May was packed with bold and meaningful actions by Metro Justice members in each of our campaigns! As we continue to find ways to support Black Lives Matter organizing directly against policy brutality, we also realize that many of our existing campaigns are also Black Lives Matter issues. Read on to learn more about how Metro Justice will support Black Lives Matter organizing locally, and how many of our campaigns and committees fought back against the disproportionate impact of injustice on people of color.
Black Lives Matter Protests
(Photo by Annette Dragon)
Numerous Metro Justice members poured into the streets to join the several Black Lives Matter protests this past month, including the first one on May 30th. In the following weeks, Metro Justice's Executive Council issued the following statement:
In response to the horrifying murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department, communities like ours across the country and around the world have gathered to raise our voices in outrage, mourning, and defiance. Meanwhile, Trump has called for an illegal military crackdown on protesters and shouted racist slogans to divide our communities and embolden the forces of white supremacist terrorism. Metro Justice members are angry, though hardly surprised. Racist politicians covering for police violence have been a feature of the black freedom struggle since long before Bull Connor and George Wallace.
We are inspired by the global and multiracial uprising against racist police violence. By standing together for systemic changes to policing, people around the world have made it impossible to simply maintain the status quo. We are excited to contribute to a vision for real community safety, restorative justice, and alternatives to policing that allow black and brown communities to prosper.
In dozens of cities across the country, including here in Rochester, peaceful community demonstrations have been met with escalations of police violence designed to intimidate us back into silence and complacency. It didn’t work. Many cities had riots. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
Metro Justice supports the demands to dismantle the incarceration state put forward by the organizers of the May 30th Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, including:
- Divest from police and invest in our communities. Investment in community-building resources, not police and prison, are what create safety.
- Remove police from Rochester City Schools. The Rochester City School District must sever ties with the Rochester Police Department.
- End mass incarceration. Support community-based alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice.
- Return any and all contributions from law enforcement Political Action Committees. Elected officials and candidates should donate all money from police lobbyists to local bail funds.
We also join calls from communities across New York State to repeal NYS Civil Rights Law 50-A, which effectively shields police from the consequences of their records. Finally, we echo the need for a full and unfettered Police Accountability Board, as recently approved by 73% of Rochester voters - a sweeping popular mandate.
In addition to advancing demands that directly address policing, we also believe the structural epidemic of police violence against black and brown communities is rooted in systems that go beyond policing itself. The police exist to carry out the laws of our society and, since its founding, the United States has been a white supremacist nation with laws that exist to protect wealth and power for a small and primarily white, heteronormative, male, business and property-owning elite. Immense power and wealth for a few always requires the exploitation, oppression, and complacency of the many.
In addition to divestment from policing and prisons, we also need to change the rules of our society as a whole. We need to create a system that actually values people’s lives. This means:
- Higher wages, comprehensive benefits for all workers, and the right to unionize
- Free universal health care
- Equitable funding for public schools
- Housing as a human right
- Democratic community ownership of energy utilities
The leadership of Metro Justice remains committed to supporting the demands of BLM groups to divest from policing and invest in our communities. We’re working on and look forward to hosting a webinar with guests from alternatives to policing groups across the country. We hope that sharing their experiences can strengthen and inform local movements in Rochester. As a part of investing in our communities, we will also keep fighting for universal health care, workers’ power, and public utilities while keeping our focus on the disproportionate impact all of these issues have on the lives of people of color.
Yours in Solidarity,
Evelyn Evans, President
Robert Hoggard, Vice President
Marcus Dunn, Treasurer
Crescenzo Scipione, Secretary
Popular Education & White Supremacy
The Popular Education Committee began in April 2020 and is currently working on putting together a workshop analyzing White Supremacy. The goal of the workshop is to help participants go deeper into the structures that divide our society and oppress millions of people, with the hopes of learning how to organize around dismantling the system and providing justice and equity for all people.
We have assembled a passionate, knowledgeable committee who is currently working on designing the workshop, which is based on materials compiled into a reader developed by members and volunteers at Metro Justice. We are working to include the thoughts and opinions of our fellow community members throughout this process and are currently working on outreach.
We will need volunteers to help facilitate the workshop pilot. If you are interested in being part of this initiative, please reach out to Nicole White at [email protected].
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).
On May 20th, Rochester for NY Health joined over 500 people for a virtual rally to send a clear message: It is past time for universal, guaranteed healthcare! Specifically, frontline healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, seniors, small businesses, legislators, and patients demanded that passage of the NY Health Act be a central part of a just recovery from COVID-19 in New York. Joining them were over 125 organizations, including Metro Justice, that signed on to a joint letter.
While people lose their health insurance due to job loss, and healthcare workers don't have PPE, insurance companies are making record profits. We need healthcare for people, not profit!
You can amplify the message by contacting your elected officials.Click here for a simple toolthat will let you easily email and tweet at Governor Cuomo, and your representatives in the Assembly and Senate.
Locally, Rochester for NY Health has began organizing in solidarity with the Rochester Citywide Tenants Union. On May 16th, we held a joint workshop to teach participants how to tell their story to engage their audience towards action and activism. With a looming eviction crisis if NYS does not enact comprehensive rent relief due to COVID-19, the workshop focused on the connected issues of housing and health care. 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.
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.
As we continue the Statewide Utilities Ratepayer Strike for immediate relief, the need for public utilities run by the people, for the people is more evident than ever. Over the course of May, RED accomplished the following key steps towards our goal of replacing RG&E with a public utility and creating community-owned energy generation:
- By writing and signing onto a "Letter of Intent," we formalized a partnership with the Plymouth-Exchange (PL-EX) Neighborhood Association to build a community-owned and operated solar farm in the PL-EX neighborhood for PL-EX residents. We can now move forward with securing the financing, construction partners that will hire union electricians with IBEW 86, and permits to be able to build the array.
- With advice from the Public Utilities Law Project and Alliance for a Green Economy, we built a list of potential firms and universities that we could partner with to commission a feasibility study for taking over RG&E and replacing it with a local, public, democratically operated utility.
- We released the first episode of our new podcast, the Rochester Public Power Hour! You can listen to it by clicking here! Episode 2 will be released late June, and will feature an interview with Michelle Wenderlich who was deeply involved in a movement for a public utility in Berlin, Germany.
Do you want to join us in halting the climate crisis and making energy a human right? Sign our petition here! We have received a lot of new sign-ups this past month, so stay tuned for an invitation to an orientation in July for new folks that want to get involved!
COVID-19 Statewide Utilities Ratepayer Strike
While we continue our efforts to halt the climate crisis and address injustice in energy access in the long term, experiences like Jazmine's are why the demands of our COVID-19 Statewide Utilities Bill Strike are more urgent than ever. Last week, Metro Justice learned that RG&E is still sending people shut off notices for nonpayment, even though there is a ban on shut offs for nonpayment until September. If you have received a shut off notice, please contact our Lead Organizer, Mohini Sharma ([email protected], 585-397-3534) immediately, and Mohini will follow up with you within a few days.
Such predatory behavior from private utilities is one of the several reasons that Metro Justice has been organizing a statewide utilities ratepayer strike with the Public Power NY Coalition. After nearly a month of preparation, the coalition held a press conference to officially launch the strike! Residents across New York State shared their story for why Governor Cuomo must cancel utility bills during the COVID-19 emergency, forgive debt for unpaid bills since the beginning of the emergency, 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.
Speakers from Rochester included Barbara Rivera, a tenant organizer on rent and utilities strike with the Rochester Citywide Tenants Union; and Natalie Johnson, a patient secretary at Strong Memorial Hospital and delegate to her union, 1199 SEIU. Metro Justice's Lead Organizer, Mohini Sharma, emceed the press conference.
Barbara highlighted the difficult choices too many people have to make right now: "As a tenant, I cannot afford [utilities] separately because I work part-time and I live on a fixed income. I also have to think about food, clothes and making sure my two kids have things to keep them entertained while on lock down. Either I pay my rent and utilities or put groceries in my fridge or my phone bill won't be paid this month and that's hard to do when you know you need to make these kinds of choices just to make sure your family is still able to remain in safe and stable housing...We cannot expect tenants to pay back rent or utilities when we’ve had no control over losing our jobs to begin with. Evictions will rise and our already existing over-populated homeless community is going to become an even bigger issue than it has been. If we don't cancel rent and utilities now, our communities that have barely been able to hold on to their housing are going to be evicted and have to start all over again when Cuomo ends the state of emergency."
Natalie emphasized the injustice of corporations getting bailouts while families were neglected: "The government is doing what they can to bail out businesses who are on the brink of collapse or those that have collapsed, but what about us and our families. Who will be sheltering us and our families in this time of need? Together we must keep fighting and never give up. WE RISE."
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.
Labor Solidarity: Car Caravan for 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers
On May 14th, Metro Justice joined a car caravan organized by 1199 SEIU for its union members working in nursing homes. These healthcare workers are on the frontlines of dealing with some of the most challenging situations created by COVID-19. They are doing so without hazard pay nor adequate PPE. By joining the car caravan, we showed these workers that we have their back by drawing attention to those facilities who have refused to give their workers hazard pay!
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.
The Elder Justice Committee sent a letter to the NYS Legislature’s Health Committee Chairs demanding a Legislative ACTION Plan that addresses both COVID-related concerns and the long-term systemic concerns that COVID has brought to light. This letter was followed by a press conference in Highland Park overlooking St. John’s nursing home where 18 resident have died from the virus. Sections of the conference were aired on Channel 10, 13 and Spectrum News.
Furthermore, the Democrat and Chronicle published an opinion column written by Elder Justice Committee members Ken Traub, Marydel Wypych, and Jeannie Wells; you can read the full text below!
"COVID-19 pandemic a chance for change
Ken Traub, MaryDel Wypych and Jeannie Wells
Special to Rochester Democrat and Chronicle USA TODAY NETWORK
About 5,400 New York nursing home residents have died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
These deaths are a result of longstanding issues of inattention and inaction by federal and state government causing nursing homes to be ill prepared for the challenges of COVID-19.
Health and safety. Millions of serious infections occur in nursing homes each year. Forty percent of nursing homes have chronic health and safety deficiencies. Fewer than half of these result in no or meaningless fines by the Health Department, even for severe and repeated violations. Many homes have no or inadequate infection control plans.
Staffing. Before COVID-19, many NYS nursing homes had inadequate staffing. New York state and the federal government do not regulate staffing levels. Residents have physical and medical needs requiring many hours of direct care each day, while only 8 percent of New York state nursing homes meet federal staffing guidelines of 4.1 direct care hours/day.
Nursing homes are only cited for insufficient staffing if the level “places the residents at serious risk.” Nursing homes and their lobbyists have long opposed any staffing regulations, placing profits over people.
Nursing and direct care staff care about their
residents and do the best they can even when they have to care for 10-15 residents each. They are underpaid and often have no benefits. Many need to work at more than one facility or provide at home care to subsidize their meager salaries. Strong leadership, motivation, communication, and training is often missing for safe and quality care.
Inaction. New York State had a chance to address these problems during the 2018-2019 Legislative session by passing the 'Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act' to require all nursing homes to meet federal guidelines for minimum staffing levels. Nurses, patients, and advocacy groups like the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice supported this bill through rallies, petitions, community forums, public hearings, and meetings with legislators.
Rather than “introduce legislation allowing the Department of Health to set safe staffing levels by regulation…” as he pledged in 2018, Gov. Cuomo, in January 2019, directed the Health Department to conduct a cost study to be completed by January 2020. It has still not been released!
Change. Government officials need to do a much better job enforcing nursing home regulations and ensuring that resident safety, quality of care and their very lives are protected. Without these changes, the next wave of this or another pandemic will be just as deadly for these most vulnerable citizens.
Ken Traub, MaryDel Wypych and Jeannie Wells are members of the Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice"
If you want to join the movement to ensure that our elders have the dignified and safe lives they deserve, email elder[email protected] for information on upcoming activities!
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.
RRRN has had a relatively quiet month. Most notably, RRRN started a fundraiser for an elderly woman, and her adult son, both of whom are undocumented. The family needed community support to help provide material needs and housing over the next four months while the family comes up with a plan to meet their needs. To this date, RRRN has raised $4,535 for the family, just short of the $5,120 goal.
Additionally, RRRN continues to support an undocumented mother and her young daughter with housing support. RRRN raised $3,856 of our goal of raising $3,900 for the family last month for material support. We remain in contact with the three other cases we support, remain mindful of future support needed. This past month there has been no need for court support, or material support for these other cases.
RRRN also opened up a bank account at the Genesee Co-Op Federal Credit Union. This will allow our organization smoother flow of funds, and point of access to facilitate re-imbursements of volunteers etc. RRRN is still looking for a willing volunteer to fill our "Financial Development" position on the steering committee. Responsibilities include overseeing fundraising, grant writing, and facilitating movement of funds.
RRRN is planning an online "Emergency Response" training in the near future to train members of our community on how to respond to law enforcement aggression against our undocumented community. Details to come.
In addition, RRRN has a few volunteers working on identifying and completing various grants. Currently, volunteers are working on one specific grant, which we are hoping can fund our efforts to strengthen an emergency housing network here in Rochester for released detainees from the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.
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. RRRN is in particular need of someone to fill the role of Treasurer on their Steering Committee. To learn more or join a working group, email RRRN at [email protected]!
My name Is Tracey Harrison and I am the Vice-President for 1199SEIU United HealthCare Workers East (UHWE) covering the Rochester and Corning Division. We represent over 4200 members in this region and across the healthcare spectrum.
I have been involved in the social justice movement for over 25 years. I am a proud member of Metro Justice. I was initially drawn to this organization because of its ability to focus on relevant issues with a very keen sense of social and economic justice. Metro Justice has also been fully engaged in the COVID-19 crisis and the racial barriers that has plagued our communities.
I believe we are at a pivotal point in history as it relates to police brutality and the issue of systemic and systematic racial inequality. We have several crises occurring simultaneously and it has created some real challenges.
We have COVID-19- Which is a crisis that has impacted many lives from the initial exposure and the number of deaths, economic instability, lack of access to proper care, and the social and mental dynamics. Yes, this has had an impact on hundreds and thousands of people across the country, but it has impacted people of color at such a disproportionate rate.
We have a wage disparity crisis- Race-based economic inequality is both a defining and persistent feature of the United States. When we look at the overall distribution of wealth across the country people of color experience the highest level of disparities. The massive economic gap and the impact this has had on communities of color across the country has been devastating.
We have a major racial discrimination element built into police brutality that has been at a crisis level for generations - Statistics show that on average, over 1,000 people will die a year due to police brutality, mainly black men. While the recent murder of George Floyd is horrific, black people have been dying at the hands of the police for a long time.
In short, I think that we have an opportunity as a community and as a country to make real and effective change that can reset the table for justice and equality on every level. It is a wonderful thing to see the young and diverse folks across the country and other countries standing up for what’s right. I am sure Metro Justice will continue to be at the forefront of this fight. This makes me very hopeful for the future.
Peace and Solidarity!
Build With Us!
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.