and a part of it is on the macroscale.
So on the microscale, every day in communities across the country, there are so many things that oftentimes community-based organizations are leading but are genuinely working to keep families and communities safe. So there are non-911 Crisis Response models where you have trained mental health professionals who are responding to crises, rather than armed law enforcement. You have basic investments and things like streetlights that helps to keep kids safe as they walk home from school. There are programs of violence interruption. There are investments in treatment for mental health or substance use. There are all of these sorts of interventions that, on a daily basis, can do so much to keep us safe.
But then, there’s also just this kind of broader answer, which is that part of what an effective public safety model is, is not confining ourselves to these sorts of narrow interventions but just speaking about our spending priorities as a country, and whether those really make sense. Because when we’re comparing ourselves to countries across the world that are comparable in terms of their size, what we realize is that we are spending way more on our criminal legal system and way less on just basic social services. We’re spending less on education on, you know, health, in particular for low-income communities. And that has to be a part of what a public safety model actually is. And there’s research to back that up.
You know, one of the most effective things we’ve done to keep people safe over these last 10 years has been expanding Medicaid, right? But when we expand Medicaid, we increase people’s ability to get the treatment that they need. There really does need to be this paradigm shift that doesn’t have to be this kind of very vague concept. You know, there are real policy roadmaps that are out there to help us start realigning our spending priorities so that we can make the sort of broader investments and the social programs we need while also making sure that we’re investing in all of the crisis response models, and the violence interruption programs, and all of those things on the ground that are doing the work every day.
Monifa: And we have so many models and so many examples of how we keep us safe. One of the introductory exercises to any of our workshops that we do around reimagining public safety is to have people close their eyes and imagine moments when they felt the safest. And never do they say, when they open their eyes, that it was like, “I was near the police car,” or “I was in the precinct,” or “It was at school when I was walking through the metal detectors,” right?
It points to models that we don’t think of as being models of public safety, like you talked about with Medicaid, but it is some of the things that happen every day in our community that people do that interrupts violence. It is having a clean and well-lit park. It is having the elders being able to sit out on the stoops. It is having really safe and affordable housing, you know, being secure in your housing. It’s knowing where your next meal is coming from. All of these things increase public safety.
And so people really need to just interrogate that, you know, and think about how you define safety based on when do you feel safe. Do you feel safe when you’re policed? Or do you feel safe when you have what you need? What models have you seen, Alphonso?
Alphonso: I’ve certainly seen several cities make progress over the years. But there’s no one model that I’ve seen that I think should serve as the template. I think what I focus on is really at its core, whether or not these models are shifting our public policy debate to emphasize healthcare over incarceration and criminalization. We’ve certainly heard about Portugal. We’ve certainly seen what’s happening right now in Ohio where they’re using Portugal as a model to determine how they can radically shift from incarceration and criminalization to a healthcare model.
But I think what they’re all grappling with are two things. One is the effective implementation of those models, which in some cases means appropriate funding. And the other is dealing with some core systemic problems that are deeply rooted, and I’m talking primarily about racism, within the institutional structures of this country.
So when we talk about having a generative discussion about shifting our public policy, I think that’s incredibly useful because we do have to emphasize healthcare over incarceration and criminalization. But once we do that, we also have to have the next conversation about implementation and funding and systemic racism and systemic homophobia that we have seen indoctrinated within our systems for way too long.
Community policing, we know is promising. Community-led safety initiatives, we know is promising. But we haven’t seen a comprehensive model be implemented here in the U.S. and/or we don’t have sufficient data to say that those new systems that have been implemented really should be used as a template moving forward. I’m optimistic that some of the new systems that are being implemented and you know, for lack of a better word, models will help us, guide us forward as we develop a concrete framework for the future.
Monifa: So modeling more like these are pilots. This is from data collection. This is some ways of looking at new strategies. But absolutely, if we don’t resource it to the level that we’ve resourced criminalization, I mean, almost can’t compete as an intervention.
Eunisses, what are some of the other examples that you’ve seen also outside of LA?
Eunisses: Outside of LA, I think the money piece is important to talk about because, for example, I talked about the alternative to incarceration report with 115 recommendations, yet there’s no money behind it, right? To give an example of having to move money, that’s what, where Measured J came from for us. Measure J was on the ballot in LA County last November and it said that 10% of locally generated tax dollars had to be moved into community investment, so for minority-owned black businesses, youth programs, and also for Alternatives to Incarceration, such as community-based pre-trial services.
And we put this measure forward because the Board of Supervisors locally would not move money to invest in this system of Alternatives to Incarceration. And so we had to take it upon ourselves to do it through this ballot measure, and it passed last November with over 2 million voters supporting it in LA County.
But what we saw in December was that law enforcement special interest groups sued the county to stop its implementation. And so that’s where we’re at right now dealing with this court case and a judge, you know, having it in front of them and invalidating it, saying that… Because Measure J changed the constitution in LA County forever, so that it could outlive this political moment that we’re in because we’ve seen prior boards that have been terrible.
And so that’s why the County Coalition of Unions, which is a front for law enforcement unions or special interest groups, sued to stop its implementation because Measure J money is a method to move money out of the carceral system and into community. So even then, when we try to move the dollars, the implementation is difficult as well. But you know, we were successful in getting it passed.
Monifa: Yes, absolutely. I saw some statistics out of Center in Popular Democracy that talks about $180 billion is spent every year on policing and incarceration, so like 100 billion on policing, that’s billion with a B, 80 billion on incarceration. And just imagine what might last year have looked like under this pandemic that we were suffering under if we had those types of resources in our healthcare and public health systems. You know, the money piece, thank you, I join Eunisses. And thank you for raising that Alphonso because we can’t do it if we don’t resource it.
My next question really is about, as we wrap this and as we talk about reimagining public safety, we always want to tell people, where are the points of action? Where can people get involved? How can they be a part of the solution? And how can they engage their elected?
A lot of times people think they have to be in public policy, or they have to be a civil rights lawyer, or something in order to make a difference in this work. And we all know on this show right now that that is not true. Why don’t we open it up and let people know how can we activate this? How can we push this further? How can we continue this movement? Like Eunisses talked about that it’s like many, many wins, leading up to our big victory of abolition and reimagining public safety all together, how can people take action?
Alphonso: Two things, I would say, at the core of what people can and should do. First is vote, vote, vote. Vote in every election and vote at all levels of government. The people who are making policy decisions on justice issues are generally local and state elected officials. We all need to remember that the district attorney in your state is just as important, if not more, on this issue, as your congressperson when it comes to criminal justice policy. Now, they’re important in different ways.
But a district attorney is making daily decisions on how they’re going to enforce state law on criminal justice issues, how they’re going to endorse legislation in your state, as to whether or how the criminal justice policies are implemented. Your city council members are the ones that are actually deciding how to allocate resources and where to allocate those resources.
So if we don’t actively engage in elections at our state and local levels, we end up losing our voices. So that is one of the most important things we can do. And we don’t have to wait every four years to engage in the electioneering process. We have elections taking place this November in places like Virginia. We have the midterms taking place next year all over the country. So we need to make sure that people are engaged in the electoral process more so than ever before.
The second is, after you vote, we need to make sure that people mobilize to support policy. So elected officials often will determine whether and how to engage on certain issues based on the level of engagement they’re getting from their constituents. If we engage and mobilize on issues that will transform our criminal justice system, that will transform our justice system as we know it. And we are communicating collectively to our elected officials as to why it’s important, then we will actually have change and change that sustainable. So I would say those are probably the two most important things that you could do to engage in order for us to be a part of a solution.
Monifa: Thank you for that. And I think we have a large amount of evidence that these interventions that you’re recommending, these actions, are effective and powerful because of the attacks on our voting rights as we speak. We’re seeing state after state doing whatever we can to limit our right to vote. So I think that is evidence that this is something that we can and must do. And, like you said, every single election, not just every four years, and being there to flank the people that we put in office around those policies that we want is so important.
Thea, what are your calls to action?
Thea: It’s really building on what Alphonso just said a moment ago, digging in a bit to how people can get engaged at the local level, so at state level, and then also at the federal level. At the local level, the first thing that I would say is find community-based organizations that are already doing this work. You know, there are so many great groups that are hitting the pavement every day to figure out how we can actually reimagine safety and invest in what keeps people safe. Find those groups and see what you can possibly do to support them.
And then the second thing is about engaging our local elected. I just wholeheartedly agree with what Alphonso said and would just uplift that attending city hall meetings, emailing your local representative, writing local op eds, talking to your friends, that stuff really matters in part because the political pressure around safety has been really one sided over the last four decades. Oftentimes, you know, voices are very loud in calling for an expansion of the criminal legal system. And what we really need is for people to raise their voices and say, “What I feel like I need to be safe are all of these sorts of non-carceral interventions.”
If you don’t get traction at the local level, maybe it’s time to run for office yourself. Maybe it’s time for a new generation of leaders that is really willing to listen to these kind of movement demands around reimagining safety and start to put in place the policies that can actually make it happen.
And then when it comes to the federal level, it’s so important for people to stay abreast of what is currently being introduced. And just to keep putting pressure on the folks in Congress to make sure that these priorities become law.
And just a few ideas on where to start. One idea is that the movement for Black Lives came out with a really visionary framework for how to transform safety in the country called the BREATHE Act which Monifa, given her roles, is very well acquainted with. And you can become a community co-sponsor of that and join the charge to make sure that the BREATHE Act becomes law.
Another concrete way to get involved is to go check out the People’s Response Act, which was introduced just last month by Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley and starts to create this new paradigm for safety at the federal level in all sorts of ways and starts to take some of those ideas that have come from the movement and put them into law.
And then the final thing is to stay abreast of more opportunities. You can sign up for the Vision for Justice community in general. And that’s a great way to just understand what bills are moving, whether there are petitions to sign, whether there are teachings to go to or just what other ways you might be able to support that work, because it will definitely take everybody if we’re going to make the changes that we need.
Monifa: You know, I love it. I love supporting the BREATHE Act. I think that is, of course, an amazing piece of legislation, if I do say so myself. But there’s something that she said that really resonated with me, which is when you’re doing local work, look and see who’s already doing the work and support them. So someone who comes out of local organizing that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy because too often, sometimes people come in and fly over, and they miss the work that’s already happening and lose opportunities to build and scale up on some really, really great stuff.
Everyone that’s listening, if you’re doing some local work, definitely first word analysis, find out who is already doing it. I want to go to you, Eunisses, what is your call to action? What would you tell people to do in this moment?
Eunisses: I have three things that I want to share with folks that I think have been so helpful to us during some of the most difficult times of our lives during the pandemic and, you know, still trying to organize and move forward. The first thing is build broad coalitions.
Oftentimes, you know, folks who are working on criminal justice reforms, like their abolition, like you know, we’re in this space, right. And it seems like we’re often siloed from other movements. And what we have found locally is that building coalitions, such as people who are working on houses this crisis, people who are working on street vendor issues, people who are perhaps working on family reunification. Like having all of those organizations at the forefront, so that we, you know, not undermine anybody else’s work. So that our work, that our language is informed by the needs and also desires of those other organizations has made us more powerful and build more solidarity within the movement because there’s more communication.
And so I would say building a broad coalition of not just focusing your space, but like how does you know, all of these things aren’t connected because of capitalism, because of white supremacy. And so the more that we can work together and connect those dots, the more that we’re effective against white supremacy and the bureaucracy and the systems that we’re trying to fight and dismantle.
The second thing is that invest in the leadership, the political education, the wellbeing of directly impacted folks. People have been impacted by these various systems and agencies that we’re trying to dismantle that could have benefited from the ones that we’re trying to build out. Because those are the folks who have the most clarity on what the solutions could be. And so it’s not just about having folks come and speak on a panel, but it’s really like how are these folks uplifted in a way where they can make the demands that are necessary to advance policy that’s going to really be most impactful for their communities. I would say not just uplifting them but investing in them and their wellbeing.
I have endorsed some folks. What I have found is that you can work hard to get someone elected. You can work hard with them to develop the policies that, you know, they might or that they will adopt when they are in their seat of power. But what we must also demand is that they adopt a co-governance structure and model so that they’re not just calling on community to say, “Do you all have time to come this Tuesday to the Board of Supervisor meeting to give public comment in support of this motion I’m putting together around housing?”
You know, we get those requests, but it’s about co-governance like how do we be at the table when you’re crafting that motion so that we don’t leave people behind. So you don’t put probation to be working with, you know, this group. There’s just a lot of things that I’ve been learning as I move in this political space. And it’s I think that’s important that not only we get people elected, but that there’s a clear understanding that it’s a co-governance model that we should be demanding so that we can continue to influence the policies that come out of that office and not just called upon when they continually need support.
Monifa: Invest and directly impact to people, and I think that is both physical investment, resources. This also goes back to the money piece, like where are we investing? So investing in systems of care and investing in structures that promote healthcare over criminalization. But also when we talk about the work that’s being done, who’s driving? And who would are architects of these campaigns? What is the equity model and how philanthropy is moving in that space? That just opened me up when you talked about that.
And then the co-governance piece, I think you have to roll up your sleeves, you know. And I think this also loops back to what Alphonso said about mobilizing to support the policies. So it’s not just like you put the person in office, they make it, they come back, come, and meet us, right, like you said. But it’s like, “Okay, here’s the framework of what you put me here to do. Now, join me.”
You know, there is a couple of local, I won’t name specific candidates on the podcast, but you know, the people who ran it like, “When I get in office, you get it office. When I’m the mayor, we’re the mayor,” and really set up models so that that can happen. So there’s a constant co-governance, there’s a constant feedback loop.
Well, I want to thank you, Eunisses. I want to thank Thea. I want to thank Alphonso. We are so appreciative of your time and your leadership in this space, your brilliance, and your genius. I know that everyone who’s listened today has something that they can take back to their committees and to their organizations. I want to thank everyone out there for listening to a special Vision for Justice edition of “Pod for the Cause,” the official podcast of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education. Thank you so much, everyone.