09/09/2011 § Leave a comment
Americans with criminal records face legalized discrimination in the workplace, at the voting booth, and in their daily lives. But grassroots leaders across the country are breaking through “tough on crime” policies and winning major challenges to their second-class status.
The National Employment Law Project estimates that 65 million Americans have a criminal record, counting both convictions and arrests that did not lead to convictions. Since 1994, the fraction of major employers screening for criminal records has grown from 20 percent to more than 90 percent. People of color are disproportionately convicted, and suffer more discrimination after completing their sentences. Black ex-offenders are four times less likely to get initial job interviews than their white counterparts, despite equivalent credentials and offenses.
In Massachusetts, residents denied the ability to earn a living and support their families began to speak out and organize. A broad-based coalition led by ex-offenders and supported by youth organizations, labor unions, workforce agencies, and faith groups waged a 5-year “Ban the Box” campaign to end overt discrimination and eliminate the felony check-box from initial job application forms.
In July 2010, after dozens of major demonstrations, hundreds of legislative meetings, and thousands of constituent phone calls, the Massachusetts legislature passed a landmark criminal records reform bill including a “Ban the Box” provision. The new law makes employers evaluate applicants more fairly by allowing background checks only after an applicant is deemed qualified for the job.
California, Minnesota, and New Mexico have removed the question from state job applications, and more than 25 major cities have banned the box for city jobs. Hawai‘i and Massachusetts have extended the guidelines to all private-sector employers, setting a policy example for the rest of the nation.
My First Vote: Ex-offenders on reclaiming the human right to vote.
Formerly convicted Americans are also challenging felony disenfranchisement laws. In the last 15 years, they have won partial victories in 23 states restoring the vote for over 800,000 voters. Still, 35 states prevent over 5.3 million people, including 13 percent of all black men, from voting.
After decades of prison expansion, spiraling costs, and high recidivism rates, ex-prisoners and their allies are forcing states to review policies of wholesale exclusion. Massachusetts’ grassroots victory adds momentum to a growing national movement challenging the new Jim Crow and building a more just and inclusive society.
Aaron Tanaka wrote this article for Beyond Prisons, the Summer 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Aaron is the executive director of the Boston Workers Alliance, co-coordinator of the Massachusetts “Ban the Box” campaign.
01/17/2011 § Leave a comment
[dr. king leading a march from roxbury to the state house]
The US would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men (sic) and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. — Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
In his prophetic last volume, Where Do We Go From Here? Dr. King points towards the abolition of poverty as the critical “second phase” in the struggle for justice. Even after the Civil Rights Movement won so called “equality” in 1964, it became clear that the right to sit next to whites at a lunch counter was useless without the funds for a meal. In his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam,” King maintained that an economy dominated by military spending existed at the expense of underfunding the poor.
In 2003, Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and a cadre of other seasoned community organizers known as the District 7 Roundtable launched the Fund the Dream Campaign. Rooted in King’s call to challenge the ë”evil triplets of…racism, materialism, and militarism,” Fund the Dream resurrected King’s framework to build economic peace by organizing the under- and unemployed.
At the time of his assassination, King was in Memphis, standing with unionizing sanitation workers and building towards a national Poor People’s Campaign for guaranteed jobs or income. Today, facing economic recession, 50 percent unemployment among young African American men and growing poverty amongst single mothers, organizing against joblessness in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods has become a matter of survival.
01/01/2011 § Leave a comment
to generation justice readers: wanna thank you for sticking w me in this first year of bloggy experimentation. im half surprised that its still going and grateful that u are still reading.
im not a particularly mystical person, but i do value the new year for moments of reflection and resolution. quick writing exercise, 10 life lessons in less than 1 minute:
1. organizing work is slow
2. learn to forgive yourself first
3. love can check cynicism
4. leadership is a process not a position
5. anti-oppression is a lifelong course
6. global warming is really real
7. food is fundamental
8. i exist only through the support of others
9. the military, immigration, police and prisons are the same
ok i ran out of time trying to think of something good. #10 will have to wait till 2011. anyway, happy new year!
here’s an real top 10 list i wrote for the Boston Workers Alliance:
08/04/2010 § Leave a comment
we passed CORI reform last saturday night! despite having bills passed through both chambers, it ended up being a nail biter until the end. final enactment votes took place between 10-11pm, with only 1 hour left in the 09-10 legislative session.
i guess im still in shock. after 5 years of dogged organizing, im just impossibly grateful that we pulled it off. its particularly real to celebrate this with folks who ive been working with since the start of BWA. our people faced CORI discrimination and volunteered for years to fight for something that people told us was impossible. well in 2 days, we’ll be with governor patrick as he signs the bill into law 2 blocks from our office in grove hall.
ill look forward to spreading the word about our policy changes. massachusetts is now the first state in the country to “ban the box” ie removing the criminal history question from initial job applications. we helped pioneer this policy at the municipal level in 2005 and got it for all public state jobs in 2008 through executive order. in the meantime, dozens of cities including san francisco, chicago, st paul / minneapolis, dallas have followed suit. in the last year, minnesota and new mexico also banned the box for state public job applications. but as with many model laws, MA pushed it a step further again, expanding the policy to all public and private employers across the state. excitingly, we were the ones pushing Massachusetts.
07/02/2010 § 1 Comment
[asia pacific forum radio WBAI 99.5 in nyc]
i was coming close to indefinite hiatus w this blog. my writing has trended inversely to life activity. too busy in general and too overwhelmed by the task of articulation.
but i dont want to give up. so im checking my all-or-nothing binary and am scaling down my expectations for this project. reducing post frequency will probably lose some visitors, but one of my fav bloggers kloncke has done the hard creative work of getting easy with that anxiety.
so since the last post, i spent a manic week in detroit for the USSF and came out on the other side a year older (28) and energized by the energy of the 15,000+ activists who gathered. i came with 8 members from BWA, seen below at the vast opening march, stretching 15 blocks down detroit’s woodward ave.
the top photo is our contingent of 250 exhausted NE Freedom Riders – rest-stopping 12 of 14 hours into the grueling bus ride home – representing 30+ left organizations including 150 youth.
audio is from an interview that i gave to asian pacific forum, who did a aural cross section of API participants of the forum and captures some of the sensibilities of the week.
05/29/2010 § 4 Comments
we passed CORI reform this past wednesday. one of the more exhilarating moments of my organizing life. we’re almost at the completion of a 5 year campaign and achieving one of the original goals from the formation of my organization. im proud of the work we’ve done, and the relief we will offer to the hundreds of thousands suffering from what michelle alexander calls “the new jim crow.”
internal BWA messaging:
HOUSE CORI VOTE DEBRIEF AND NEXT STEPS
*What Happened and What’s Next?*
CORI Reform was passed in the House late Wednesday with a vote of 139 to 17! The victory was a critical milestone, bringing us a major step closer to the adoption of CORI reform into law.
The vote now places CORI reform into Conference Committee, where a small group of State Reps and Senators will be responsible for reconciling the House and Senate versions to produce a final bill. « Read the rest of this entry »