Despite new challenges presented by the COVID-19 lockdown, our members persisted in organizing mutual aid and strengthening our long-term campaigns. Read on to learn more about resources for mutual aid, critical action for relief on utilities bills, our upcoming energy democracy podcast, valuable victories for elder justice, and so much more!
Rochester Mutual Aid Network (RMAN)
We're very excited to announce that Metro Justice is now officially a member and 501 c(3) sponsor of the grassroots Rochester Mutual Aid Network. RMAN is a partnership between the Rochester Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a number of local charity and social justice organizations.
RMAN was started to help our community sustain itself. It's a cooperative network looking to connect people who are in need of aid to those who can offer it. In these times of crisis, people shouldn't have to worry about where help is going to come from. It's going to come from our community, so let's get to work. Visit our website to sign up to volunteer. We need all kinds of help: people to deliver supplies, people to purchase supplies, people to give rides, people to fix stuff... we need people! You can register on our website, and then fill out a form to describe what kind of help you can offer! If you need assistance, you can request it through the website as well. Right now, the network is focusing on getting people food and medical supplies that they may not have the means to access. But, requests do not need to be limited to those types of supplies.
COVID-19 Utilities Ratepayers Strike
One of our R.E.D. (Rochester for Energy Democracy) Committee's most essential and major efforts this past month has been preparing to organize a statewide utilities bill strike for May. We are participating in organizing this strike through our membership with the NYS Public Power Coalition and in partnership with the Housing Justice for All Coalition that is also organizing statewide rent strikes.
The COVID-19 Crisis is putting millions of New Yorkers out of work. That means millions of us will be unable to pay utilities in May and will face draining debt for unpaid bills after being unemployed for months. That is why we are calling on Governor Cuomo to cancel utility bills, forgive debt for unpaid bills, issue a mandatory moratorium on shutoffs for at least 2 years, and tax the ultra rich their fair share of taxes to pay for it.
We’re stronger together and now is the time for us to act collectively. We're calling on New Yorkers to sign a pledge to not pay utilities in May; by signing the pledge, we can send a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to meet our demands and share our stories.
Are you worried about paying your utilities in May? Let’s turn our individual inability to pay into a collective, coordinated demand for relief.
Can you comfortably afford your utilities? That’s actually really great to hear, and that’s exactly how it should be for everyone during a public health crisis. That’s why we're calling on New Yorkers like you, too, to sign the pledge: to bill strike in solidarity with those that cannot pay.
The more people that don’t pay, the more pressure we exert towards ensuring utilities for everyone during and after the pandemic.
Making sure our stories are publicly heard is also critical. So, we are also collecting testimonials to include in news coverage and share on social media. Will you write a short testimonial on why you’re either unable to or not paying utilities, the impact COVID-19 is having on your life, and why that means we need relief? If so, please fill out this form to submit your testimonial. You can also contact our Lead Organizer, Mohini Sharma ([email protected], 585-623-9633) with questions for your testimonial before submitting it!
Lastly, if you’re able to at any point, please set aside money you would have used to pay your utility bills. We are doing everything we can to win, but setting aside whatever money you can is an important precaution in case bills are not cancelled or debt is not forgiven. Please feel free to contact Mohini with any questions or concerns!
Rochester for Energy Democracy (R.E.D.)
R.E.D. is a campaign started by Metro Justice to halt the pending climate catastrophe and ensure environmental justice in the long-term. We are striving to build an energy system in which communities -- not corporate investors -- decide what energy we use, where we get it, what we pay, and how that money can be used to benefit our community. The first steps towards this vision is organizing our neighborhoods for community-owned solar and replacing RG&E with a public, not-for-profit, cooperatively owned utility with an elected board, a green energy mandate, and concrete commitments to a just transition for energy workers.
The R.E.D. committee convenes biweekly on Wednesdays from 5:30 - 7:30 PM. In addition to the utilities ratepayers strike, we focused on further developing our digital community engagement projects.
Our podcast will be called the Rochester Public Power Hour, and we have our first three episodes in the works! We are excited to announce that our first episodes will interview leaders from the NYS People's Power Coalition for public utilities in the 1970s, Community Power in Minnesota, Berlin Energy Round Table, and Local Power in Boulder, Colorado.We are eager to learn from and build solidarity with movements for public utilities across the world, and we hope you are too! Stay tuned for information on how to follow us on Twitter and tune-into our show. In the mean time, if you have questions about energy democracy and public utilities that you would like us to answer on our show, send us an email at [email protected]!
As for our webinar series and video series:
- The webinars are a 3-part workshop with audience Q&A, and are meant to deeply engage different communities specific to their unique context. We will host the first 3-part series for Metro Justice members and Rochester DSA members. Then, we will host the series with unions, with tenant & housing justice organizations, with faith communities, and with neighborhood organizations. Stay tuned for more information on dates and registration!
- Our first few videos will provide an overview of what public utilities are and the content of the ballot measure we intend to pass in Rochester to establish a public utility in our city.
Do you want to join us in halting the climate crisis and making energy a human right? Join our upcoming meetings via video conference! Be sure to RSVP by visiting our "Upcoming Events" page so that we can send you information to join our remote meetings. If this will be your first time attending a R.E.D. Organizing Meeting, our Lead Organizer, Mohini, will follow-up with you to talk 1-on-1 sometime before the upcoming meeting. Before you attend your first meeting, we would like to learn more about why this is important to you, bring you up to speed on our campaign so far, and answer any questions you have!
Campaign for NY Health
Metro Justice houses the Rochester Chapter of the Campaign for NY Health (CNYH): a statewide movement for universal healthcare in NYS! Every New Yorker deserves comprehensive health care without expensive premiums, deductibles, and copays. Click here to learn more about the New York Health Act (NYHA).
Over the past month, the Healthcare Committee has been shifting our organizing online! We are planning a workshop to teach participants how to tell their story to engage their audience towards action and activism. We are partnering with the Rochester City-Wide Tenants Union for this group so that we can address the joint issues of housing and healthcare. There is a lot of overlap between those who can’t afford rent and those who can’t afford healthcare, and we know that no one should have to choose between the two. The workshop is scheduled for May 16th at 2PM.
Elder Justice Committee (EJC) is one of our longest existing committees with some of our most dedicated members. Over the years, Elder Justice has gained statewide recognition for their work to ensure that elders live purposeful, self-directed, meaningful, and dignified lives in their homes and communities. A critical focus of this work has been transforming our nursing homes from hospital-like holding institutions into meaningful and nurturing homes where elders can continue to live truly fulfilling lives. A linchpin of this effort is winning the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act.
As of April 23, 2900 of New York State’s 90,000 residents of nursing homes have died of COVID-19. That means 20% of all NYS COVID-19 deaths have been residents of nursing homes.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, EJC pushed for disclosure of COVID-19 infections and death rates in NYS long term care facilities. EJC was concerned that nursing homes were inconsistently reporting COVID-19 cases and deaths, causing much distress to family members who are not allowed to visit loved ones. It has been reported that some family members were not even informed of the death of their loved ones. EJC asserted that disclosing this information is not only in the best interest of nursing home residents and their families, but in the best interest of the public.
That is why EJC joined NYS Assembly Members Gottfried and Ryan, the NYS Long Term Community Care Coalition (LTCCC), Buffalo News, and Democrat & Chronicle in calling on the Cuomo Administration and the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to increase surveillance activities in nursing homes, and to fully disclose the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths for each NYS nursing home. Our efforts led to substantial local news coverage, including this interview on Channel 13 WHAM and this interview on Channel 10 WHEC!
We also achieved a victory! Shortly after the efforts of EJC, LTCCC, and the media, Governor Cuomo issued an order that nursing homes and assisted living facilities regularly communicate the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes to residents and their families, as well as submit that data to the NYSDOH. As a result, NYS now publicly lists the number of COVID-19 deaths for nursing homes in each county. Following Governor Cuomo’s order, nursing homes with difficulties will be investigated by NYSDOH and the Attorney General. However, regular inspections are not occurring.
While EJC sees the public list as a positive step, this list is far from complete. It is based on self-reported data, includes only facilities with five or more deaths, and is not cumulative. Furthermore, while nursing homes are now required to report their specific number of COVID-19 cases to local and state health departments, NYS will not share each nursing home's data publicly.
EJC will continue to call on Governor Cuomo, elected officials, and local and state health departments to release the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in EACH nursing home for the good of the residents and the public. We will also work to increase independent inspections of nursing homes. This is especially important at this time as families are not allowed to visit.
If you want to join the movement to ensure that our elders have the dignified and safe lives they deserve, email [email protected] for information on upcoming activities!
Fundraising & Membership
Our Fundraising & Membership Committee is ploughing ahead with membership recruitment, reaching out to members to remind them to renew their membership, and to check in on how they are doing amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Our membership is strong and realizes the importance of our work during this time as we continue to fight for the very things that could have put all of us in a safer, more stable, and more humane position. We are very excited to be working with our new staff person, Deb McKinzie, who is laser focused on this outreach.
With the need to postpone the Annual Dinner, the committee is brainstorming ways for our community to come together in solidarity virtually while we are distancing. We are also making plans for when we can all be together in person again.
We are moving our New Member Orientation online and will be holding our next one on Saturday, May 30th, at 10 am. To register, please contact Jim Bearden at [email protected]. A Zoom link will be shared with orientation registrants a few days before the event!
Rochester Rapid Response Network (RRRN)
Metro Justice remains a dedicated ally and fiscal sponsor of the Rochester Rapid Response Network. RRRN is an ally group formed to support immigrants facing detention or deportation by engaging in community-based strategic actions and public education guided by their directly-affected immigrant families.
April has been a busy week for Rochester Rapid Response Network (RRRN). Since the onset of COVID-19 and the humanitarian crisis it has caused for detained immigrants at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center, RRRN has shifted our focus to supporting emergency housing efforts that are being coordinated across the region.
RRRN has been working closely with Justice For Migrant Families, an organization that supports detainees' through immigration court and is now also forming support teams for recently released immigrant detainees that need help finding emergency housing. Thus, RRRN has been doing outreach in Rochester to find households that are willing to house released detainees.
RRRN has had a few regional Zoom meetings with our partners across the region who are supporting immigrant communities in their fight against immigrant enforcement. During the Zoom meetings, organizations from Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva, Syracuse, and Ithaca came together to share best practices as rapid response organizations, as well as find better ways to coordinate during immigration emergencies. The focal point, of course, was how to support our immigrant communities during COVID-19. These meetings were fruitful and have led to better coordination and stronger relationships across the region.
In regard to family and court support, RRRN decided to support a woman and her daughter who found themselves in a dangerous living situation. Due to their isolation, need for emergency housing, and immigration status, RRRN located a home for them and fundraised $3,856, which is just $44 dollars shy of our goal. The mother is relieved that the community came together to support her and her daughter. RRRN will be providing ongoing support.
Furthermore, RRRN was supporting a mother and adult son in March, and will continue to do so again in May. Volunteers helped them with transportation and connected them to the few available social services. RRRN has been supporting this family with rides and by connecting them to the few available social services. RRRN also connected the family with the rapid response organization in Geneva and the Rochester Mutual Aid for additional support.
Our immigration court supports are also ongoing. We are supporting two individuals who have court dates in the months to come. Court support will be organized at the request of those individuals. In total, we have been supporting four separate cases and will continue to do so to the best of our ability.
Lastly, RRRN gained a new steering committee member, as well as a English-Spanish speaking “Operator” for our emergency response system! We are also growing in volunteers: one new volunteer became involved in our family and court support work, and two other volunteers joined our financial development work to help us locate and apply for grants. We are currently looking for someone to join our steering committee to oversee our financial development, and have advertised this need.
RRRN has several working groups that meet between general meetings; these working groups anchor critical work including immigrant family court support, communications & media, campaign planning & strategy, and membership recruitment & development. To learn more or join a working group, email RRRN at [email protected]!
My name is Alice Carli, and I still remember seeing a flier posted somewhere, back in November of 2016, about a meeting at Metro Justice in support of a bill to enact universal, single-payer health care. In my youth I had considered medicine as a career. I ended up going (taking the career in sequence) into music, community organizing, music, musicology and library conservation – where I remain to this day, at Sibley Music Library at the Eastman School. But I have always had an interest in medicine, and a desire to help find ways to divorce it from profit. So I found my way to the Metro Justice office, and found that 40 others had done the same (this was November of 2016, remember).
All that I have learned since about the New York Health Act and the people working to bring it about has impressed me more deeply as time has passed. Not that it is an easy nut to crack! There is far too much of that profit washing around Albany. I must admit that, optimist as I ever am, I am now hopeful that the enormous challenges to the health care system brought about by the new pandemic, coupled with new understanding of the deep inequity of the system, will bring universal, single payer health care -- planned and distributed transparently and watched over hawk-like by citizen activists -- into focus as an idea whose time has come.
A month ago, the main barrier to enactment (well, besides money in politics) was comfort in the status quo. Well, that’s certainly behind us now! This month, by Zoom and phone conference, the health care committee has been working on ways to organize while keeping physical distance. It would appear that we have a window of Twitter opportunity, before the legislators get blasé to notifications ringing off their screens. We are creating a new training program to help interested people learn to tell their health care stories in selfies, and tweet them, and retweet them to high amplification! We must also continue calls and letters to our legislators. Let me know if you need to know who your legislators are! 2021 is the year to bring single payer to New York.
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Metro Justice is a grassroots community organization, driven by our members. Much of this work would not be possible without the contributions of both time and money by the hundreds of members who work hard everyday fighting for racial, social, and economic justice. The contributions of our members are what allow us to forgo big grant funding so that we can be solely accountable to our community instead of large foundations.
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Wishing you, your friends, and loved ones health, safety, and support.