Metro Justice has accomplished so much in the first half of 2021! Read on for a review of our year so far.
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 a referendum to replace RG&E with a not-for-profit, cooperative municipal utility with an elected board, a green energy mandate, concrete commitments to a just transition for energy workers, and ability to provide affordable energy for residents.
RED has organized and participated in three major events this year. Our first was the Energy Democracy 101 in January, which was our first campaign teach-in open to the general Rochester public. RED Members Amanda Richardson, Lauren Wiener, Alberto Martinez, and Sierra Mendes presented to over 80 participants! The teach-in introduced our campaign; the injustices of our current energy system; the benefits of a public utility for affordability, local union jobs, and addressing the climate crisis; how we win; and how you could get involved to win the utility we deserve. We closed with an audience Q&A. The event led to new volunteers joining the RED Committe and new relationships with local community organizations which we have been engaged with ever since.
As a member of the NY Energy Democracy Alliance, Metro Justice also particpated in the Utility Justice Film Festival. The online event engaged organizations from across the state on how for-profit, investor-owned-utilities are harming New Yorkers and what we can do to fight back. It featured video testimonials from people negatively impacted by utilities during the pandemic -- including RED Members Alberto Martinez and Sierra Mendes -- live feeds from organizations committed to energy justice, and small group discussions.
We also hosted our first ever Statewide Public Power 101 Orientation as a member of the Public Power NY Coalition! With the Public Power NY Coalition, Metro Justice can bring our vision for public power and energy democracy beyond Rochester and to all of New York State. Together with organizations across New York, we are fighting to pass two public power bills that will bring energy generation, transmission, and all investor-owned distribution utilities under public control. These two bills are the NY Build Public Renewables Act (NYBPRA) and the NY Utility Democracy Act (NYUDA). During this orientation, participants learned how investor-owned-utilities and other for-profit energy corporations are the problem, why public power is the solution, the details of our two public power bills. This was the first event Metro Justice helped host that focused on our statewide efforts. One of the presenters was RED's very own Emily Ghosh!
Because of our events and one-on-one follow ups, RED has grown to a committee of 34 volunteers that engage in various aspects of our work. We are also proud to announce that the community coalition around RED has grown as well! Through targeted teach-ins and relational organzing conversations, we are excited to announce that the following organizations have officially endorsed the RED Campaign: VOCAL-NY, Citywide Tenants Union of Rochester, Rochester City Roots Community Land Trust, Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, and Connected Communities. Led by our RED Co-Chair and Basebuilding Chair, Amanda Richardson, we will continue to work with these organizations to deepen their support along defined tiers of engagement.
We are also in the process of reaching out to Alianza Agricola, Refugees Helping Refugees, Rural Migrant Ministries, various neighborhood associations, and solidarity networks for Indigenous Nations.
In terms of building solidarity with labor and receiving their input on worker justice provisions, we have connected with 1199 SEIU, Workers United, and CSEA Western Region. We also presented to the Rochester Labor Council and plan to continue attending their meetings to better stay in the loop on how we can show up for labor and continue engagement on RED. Lastly, we are pursuing meetings with the local AFCSME, Federation of Social Workers, and Building Trades unions.
Progress towards a public utility:
The first major step towards establishing a public utility is commissioning a feasibility study. Last year, we set a goal to have the feasibility study in progress by the end of this year so that we could begin planning the referendum in 2022. In the last six months, we have vetted a short list of firms to do the feasibility study based on a list provided by the American Public Power Association and began meeting with Rochester City Council.
From our initial meetings, we received the great news that as long as we build the public support for RED, City Council will be able to fund a feasibility study! Knowing that funding will not be an issue has resolved one of the most substantial obstacles to commissioning a feasbility study, bringing us one step closer to a referendum that can replace RG&E with a public utility by and for the people.
Statewide coalition involvement:
Our primary statewide work has been with the Public Power NY Coalition to push for the Build Public Renewables Act, which involved various mobilization efforts around local legislators. In addition to the events and work we did with the Energy Democracy Alliance and Public Power NY Coalition, Metro Justice also joined two more coalitions. We re-joined NY Renews for their efforts to pass the Climate & Community Investment Act, and joined the Public Banking Coalition. Both coalitions have missions and goals that create money for projects that fulfill the needs of our residents, including public utilities and more community owned renewable energy projects. Our involvement in NY Renews also yielded a grant in support of our RED Campaign! Huge congratulations to RED Co-chairs Rio Hartwell and Amanda Richardson for their leadership in submitting and receiving that grant for this critcal work at Metro Justice!
RED is bringing back neighborhood canvassing! Stay tuned for an announcement of a canvas to build our movement in July. We are also planning a campaign launch march for September. Our last campaign launch march was planned for Earth Day in April 2020 and was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As more people receive vaccines, infection rates decline, and CDC guidelines loosen, we are looking forward to picking up where we left off for in-person organzing as safely as possible!
If you want to join us in halting the climate crisis and making energy a human right, sign up here and we will follow up with you!
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).
Events and actions has been one of two major areas of work for our Rochester for NY Health Committee in the last six months! We kicked off the year with a press conference in March to announce a unanimous letter of support for the New York Health Act from Rochester City Council. Almost 40 people attended the press conference, which was Co-EMCEE'd by Rochester for NY Health members Alice Carli and Hannah Jackel-Dewhurst! Speakers included NY Assemblymember Demond Meeks, City Councilperson Mitch Gruber, Javannah Davis from Trillium Health to speak to healthcare needs of LGBTQ+ folks of color, Barbara Rivera from Rochester Citywide Tenants Union, Shani Wilson as a Physician’s Assistant in mental health with too many opportunities to see racism in medicine, and Reverend Myra Brown.
In April, we partnered with the Rochester Citywide Tenants Union and Center for Community Alternatives to launch the Compassionate NY legislative package with a rally outside the Rochester Hall of Justice. Compassionate NY pushed for a comprehensive just COVID recovery by pushing for bills that addressed housing, healthcare, and decarceration. These bills were:
1. Right to Renew our Tenancy (Good Cause Eviction Protections)
2. Guarantee healthcare for every New Yorker (New York Health Act)
3. Mass Decarceration (Justice Roadmap 2021)
Lastly, we are proud to say we closed the 2020-2021 Legislative Session with a statewide action in Albany on June 7. Almost 300 people, including a bus from Western NY lead by Metro Justice, blocked major intersections in Albany. About 30 people also participated in a die-in in front of the NYS Capitol Building. Through Metro Justice's Lead Organizer, Mohini Sharma, Metro Justice was heavily involved in the statewide planning and execution of the day of action. After gaining majority cosponsorship in both the NYS Assembly and Senate, the NYHA was still not brought to a vote. Albany Democrats showed us that they ultimately lacked the courage to stand up to corporate and business interests so that all New Yorkers could have comprehensive healthcare after a devastating pandemic. June 7 was the beginning of an escalation of tactics to show Albany that we will do whatever it taktes to win the New York Health Act in 2022.
The action was extensively covered by the press; you can view a full list of articles here!
Our Rochester for NY Health Committee has grown to 32 members! We're also excited to announce that we elected a new Steering Committee! Warmest congratulations to:
- Alice Carli, Co-Chair
- Hannah Jackek-Dewhurst, Co-Chair
- Rosie Quinn, Secretary
- Claire Mattson, Basebuilding & Coalition Chair
- Brendan Whitelaw, Legislative & Lobbying Chair
- Arseniy Gutnik, Union Solidarity Chair
We also said goodbye to long-time leader and former Chair, Mahima Iyengar. Mahima had been involved with Rochester for NY Health for 6 years, was integral to developing new leadership in our committee, served on Metro Justice Council, and was an overall invaluable member of our fight for universal healthcare. We extend a heartfelt congratulations to Mahima for graduating medical school at University of Rochester, and wish her all the best for her residency in Los Angeles. We will miss you!
In addition to growing as a committee, we are also strengthening our coalition. We have identified key unions to build with locally, and have also begun gaining the support of small businesses for the New York Health Act so that all workers have guaranteed comprehensive healthcare.
Progress in the Legislature:
After countless hours of strategizing, preparation, meetings, and public actions, we secured the cosponsorship of the NY Health Act from the entire Democratic Delegation!
For the rest of the summer, both Rochester for NY Health the statewide Campaign for NY Health will focus on structured debrief and reflection with the aim of building a new strategic plan for September 2021 - June 2022 by the end of August. Key pillars of our strategy will be targeted basebuilding, coalition growth, and an escalation of public pressure tactics.
To learn more or join the movement, please sign-up by clicking here and someone from our team will be in touch!
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.
Through diligent efforts to mobilize phonecalls to legislators, press events, and lobbying, Elder Justice won the Safe Staffing Act! Congratulations on this incredible victory. From Elder Justice Co-Chairs Ken Traub and Marydel Wypych:
“FINALLY - Nursing Homes in New York State will have to provide MINIMUM Direct Care Staffing Levels
Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice announces and reacts to Governor Cuomo signing on June 18, 2021 A7119/S6346 which directs New York State Nursing Homes to provide a minimum level of direct care staffing.
Advocates, including Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice and New York State Legislators have worked for many years to enact a law which regulates direct care staffing levels in New York State's nursing homes.
Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice is gratified that this law is FINALLY Signed.
Staffing levels affect infection control procedures, health and safety, and quality of life for nursing home residents.
This law, which makes nursing homes provide a minimum of 3.5 hours of direct care nursing staff (RN/LPN/CNA) per resident - per day, will bring the worst staffed nursing homes up to a tolerable level. Still, it does not mandate the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended level of 4.1 hours of nursing hours per resident per day.
Currently both the federal government and New York State states “Nursing homes are required to have sufficient nursing staff with the appropriate competencies to assure resident safety and attain or maintain the highest practicable level of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of each resident. However what is “sufficient” has been left to the nursing home owner or administration which results in staffing hours ranging from 2-6 hours per resident per day with for-profit and lowest quality homes having fewer nursing staff than higher quality homes.
We want to thank Assembly Member Aileen Gunther and Senator Gustavo Rivera for sponsoring the bills and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Health Committee Chair for his work on behalf of nursing home residents.
Over 20 years of research has shown the importance of staffing levels on the care and wellbeing of nursing home residents.
Still it took COVID 19 to shed a light on the long-term problems, including poor staffing levels, which affected the care received by vulnerable New York State nursing home residents, The COVID 19 deaths of 15,000 residents caused the public and our legislators take notice and make nursing home reform a reality.
Finally, we want to thank the media for keeping this issues in the forefront. Your reporting has help immensely.”
For many years, the Elder Justice Committee has been advocating for elders to live purposeful, self-directed, meaningful, and dignified lives in their homes and communities, including adult residential facilities. We welcome new members to join us in our advocacy efforts. Contact us at [email protected].
Return of the Metro Justice Communications Committee
Thanks to the leadership of Clara Weinstein in our Rochester for Energy Democracy Committee, Metro Justice has reinvigorated a Communications Committee! Clara did amazing work creating graphics to communicate RED's mission to the general public through social media, greatly increasing our reach. A training given by Clara to both our RED and Rochester for NY Health Committees led to the creation of a new Communciations Committee at Metro Justice that will better utilize our email, social media, and YouTube channel to create multimedia content to advance the goals of our campaigns, highlight our members, and deepen political dialogue and analysis in our community.
I'm Sierra Mendes and I had heard of Metro Justice and their influence in the Rochester community before becoming a member-volunteer myself. The values of the organization greatly aligned with my own, and I was attracted to being with like-minded people and discussing ideas that revolved around justice and community betterment.
What I didn't expect upon my membership was the abundance of opportunities available for me to exercise my own strengths- and develop new ones- working with real people in our community to affect the change I wanted to see. This group is organized and action-oriented, and I appreciate the chance to be a driver for change with a team as dedicated to making things happen as I am.
Hope you have enjoyed seeing everything Metro Justice has accomplished this year! Looking forward to continuing the fight for racial, social, and economic justice with you.