Poor People's Campaign Freedom School Bus Tour
April 4-9, the NYS Poor People's Campaign traveled across Western and Central New York on a National Emergency Freedom School Bus Tour, where we learned about past and present struggles for justice in Buffalo, Geneseo, Elmira, Enfield, Ithaca, Auburn, and Syracuse. Our trip shined a light on the emergencies facing our communities - including farmworker exploitation, food insecurity, mass incarceration, and displacement - as well as the rich history of abolitionist struggle in our state.
We're also holding a report-back webinar on Tuesday, April 30 at 7 pm. RSVP to hear more about what we experienced and what it means for continuing to build a movement in New York.
(Photo: Steve Pavey, #HopeInFocus)
Fight Poverty, Not the Poor Statewide Day of Action
On March 18th, NYS Poor People’s Campaign members took action in Elmira, Troy, New York City, and Hempstead, bringing attention to the policy violence of yet another austerity budget in New York State (more on this year’s budget below). New York is the most unequal state in the nation -- a direct result of underinvestment in the things people need, like social services and education, while the wealthiest are rarely confronted by legislators to pay their fair share. Rallies at the Nassau County Juvenile Detention Center, Rensselaer County Social Services, Chemung County Jail, and on Wall Street demanded the state government change course and prioritize ending systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation. Check out videos of the actions here.
Poughkeepsie Poor People's Hearing
On March 27th, 100 people gathered in Poughkeepsie to hear from directly impacted leaders in the Mid-Hudson Valley, sharing their stories and discussing their active resistance to oppression. Click here to watch the recording!
We heard powerful stories from high school and college students in Ulster and Dutchess counties, union members fighting for good jobs, and leaders in the fight for clean water in Newburgh. There’s lots more to come in the Hudson Valley, so stay tuned!
Legislative and Budget Update
While there were some good things in the New York State budget that passed on April 1, overall it was another austerity budget that won’t make a dent on inequality or poverty in our state. Gov. Cuomo and legislators rejected proposals for ultra-millionaires and pied-à-terre taxes that would have raised revenue from the state’s wealthiest. Education funding increased at a rate similar to the previous few years - meaning the state is still falling short of its court-mandated obligations to our poorest schools. Funding for vital social services remains well below what it was a decade ago. As Politico argued, the Democratic takeover of the State Senate didn’t make much difference when it came to the budget, our legislature’s most significant policy making process.
For those of us committed to building a movement for social, racial and economic justice, the budget outcome was disappointing but not altogether surprising. We know that electing different people or a different party, while meaningful, will never be sufficient to transform our state. That will take building grassroots power, or in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “having the ability, the togetherness, the assertiveness, and the aggressiveness to make the power structure of this nation [or state] say yes when they may be desirous to say no.”
Powerful grassroots organizing did achieve important victories on some issues. New York has eliminated cash bail for most charges and improved due process protections by reforming speedy trial and discovery laws. More work remains to end money bail entirely and further protect due process. (See statement here.) However, this was a huge win that will make a real difference in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS is proud to be part of the #FREEnewyork Campaign and grateful for the incredible leadership, courage, and creativity of directly impacted communities who have fought for these reforms for years.
Other important legislative fights are continuing until the session ends in mid-June. Check out the following campaigns on driver's license access, health care, and housing justice and stay tuned for ways to take action:
Green Light New York: Driving Together - Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers can't get a driver’s licenses due to their immigration status. This results in major barriers to meeting the most basic needs of day-to-day life. Twelve other states issue licenses regardless of immigration status, and this could be the year New York does the right thing and follows suit.
Campaign for New York Health - We believe that healthcare is a human right, not a privilege to be afforded based on wealth, employment, family situation, or immigration status. Labor-Religion Coalition is proud to be part of the Campaign for New York Health, which is committed to winning universal health care for all New Yorkers and making sure there are no financial barriers to medical care.
Housing Justice for All - As rent control regulations in New York City expire this year, upstate and downstate tenants are uniting to fight for critical statewide housing reforms, including rent control, just cause eviction, and more. Read the full platform here.