Moral Mondays Return to Albany

Monday, February 1, 2016 Moral Monday Rally - 12 pm at the Capitol, War Room

Faith leaders, low-wage workers rally at Capitol

‘Moral Monday’ gathering calls on state to reject corruption and fight poverty

Albany (Feb. 1, 2016) -

Faith and community leaders joined low-wage workers at the Capitol today to call on state government to end on- and off-the-books corruption and do more to fight poverty and inequality.

“We regard elected office to be the highest of callings,” said Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches. “To ensure the public trust, we expect our public servants will be free to serve the citizenry without being swayed in their responsibilities because of outside income and excessive donations.

Corruption leads to a great loss of confidence in our democratic process, which is vital to our thriving as a state committed to serving all of its citizens.”

“We are in danger of moving from democracy to plutocracy – government by the few,” said Rev. Richard Gilbert, president of Interfaith Impact of New York State.

“The British Lord Acton said that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It might also be said that money tends to corrupt, and unlimited money corrupts absolutely. The result is that Americans increasingly believe political power is for sale to the highest bidder.”

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Citing high rates of poverty in both rural and urban New York communities, participants called for meaningful ethics reform to accompany measures to fight poverty and inequality.

“The wealthy and well-connected have skewed public policy to benefit themselves, while the majority of New York's families find it harder and harder to access quality housing, food, education, healthcare, or living wage jobs,” said Emily McNeill, lead organizer of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.

“To turn the tide, we need our elected leaders to address poverty and inequality on multiple fronts.”

In addition to ethics reform, speakers called for increased funding for public schools, a $15 minimum wage, greater investment in programs addressing hunger and homelessness, paid family leave, and an end to charging 16 and 17-year-olds in the criminal justice system as adults.

“We support a fair and moral budget for all New Yorkers and an aggressive supportive agenda for those struggling to sustain themselves and become self-sufficient,” said Barbara Zaron, co-chair of Reform Jewish Voice of New York State. “The enacted budget should focus on providing the needed resources and funding for reducing poverty, reducing hunger and homelessness, providing affordable and accessible housing, fully funding and supporting our public schools, and supporting other programs that will improve educational and economic opportunities for those New Yorkers who need assistance, which may include criminal justice reforms, increasing the minimum wage and passing paid family leave. Our tradition teaches us ‘to champion the poor and the needy,’ so helping people move from poverty to self-sufficiency should be our priority.”

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Kevin O’Connor, executive director of Joseph’s House in Troy, said the state not only needs to provide services for the homeless but also do more to prevent homelessness, which he described as a growing problem.

“In the 32 years Joseph’s House has been operating, we’ve seen an ever-expanding demographic of homelessness,” he said. “In the 1980’s we experienced primarily single adults with substance addictions and psychiatric disorders. In the 1990’s we began seeing more and more families with children becoming homeless. Now we’re seeing increasing numbers of working persons who are becoming homeless.”

Rev. Jim Ketcham, executive director of FOCUS Churches of Albany, described a similar trend. “For over 30 years, the FOCUS Churches have sought to meet the immediate needs of hunger in our community through our food pantry and breakfast programs,” he said. “What began as a hunger emergency has turned into a chronic problem. Growing economic inequality and lack of a living wage has only made the problem worse. We need to meet the immediate needs of our neighbors and we need long-term structural changes to end poverty. The Bible implores us to ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor,’ and the holy texts of all faiths instruct the same. So we call for increased funding for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as a living wage.”

Poverty and inequality are exacerbated by inequity in funding for public education, said Rev. Valerie Faust. "New York is a wealthy state. There is no reason for our kids to be in overcrowded classes in schools without nurses, guidance counselors, or music teachers. Children in New York's public schools need us to believe in them and invest in them."

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“No child should be denied the opportunities to succeed in life based on their family income, race or the zip code where they live,” said Jasmine Gripper, Statewide Education Advocate with the Alliance for Quality Education. “We have unprecedented numbers of children living in poverty and record levels of hunger and homelessness. It is crucial that we invest in student's futures by supporting early childhood programs, K-12 initiatives and higher education. It's time our state leaders stand up for kids by making a significant investment in our public schools. We need $2.9 billion to end the inequity and ensure that all kids have access to a quality education.”

In addition to investing in high-needs schools, participants called for an end to the practice of New York courts charging 16 and 17-year-olds as adults.

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"New York continues to charge and punish youths as though they are adults, and is one of only two states that does so. This kind of failed, draconian policy has disproportionate and devastating impacts on black and brown youth, with effects lasting long after they return home. We need legislators with the courage to genuinely raise the age of criminal accountability, for all kids, for all charges,” said Colin Donnaruma, Esq. President of NYCLU Capital Region Chapter and member of Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration.

Amanda Monroe of Schenectady was at the rally with her two sons, ages 4 and 3 months, and spoke of struggling to provide for her family while working low-wage jobs. “I think that it’s time - not just for me and my family, but for everyone out there struggling and trying to do their best -- for the state to look at the underprivileged, rather than the people who already have a lot,” she said.

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