NOC built movements in 2015, and during the first weekend in 2016, we set the tone for a game-changing year. On the first Friday of 2016, NOC brought 25 executive directors and lead organizers from black organizations throughout the region to Des Moines, Iowa to work, dream, vision and begin to build an aligned set of priorities in the Midwest. On Saturday, NOC led a series of breakout discussions with allied organizations followed by a Presidential Forum with candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders. As a new NOC member and staffer, I was proud to see solutions and action being put forth all weekend.
The first workshop I attended was Police Reform in the Midwest, hosted in conjunction with Organization for the Black Struggle and NPA. Education Organizer Amber Jones connected the context of modern day policing to slavery and Jim Crow. Her speech set the tone of the workshop to be about dismantling and abolishing the criminal justice as we know it.
Southside Organizer Tony Williams redefined reparations, in the context of police reform, as investing and committing money to communities that have had resources extracted from it due to an prejudicial punitive system. He says it better than I ever could:
When I walked out of that workshop, I felt like there were things I could to shape policing in this country. Incremental policy changes that impacted education and local elections were now tools that I could use to abolish the current system. I started thinking that the focus should be divestment from a broken justice system and investment into communities.
In the next workshop "Work and Wages: Fair Scheduling and Earned Sick Days and other reforms," Community Organizer Ron Harris made the connections between work-life balance and the struggles Black workers face with policy issues of fair scheduling, paid sick and safe time, and a fair workweek. Standing alongside representatives from the Center for Popular Democracy, NPA, and local Iowa organizations, stories of attendees having to choose between taking care of sick relatives and reporting to work made the work being done by Harris on the Minneapolis Partnership group to develop an earned sick time policy that much more important.
The Families First Presidental Forum was structured so that organizers and community members from the Midwest could tell their personal stories and then relay it into a question for the candidates. Canvass Director Rod Adams of NOC asked O’Malley about unemployment and workers' rights grounded in his experience working minimum wage jobs and struggling to pay rent. Executive Director Anthony Newby asked Bernie Sanders if he was willing to commit 200 billion dollars to underserved communities. Sanders said he would invest a trillion dollars over the course of five years to underserved communities.
It is increasingly important to demand action and solutions from elected officials, candidates, and even the community. Luckily, 2016 seems like the year for solutions.