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NF Legislative Roundup: Week of Mar. 1, 2021

The week is just about over! Welcome to this week’s Neighborhood FORWARD Legislative Roundup, wherein we highlight legislation from across the country that’s relevant to the fight for social justice. Check it out!

Arizona

  • SB1485
    • Why we’re watching: Lawmakers from Portland to Raleigh are debating bills that will infringe upon our rights to vote, and this is one of the most sinister. SB1485 is Arizona Republicans’ second swing at removing voters from early voting lists. This proposal is an assault on democratic participation, especially against people of color.

Connecticut

  • SB842
    • Why we’re watching: The pandemic has made it clear that healthcare inequality is real – and dangerous. Gov. Ned Lamont’s SB842 will help address these problems by capping prescription drug prices and regulating insurance carriers. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Black and Brown people, which this bill recognizes.

Maryland

  • SB0052
    • Why we’re watching: Structural racism should be front of mind for any legislation addressing health inequality. But in Maryland’s SB0052, all references to racism were removed per Republican request. This willful ignorance of history waters down the legislation by refusing to recognize the context of such inequality.

Oregon

  • HB3351
    • Why we’re watching: As federally elected Democrats stall on their $15 minimum wage proposal, Oregon is taking matters into its own hands. HB3351 will raise the state’s minimum wage from $11.50 in some areas to $17 in phases. Such action will minimize the racial wealth gap and help low-income workers.

Washington

  • HB1054
    • Why we’re watching: Washington’s HB1054 just passed the House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate. It limits police use of tear gas, chokeholds, and other militant tactics against constituents. This bill will bolster trust between law enforcement and marginalized communities across Washington.

 

What do you think of the bills in this week’s roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood! 

Those Who Govern Us Should Look Like Us

Representation in politics often looks the same — a white man trying to tell the story of racism or women’s rights. A white representative trying to speak for people of color, who have lived through things that the white politician will never have to experience… how is that accurate representation?

While white men still make up the majority of elected officials in America, diversity in politics is improving. Representation is expanding in the U.S. House of Representatives faster than the Senate, but both chambers are still predominantly white. The U.S. Census estimates that 60.4% of Americans identify as white only, while 79% of Congress is white.

One of the first highly visible expansions of representation in government was Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Appointed to the highest court of the land in 1968, Justice Marshall became the voice for minority communities in court rulings. Not only did he uphold individual rights, expand civil rights, and limit the scope of criminal punishment, but he also showed young Black men that sitting on the nation’s highest court is a possibility for them. Opening doors through court rulings and as a political figure, Justice Marshall was only the beginning of a long path toward diversity in government.

thurgood-marshall

Shirley Chisholm, the first Black congresswoman, led the way in the 1960s. A voice for the community that needed it the most, Chisholm fought for the civil rights of Black women in America. Chisholm worked to keep minority communities safe and led the way for them to grow and thrive. She would eventually become the second woman to ever be a part of the House Rules Committee. An inspiration to all women, but especially Black women, Chisholm led the charge for more representation.

 

Shirley-Chisholm

Honoring the legacy of these trailblazers, the 2020 election cycle showed a continued expansion of diverse candidates running and, more importantly, winning.

The major ticket, the Democratic Presidential ticket, included Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee was huge for representation, shattering the glass ceiling by becoming the first Black, South Asian woman to hold the second-highest office in the United States at her inauguration on January 20, 2021.

kamala-harris

Vice President Harris has been open about the racism she has faced in her own life. In the first Democratic presidential debate, Harris talked about how as a young girl, her class was only the second to be integrated into her public school system. Harris had to ride the bus each day to get to a school that should have integrated 20 years earlier. A child of immigrants, Harris represents so many people in America that feel they are not seen or heard. These communities can finally see someone who looks like them and who has been through similar experiences and struggles.

A group of progressive House representatives, also known as The Squad, are another great example of broader representation. The Squad consists of of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, who not only fight for the rights of minority communities, but belong to them. The Squad has given hope to women and people of color all over the country.

The-squad-aoc

Mauree Turner also ran for office and won, becoming the first Muslim lawmaker out of Oklahoma. Along with representing the Muslim community, Turner also identifies as queer, making her election a big step forward for the LGBTQIA+ community as well.

mauree-turner

Another consequential win for LGBTQIA+ representation was the victory of Sarah McBride, the first-ever transgender person to be elected state senator in America. McBride has become a role model for trans people everywhere, showing them that their voice matters and they deserve

representation.

sarah-mcbride

Representation matters. To be seen and heard matters. Minority communities deserve representation and political figures that look like us. Children should see people who look like them represent them in office. The strides in diversity made during the 2020 election gives us hope that more voices of minority communities will be heard by our leaders.

NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF FEB. 22, 2021

TGIF, neighbors! Welcome to this week’s Neighborhood FORWARD Legislative Roundup. Which bills caught our eye this week? Keep reading to find out!

Connecticut

  • SB 888
    • Why we’re watching: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont introduced SB 888, his plan to legalize recreational cannabis, earlier this month, and the bill was slated to have its first committee hearing today. While there are valid critiques of the legislation, we can all agree that many aspects of the bill, such as automatic expungement of possession convictions prior to October 1, 2015, are huge victories in the fight for equity and justice. 

Illinois

  • HB3653
    • Why we’re watching: The week kicked off with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signing into law a robust criminal justice reform package. Perhaps most notably, House Bill 3653 will make Illinois the first state to eliminate cash bail. The legislation also requires police officers statewide to wear body cameras, creates a statewide database for logging police misconduct, and more. Bravo, Illinois!

Missouri

  • SB 26
    • Why we’re watching: While Democratic legislators were able to negotiate to scale back the charges for certain protest-related offenses, this bill still penalizes nonviolent protesters for exercising their First Amendment rights. It also establishes a “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights,” portions of which local law enforcement leaders oppose, warning it could jeopardize investigations into officer misconduct. SB 26 now moves to the House for approval. We encourage all Missourians to contact their legislators and warn them of the dangers of this bill. Find your Representative here.

Minnesota

  • SAFE Act
    • Why we’re watching: Late last week, the Minnesota House killed Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal for emergency funding during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd. Opposition is coming from all sides; Republicans will not fall in line behind proposed police accountability measures, and progressives refuse to pass a watered-down version. With under two weeks until the trial, all eyes will be on the legislature as they try to negotiate a deal everyone can live with.

Oregon

  • HB3164
    • Why we’re watching: This bill, proposed Wednesday by House Speaker Tina Kotek, would prohibit officers from arresting people for interfering with police if they are passively resisting. Speaker Kotek says that police have been abusing interference charges during protests. The bill actually brings the law in line with a 2017 Oregon Supreme Court ruling, which found that people could not be charged for interfering with police just for refusing to move when asked. For that reason, many law enforcement agencies are supporting the proposed legislation. It’s not every day that we get to meet in the middle… we’ll take it!

What do you think of the bills in this week’s roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood! 

Serena Williams and the Racism Faced by Black Athletes in America

Sports and politics often intertwine themselves in American history. Jesse Owens defied Adolf Hitler at the Olympics, Muhammad Ali tossed a gold medal in the Ohio River, and Jackie Robinson played baseball amid racist death threats. These moments were all expressions of the fight for equality.

Now, decades removed from those events, the coexistence of sports and politics has returned to the national zeitgeist.

Professional athletes now clamor for social justice: Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem, Lebron James organized against voter suppression, and throughout her all-time great career, Serena Williams has defied the racist history of tennis.

Williams’ historic on-court success hasn’t prevented her from joining the fight for equality. From penning essays against systemic racism to pointing out double standards within tennis, she has given other professionals an example of how to use their voice for good. And as a result, she’s been met with racist vitriol in the media and sports industries.

serena-willams

Williams has been drawn in racist caricature and been subjected to a disproportionate number of drug tests. Additionally, she has dominated a sport with a pronounced history of patriarchy and racism.

Her career, and the careers of hundreds of others, highlight the dissonance between allyship and sports fandom. The “shut up and dribble” crowd will reject any political expression from athletes of color. For decades now, white America has gone from rooting for Black athletes on Sundays to crossing the street to avoid them on Mondays.

The George Floyd protests in 2020 brought these conflicts to the limelight once more. The NBA let athletes swap names on jerseys for social justice slogans while Big 12 Conference athletes implored fans to “cheer for us beyond [the field].”

It’s a good thing that these issues have come to the forefront of conversation among sports fans. Progress can only happen once we all recognize our privilege and listen to the experiences of people of color, including our sports heroes.

Until peaceful protest by athletes is met with unanimous approval, sports will continue to be a vessel for social change in America. Athletes possess a huge soapbox to stand on. They should feel comfortable using their platform for good and speaking out against injustice. If they lose some “fans,” who cares? If fighting for equality causes spectators to abandon their favorite teams, they were never fans to begin with.

NF Legislative Roundup: Week of Feb. 15, 2021

It’s that time again! Welcome to Neighborhood FORWARD’s weekly Legislative Roundup, where we flag bills of note in state legislatures across the country. This week, Arizona targets our fundamental rights, Maryland aims for a redemption arc, and more. Check out our highlights below!

ARIZONA

  • HB2309
    • Why we’re watching: HB2309 is just one of a slew of bills targeting people for exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful protest. HB2309’s broad language means that even if someone did not commit an act of violence or property damage, they can be charged with a felony just for participating in a protest. This bill and others like it are a thinly-veiled jab at the Black Lives Matter movement. Clearly the folks in power are worried by our mass mobilization last summer, so we must be doing something right.
  • SB1713
    • Why we’re watching: Oh, Arizona… you’re catching our eye for all the wrong reasons. The legislature is trying to push through multiple voter suppression bills, including SB1713, which would require Arizonans to submit photocopies of certain documents in order to vote by mail. Considering Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud, it’s clear the state’s 2020 election results have some legislators desperately searching for underhanded ways to keep their seats.

CALIFORNIA

  • SB464
    • Why we’re watching: Introduced this week, SB464 would expand California’s food assistance program, CalFresh, to include people whose immigration status currently precludes them from the program, such as undocumented immigrants or DACA recipients. Everyone is struggling due to the pandemic, and immigrants are no exception. No one deserves to go hungry. Period.

MARYLAND

  • SB0224
    • Why we’re watching: Kudos to Maryland! Last week, they made our “naughty” list thanks to a prohibition-esque bill seeking to criminalize some types of tobacco, but today they make a comeback with the Value My Vote Act. This bill would require state correctional facilities to provide incarcerated individuals with a voter registration application and documentation that their voting rights have been restored upon their release. SB0224 has garnered bipartisan support and is backed by multiple advocacy groups, including Schools Not Jails and Out for Justice.

MINNESOTA

  • HF904
    • Why we’re watching: While Maryland escaped our critique this week, Minnesota is not so lucky. Like bills we’ve seen in other states, HB134 is a bill with good intentions that doesn’t seem to consider the unintended consequences it may cause. By criminalizing a tobacco product that is smoked almost exclusively by Black adults, this bill and others like it give law enforcement yet another reason to target Black and Brown folks. There are ways to impact public health without singling out minority groups.

As always, we encourage you to pay close attention to what your local government is focused on and how legislation could affect your neighborhood. See a bill you’re excited about or one that concerns you? Send it our way at info@neighborhoodforward.com, submit it in our contact us form or message us on any of our social channels and we may feature it next week!

Barack Obama and the Frequency of Microaggressions

For people of color, microaggressions are a part of everyday life. Stories like Michelle Singletary’s about a white man telling a Black father it was nice seeing him playing with his children, are tales that all people of color have experienced.

Comments like those, and perhaps the more common, “You speak English pretty well,” directed toward someone with Brown skin, are known as microaggressions. They’re subtle comments or observations that wouldn’t have occurred if the subject wasn’t a person of color.

The prefix “micro” refers to the invisibility of the comments to their speaker. Often, the perpetrators don’t even know they said or did something offensive.

Such behavior is omnipresent in our society. Even then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama experienced microaggressions on the campaign trail. In comments relating to his opponents, Joe Biden called his future boss “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright.”

And these comments didn’t stop when Barack Obama was sworn in.

Of course, the 44th President faced plenty of outright racist attacks as well. But microaggressions permeate our society even further than explicit racism. This is because white people often don’t realize they’re being racist.

Some might believe that microaggressions are relatively benign. After all, maybe the speaker meant better, or just wasn’t aware they said something wrong. But research suggests they are anything but harmless. Not only are the victims acutely aware of the comment or gesture but being subtly told that you’re dishonest or stupid is simply hurtful.

Committing microaggressions unchecked will only extend this behavior. Extending that behavior can snowball into larger, more overt expressions of racism. Our language determines our beliefs, according to the theory of linguistic determinism. So, if microaggressions are part of someone’s vocabulary, they are locking themselves into a vicious cycle.

Of course, there are remedies. Dr. Kevin Nadal, an expert in microaggressions, highlights the importance of calling out your friends’ problematic behavior. Being vigilant for sometimes imperceptible behavior is how allies can let others know they’re committed to social justice in every aspect of their lives.

The best way to work against microaggressions is to recognize your own. Think about your body language the next time you share an elevator with a person of color. And always be ready to criticize micro-aggressive behavior when you see it, even when it’s directed toward presidents.

Neighborhood Forward Legislative Roundup

Happy Friday!

Welcome to Neighborhood FORWARD’s first legislative roundup. Each Friday, we will be highlighting bills that Black and Brown folks should be watching. We predict that these pieces of legislation would have a major impact, be it positive or negative, on our neighborhoods.

MISSOURI: 

  • SB66
    • Why we’re watching: SB66 would essentially signal an open season on nonviolent demonstrations. If passed, the bill would decriminalize hitting protesters with a vehicle or using other deadly force, as well as categorizing rioting as an assembly of at least six people violating state or federal laws. This bill is a direct attack on our First Amendment rights. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend this piece by the Rev. Darryl Gray. 

MARYLAND: 

  • HB134
    • Why we’re watching: HB134 proposes banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, which are preferred by 80% of Black adult smokers. Prohibition against menthol cigarettes will not transform public health in Maryland, and any law that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities increases the frequency of dangerous interactions between minorities and law enforcement. HB134 would do more harm than good.  

WASHINGTON

  • HB 1267
    • Why we’re watching: This bill was introduced directly at the Governor’s request in response to the tragic death of Manuel “Manny” Elliis. The legislation calls for an independent investigation for officer-involved shooting deaths of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and requires investigators to be trained on how to apply a racial lens. If passed, this bill could save other Black Washingtonians from the same fate as Manny.
  • HB 1054
    • Why we’re watching: This bill calls for civilian oversight of law enforcement and provides a path to decertify officers with a history of misconduct. Increased accountability for law enforcement builds trust with the communities they serve, and bad apples should be weeded out, not protected by the blue wall of silence.
  • HB 1001
    • Why we’re watching: This bill calls for law enforcement agencies to reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. Increased diversity is a must as we move toward police reform.

Did we miss any bills you’ve been following? DM us on any of our social channels or email us at info@neighborhoodforward.com and let us know! The legislation you flagged may just be in next week’s roundup.

George Washington Carver and the Importance of Black Monuments

Representation matters. It matters in popular culture, in government, and in our history. Across this country, there are almost 100,000 places of historical significance. Yet only 2% of them are dedicated to Black history in America.

President Roosevelt dedicated the first of these in 1943. It honored George Washington Carver and his contributions to science, education, and environmentalism. In other words, it took 167 years for this country to begin its journey of recognizing the legacy of Black excellence.

George Washington Carver’s contributions to this country make his monument a good start in our national reckoning of the institution of slavery. Carver revolutionized agriculture, singlehandedly developing hundreds of products using peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Additionally, he helped popularize crop rotation and eventually taught at the Tuskegee Institute.

Of course, dedicating monuments in celebration of Black leaders is only half the battle. We must also tear down monuments celebrating the lives of historical figures that opposed the fight for social equality.

This debate took center stage in the summer of 2020. Activists highlighted Confederate statues as tangible reminders of the crimes of this country’s past and its refusal to move forward together.

Most of this protest revolves around the plethora of statues honoring Confederate traitors, who fought to divide the country and protect the institution of slavery. The argument in favor of such monuments is that for better or worse, they represent our history. But many historians don’t buy into this analysis.

Most argue that statues are meant to honor history, not preserve it. That education takes place in classrooms across the country, not in our public parks. Children shouldn’t look at statues of Robert E. Lee right after statues of Martin Luther King Jr. The similarity equates their contributions to society, even though one helped save this country and the other tried to destroy it.

They’re anything but equal. 

Statues quite literally tower above us. This isn’t coincidental. Monuments elevate their namesake and indicate that we should hold them in high esteem. The best way forward is to critically look at every park, monument, statue, and memorial and ask if it honors our values.

Harriet Tubman and Representation on the $20 Bill

Today is National Freedom Day. 155 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, ordering the institution of slavery abolished. All this time later, we still have work to do, but we must celebrate the contributions of Black leaders who built this country.

One of those leaders was Harriet Tubman. Not only did she escape slavery as a young woman, but she also helped dozens of slaves follow in her footsteps as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. She fought in the American Civil War, helped lead the women’s suffrage movement, and for her excellence, she was the first Black woman to be honored on a stamp.

It’s no wonder she was nicknamed the “Moses of Her People.”

All of these extraordinary tales of courage and righteousness made her a sensible choice to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Recently, Jackson has come under fire for his ownership of slaves and his treatment of America’s Indigenous people.

Who better to replace him than an icon of the abolitionist movement?

That is, until the Trump administration reversed course. Citing technical issues, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that Tubman wouldn’t see the front of the $20 bill until President Trump left office. These claims rang hollow next to Trump’s professed admiration of Andrew Jackson.

$20 bill

Want to know what whiplash is? Whiplash is expecting a Black heroine on the $20 bill during one presidency, then being subjected to praise of one of our most objectionable ones. To deny Harriet Tubman the honor she rightfully deserves in deference to America’s racist past sends a terrible signal to young Black girls. It tells them that history, no matter its crimes, will always supersede their struggle.

Thankfully, the Biden administration has noted this shift and committed to a quick transition to Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. But it has taken far longer than it should have.

It’s a struggle plenty of other countries deem worthy of currency representation. Just three years ago, Canada declared Viola Desmond would grace its $10 bills. Her refusal to move seats on a segregated bus predated Rosa Parks’ more famous protest. Kate Sheppard, a prominent New Zealand suffragette, has occupied her country’s $10 bill for decades now.

Why does the United States refuse to give recognition where it’s due?

The answer to that question is the same as so many we asked in 2020. The country’s past is laden with racism and prejudice. It’s asinine to think that 50 years of desegregation will erase systems and sentiments that have lasted hundreds of years.

To rectify these past injustices, we must reform, reinvest, and reimagine our neighborhoods. But first, we should look at the past and draw inspiration from Black heroes like Harriet Tubman. Looking backward is the only way we can move forward.

Neighborhood FORWARD’s Statement on Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

We’ve known there are two Americas for some time now.

All summer, we watched as the country marched against police brutality, trying to get the point across that Black Lives Matter. In response, law enforcement rolled through our cities in tanks, sporting weapons of war trained on the very people they swore to protect. When Black America protested, our institutions responded violently and rapidly.

Last week, the rage of those who have felt left behind by progress was on full display. Emboldened by a refusal of their “leader” to condemn white supremacy, whether in Charlottesville or during the Presidential debates, domestic terrorists sought to interfere with a free election and murder high government officials. Bearing nooses and the flag of traitors, they attacked our country.

We’ve known the deck was stacked against people of color for decades. We didn’t, however, know how willing some in government would be to invite this plague into our house.

Between law enforcement spurring terrorists past the barricades and defiant Republican politicians applauding their presence, this was not a display of white privilege, this was a display of white power. It’s a power that is reinforced by our institutions and evident throughout our history. For the last four years, that power has been wielded and weaponized by a significant group of our elected officials.

We deserve better.

Neighborhood FORWARD denounces these actions in the strongest possible terms. The fact that domestic terrorists, encouraged by vicious lies from their authority figures, were allowed to take the house of the people is unacceptable. The fact that they took pictures bragging about their insurrection is unacceptable. The fact that they were encouraged to do this is unacceptable.

No, we don’t want to hear that our leaders are standing in solidarity with us. No, we don’t want to see them kneel while wearing kente cloth. No, we don’t want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” with a group seeking the erasure of our neighborhoods and safety.

We want real change, right now. Bold, common-sense reforms are needed to rectify the issues facing us. Providing affordable housing to combat historic redlining can help marginalized groups generate wealth. Prioritizing rehabilitation instead of punishment can end the cycle of recidivism. Making elections simpler for all can erase the legacy of decades of voter suppression.

These reforms can help solve the greatest issues of our time.

The rise of far-right extremism is but one of the many challenges facing our country. It permeates our institutions, communities, and relationships. To combat it, we need structural changes that reinforce the rights of people of color and move our communities forward.

Neighborhood FORWARD calls on every federal elected official to condemn last week’s insurrection. We dually call on Congress and the Biden administration to prioritize efforts to reform, reinvest, and reimagine communities of color across the country.

Moving forward is only possible by looking backwards. As such, let us never forget the events of January 6. May they inspire us to forego empty rhetoric and pursue genuine change.

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