We Are All Dreamers

Turning our backs on young Americans who arrived in this country with family or other adults seeking a better life is morally reprehensible. The Trump Administration’s decision to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program places over 800,000 young people at risk of deportation and separation from their loved ones and reneges on a promise made to those young people by our government.

Yesterday’s action underscores the Administration's pursuit of normalizing racist and xenophobic beliefs through an agenda rooted in the criminalization of people of color. Igniting polarization by race and ethnicity and scapegoating our immigrant brothers and sisters threatens the culture, economy, and security of our nation. Again, we must stand up for the latest target of this hate-filled Administration whose efforts to splinter the nation for the benefit of a cruel minority have no end. We are all DACA children.  

Ending DACA is morally wrong and economically foolish.  For years, PolicyLink has argued that Equity is a moral imperative and the Superior Growth Model.  The diversity of this country is critical to its economic growth and prosperity.  The actions against DACA will negatively impact the economy in ways underscored by recent studies revealing a loss of billions from the national GDP over the next decade and the loss of contributions from thousands of valuable workers and entrepreneurs.   

Young people covered by the DACA program must be protected and the nation’s promise honored.  Now more than ever, we need Congress to act quickly and confirm that Americans of every race and creed are valued, that our government keeps its promises and rejects hate and xenophobia, and that the U.S. is a place that welcomes all who come sharing a democratic vision and valuing freedom, justice, and equity for all.   

Here are a few things you can do to demonstrate your support:  

  1. Call your members of Congress and demand their support for the Dream Act. And, with DACA ending, it's time for Congress to pass a clean version of the bipartisan Dream Act. Use dreamacttoolkit.org to call and urge your member of Congress to stand up for Dreamers.  
  2. Attend a rally: You can locate rallies in your area using Resistance Near Me.   
  3. Show your support online: Raise your voice to support the #DreamAct by tweeting and posting your support for young immigrants. Make it clear that they are #HereToStay. Find sample tweets & hashtags below.

Sample Tweets:

  • Trump decision on #DACA is morally wrong & economically unwise. Congress must stand up 4 young immigrants & America. Protect immigrants now!
  • Will Congress pass the Dream Act, which creates a path to citizenship for Dreamers, without using their loved ones as bargaining chips? 1/2
  • Or will they stand idly by and let the president destroy the lives and livelihoods of immigrants? #HeretoStay 2/2
  • 800,000+ dreamers are in our workforce. Ending DACA not only disrupts their lives but also their employers, coworkers, patients & more.
  • Trump's decision against Dreamers is not the end for immigrants. Congress must do right by them: pass the Dream Act. #HeretoStay
  • @HouseGOP @SenateGOP have a choice: side w/ 800,000+ young immigrants and protect them... or uphold Trump's hate agenda? #HeretoStay
  • @realDonaldTrump has stripped legal status of young immigrants who make America strong. Congress must right this wrong: pass #DreamAct!

Trump Administration Eliminates Local Hire Pilot before It Can Demonstrate Results

The Trump Administration recently stripped communities of a crucial tool for job creation – hiring local workers. In August, the US Department of Transportation announced it would discontinue a pilot program allowing for geographic-based hiring preferences in administering federal awards, also known as local hiring. This represents a premature halting of a program that was being utilized on 14 projects in more than 10 states. The pilot program has not been in existence and functioning long enough to collect and analyze data and information to determine its impact. 

By repealing the program at US DOT, the Administration is breaking its promise to increase employment, especially for disproportionately under and unemployed communities that stood to gain from the program. For example, one of the projects in located in Wise County, VA: a region which could be called “Trump country”. The population is 92 percent White, and Trump won nearly 4 out of 5 votes in the county in the 2016 election. Wise County is also struggling economically; as of June 2017, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent – nearly double the statewide rate of 3.7 percent. The poverty rate is 22.7 percent more than twice the statewide rate of 11.2 percent.  Across the entire state there are 16,000 unemployed veterans. The state was working to leverage a $6.4 million dollar road expansion project (which included bicycle paths and sidewalks) to address unemployment and poverty. The county’s approved project they required that 75 percent of new hires should be either local residents or veterans living anywhere in the state of Virginia. 

Local hire policies bring good jobs to economically disadvantaged communities and ensure equitable development. Local hire programs also yield shared benefits.  Businesses receive financial incentives when they hire veterans or workers from the local community and they also find a steady supply of reliable workers. Job seekers can more easily travel to job sites located within their community.

Civic leaders and advocates across the country that are trying to move a jobs agenda for infrastructure have voiced major opposition for this recent move. Members of the federal Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity (ACTE) sent a letter to Secretary Chao urging her to re-instate the local hiring program. ACTE was established by the US DOT in 2016 to provide the Secretary with “independent advice and recommendations about comprehensive, interdisciplinary issues related to transportation equity.” PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell sits on this committee,  serving a two-year term of service alongside 11 individuals involved in transportation planning, design, research, policy, and advocacy, including Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, DreamCorps CEO Van Jones and Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, Jacqueline Pata.

If you would more information about how to join with others to voice your opposition to this move by the administration, please CONTACT US at Transportation Equity Caucus website.

JOIN US in Chicago April 11 – 13, for EquitySummit 2018, as we explore the complexity and urgency of building a multiracial coalition at this pivotal moment for our nation.


Crafting an Economic Agenda for Black Lives

Today, racial inequities are once again at the center of the national political conversation — along with bold, visionary proposals for policies to resolve them. Grassroots responses to police violence have given rise to a movement of leaders, coalitions, and organizations seeking not only social justice for Black communities, but economic justice as well.

The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of 50 organizations around the country, is creating a common vision and agenda for Black communities. Last August, the group released a nine-point economic policy platform that calls for progressive restructuring of the tax code to ensure an equitable and sustainable redistribution of wealth, federal and state job programs targeting the most economically marginalized Black people, protection for workers’ rights to organize, tax incentives for cooperative economy networks, and more (read the full platform here). By centering economic equity for Black people and creating and amplifying a shared agenda, the Movement for Black Lives hopes to “move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”

So far, the collective has been most visible in its event-based organizing. For the past two years, Reclaim MLK Day has been connecting the national holiday to the radical actions of contemporary movements. Launched to coincide with Mother’s Day 2017, “Mama’s Bail Out Day” kicked off a summer of bailing out more than 200 incarcerated people as a step toward ending pre-trial incarceration for those who cannot afford bail. On June 19 (Juneteenth), the collective held a day of action in 40 cities to reclaim abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and other local spaces.

America’s Tomorrow spoke with DeAngelo Bester, contributor to the Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform and co-executive director and senior strategist at the Workers Center for Racial Justice, to discuss the platform’s labor organizing recommendations and talk about what it will take to move the agenda’s policy points forward.

Organizing workers outside of traditional employment models is a priority for the Workers Center for Racial Justice. What are some of the strategies Black workers have begun using to organize in response to the growth of the “on demand” economy?

The Workers Center for Racial Justice and some more progressive unions and worker centers have been trying to organize workers in industries where they are either considered contract or temporary workers. The idea is to organize them as we would in a union, and to change the laws and policies in their localities to give them collective bargaining rights. The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year that you can organize temp workers and people working in temp agencies into collective bargaining units.

Short of guaranteeing collective bargaining agreements, we won’t be able to get on-demand workers the same type of rights as far as fair wages. But there have been some victories in Chicago and other places around increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and getting domestic workers paid sick leave and fair scheduling.

With the politics being the way they are in DC, a national right-to-work policy could be coming down at the federal level. The Supreme Court will also probably be ruling in favor of getting rid of public sector unions. Therefore, we are trying to do our work at the local level in terms of making policy changes to ensure worker protections.

In your local level efforts, where have you seen fair development work in action, in the sense of people creating affordable housing, fighting displacement, and creating good jobs in a single effort?

There hasn’t been a ton of what you are calling fair development. When I did housing work a few years ago, getting the right number of affordable housing units included in development projects was a big issue. As far as jobs going to workers from marginalized communities in community benefits agreements or private labor agreements, it has been really hit-or-miss. It hasn’t been what it needs to be to get Black workers real jobs.

In the construction industry, a lot of cities have minority set-asides. The way it usually works is that two rules are in place: employers have to use union labor, and a certain percentage of the jobs are supposed to go to people from local communities. But there are always ways for folks to get around the stipulation to provide jobs. Sometimes developers only have to pay a $25,000 fine, so they might still choose not to hire people from the community. Or they could say that no new jobs are being created. In the construction industry, a lot of contractors have their own staff in place already and so developers say that they didn’t hire any new people because they just used existing employees. In private labor agreements, that’s been a drawback — and there hasn’t been real enforcement. What we [at the Workers Center for Racial Justice] have been trying to do when we work on private agreements is to say that a certain percentage of jobs and hours worked must go to people from the community; that way we can get around the language of “new jobs created.”

The Movement for Black Lives economic justice platform — like the rest of its policy agenda —  has brought together a diverse range of voices and organizations in a bold and ambitious vision for racial economic justice. What has your experience been working with this group?

The process has been great. The executive team did a great job of bringing people together, keeping people engaged, and answering phones and questions. It’s been as good of an experience as I’ve had as far as getting together and meeting with people and continuing to build relationships.

The only drawback or critique that I have is that there hasn’t been a discussion of building the power needed to get some of the platform implemented. With politics being the way they are in DC right now, none of us really have the power to do that right now. We need to have a discussion about what it would take to build that power, and after we have that power, what we would do to get some of these things implemented.

Speaking of the changing political climate, as the current presidential administration has evolved, which of the Movement for Black Lives platform points do you see as having the most promise in getting implemented?

There could be some potential around tax reform. There was language in the platform around tax breaks for marginalized workers, and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Republicans have been talking about tax reform, too – cutting taxes for the rich. There could be a chance, if we build up enough support, to move some of the tax reform ideas forward. Other than that, the platform’s points around justice reform and police reform – I don’t think we have a real chance of getting that stuff moving with the person we have in the White House and the person we have heading up the Department of Justice. Even the points around housing and environmental justice and land rights are going to be tough in the current political environment. That’s why it is necessary to build enough power to implement the platform.

Mayors Must Create a Bold Vision for Equity

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining the U.S. Conference of Mayors summer meeting in New Orleans to discuss the importance of equity — just and fair inclusion — to their cities’ future. This was also the first meeting of the conference since their president, Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, ordered the city’s Confederate statues removed. In an earlier speech about this decision, Mayor Landrieu explained, “Centuries old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place.” The conference took a moment to applaud his bold actions, which are all the more courageous given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, surrounding that city’s plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general. Given today’s political climate, cities — with their economic power, diversity, and innovation — must continue to take bold actions, address old wounds, and lead our nation toward inclusive prosperity. This requires transforming policies and systems that have long perpetuated racial inequities.

While millennials, as well as companies and investment capital, are flocking to cities, many vulnerable communities who stuck with cities through their long decline are disconnected from these emerging opportunities and are at risk of being further left behind or displaced altogether. As I explained at the conference, local leaders must think intentionally about racial equity and ensure that low-income people and people of color are able to participate in, and benefit from, decisions that impact their communities.

We call this pathway for achieving healthy, vibrant, prosperous communities “equitable development.” Specifically, I shared four principles to guide equitable development:

  1. Integrate strategies that focus on the needs of people and on the places where they live and work.
  2. Reduce economic and social disparities throughout the region.
  3. Promote triple-bottom-line investments (financial returns, community benefits, and environmental sustainability) that are equitable, catalytic, and coordinated.
  4. Include meaningful community participation and leadership in change efforts. 

For example, the City and County of San Francisco entered into a historic community benefits agreement with Lennar (the second-largest national housing developer) around a major development in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. As a result, Lennar will ensure that 32 percent of housing units are affordable; provide housing preference to existing residents; and provide over $8.5 million in job training funds. Such commitments would not be possible without thinking about enduring inequalities and putting people at the center of development plans.

Reducing inequality and creating opportunities for all to participate in building a stronger economy is not just the right thing to do — it is urgent and fundamental to the economic future of cities, regions, and the nation. Already, more than half of new births in the U.S. are children of color. By the end of this decade, the majority of children under 18 will be of color. By 2030, the majority of young workers under 25 will be of color. It is evident that what happens to people of color will determine the fate of the nation.

As I shared this message with the mayors present, I also understood that they have a responsibility to all their residents. But equity is not a zero-sum game. Intentional investments in the most vulnerable communities have benefits that cascade out, improving the lives of all struggling people as well as regional economies and the nation as a whole. I call this the “curb-cut effect”, after the ramp-like dips on sidewalk corners. Championed by disability rights activists in the 1970s, these investments not only enabled people in wheelchairs to cross the street, but have helped everyone from parents wheeling strollers to workers pushing carts to travelers rolling suitcases. In fact, studies show that curb cuts have improved public safety as they have encouraged pedestrians to cross safely at intersections. 

The strategies may be unique in each city, but the struggle for equity is the same across the United States. Fortunately, mayors understand that the work they do is more important than ever, particularly when it comes to addressing racial inequality. Reflecting on the meeting, I am reminded of another quote from Mayor Landrieu’s speech: “If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain.” Mayors must grapple with inequities in their communities, embrace the changing faces of their cities and towns, and maximize equitable development to foster communities of opportunity for all.

Together, we can build a nation in which no one, no group, and no geographic region is left behind. 

White People, Show Us

Over the past several days we have watched in disgust as the progeny from our nation’s despicable past terrorized a city, committed murder, and received tacit approval from the highest level of government. White supremacy has found a home in the White House. The President is determined to perpetuate and maintain the social, political, historical, and institutional domination by White people at the expense of people of color. And in so doing, he is creating an environment that is also too toxic for White America. The White supremacy movement will not vanish until people of good will succeed in atoning for our nation’s past, reconciling, and building a bridge to a just and fair society where ALL are prospering and reaching their full potential.

America is seeing in real-time what the fight for equity looks like. When cultures, structures, and institutions are forced to change, the responses by those comfortable with and benefiting from the status quo are too frequently ugly, distressing, and violent. Equity leaders should not expect anything less. We signed up for this. Consequently, when things are at their worst, we must be at our best – body, mind, and soul. PolicyLink remains optimistic and single-minded in our work. We are standing strong in the face of formidable opposition because equity leaders, especially those on the front lines, are making progress.

We also are standing strong because we are getting a sense that increasing numbers of White people are sick of other White people's racist conduct. We applaud the fact that from the streets, to corporate board rooms, to charitable giving, White people are taking up the work of equity. We hope we live in a country where most White people do not sympathize with White supremacists. If our perceptions are real, we have an opportunity to accelerate the advancement of equity, and we must seize it. While people of color are going to see this fight for equity through to victory, there is a powerful role that White people must play, and this role can no longer be eschewed for safer, transactional expressions of solidarity.

Show yourselves to be true patriots by joining with people of color, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond to stamp out White supremacy and realize the transformative promise of equity – the imperfect and unrealized aspiration embodied in the Constitution. White America, you can perfect this aspiration! To do so requires that you honestly and forthrightly call out racism and oppression, both overt and systemic. And while this is a good start, it is insufficient. Your work is to lead the way in designing and implementing equity-centered public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms that trump White supremacy and create a just and fair society. This must be your call to action. This is what people of color need from you.

The normalization of White supremacy must be stopped now before it irreversibly poisons the nation’s culture. Your leadership is critical in this moment. You are best equipped to defeat White supremacy. Here are actions you can take that are transformative.

Show us that our perceptions of a White majority opposed to White supremacy are real. Show us that we have a reason to believe that you will fight with more devotion to create a society that is just and fair for ALL, than White supremacists will in their pursuit to maintain their structural advantage, their racial privilege, their "whiteness." By accepting this invitation, you’re not doing anyone any favors. You’re doing the work necessary to make America all that it can be. History has its eyes on you. Show us. Fight for equity.

With gratitude,

Angela Glover Blackwell

Michael McAfee

Disability Rights Activist Sasha Blair-Goldensohn Fights for Inclusive NYC Transit System

Public transportation is the lifeblood of cities, enabling residents to get to work, take their children to school, and access vital community resources. Too often, however, transit systems fail to meet the needs of those with disabilities — making it nearly impossible for them to participate fully in civic, cultural, and economic life. 

This was the troubling reality facing Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, a Google software engineer and disability rights activist in New York City. When a tragic accident in 2009 partially paralyzed his lower body, this native New Yorker quickly realized that the subway he had relied on his entire life was woefully inaccessible by wheelchair, with frequent elevator outages that could leave him stranded for hours at a time. Blair-Goldensohn penned a powerful op-ed in The New York Times recently framing transit inaccessibility as a matter of equity and inclusion, and is continuing the fight as a plaintiff in two court cases calling for a more accessible NYC subway. 

America’s Tomorrow is excited to bring you the latest episode of Equity Speaks, a PolicyLink podcast focusing on racial and social equity. Blair-Goldensohn and PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell discuss the moral imperative of making cities accessible to all, the power of the “curb-cut effect” as a frame for transit advocacy, and the promise of universal design as a way forward for city planning. 

Listen to the podcast below:

Read excerpts of the interview below:

Angela Glover Blackwell: This is Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink and I’m joined by Sasha Blair-Goldensohn to talk about the “curb-cut effect”, but more importantly to talk about an advocacy effort that Sasha is a part of trying to create greater access to transportation in New York City. Many of you know that PolicyLink, a national organization trying to advance equity by Lifting Up What Works, has really been concerned for some time about the notion that Americans too often feel that creating opportunities for one group takes something away from another group — that equity and inclusion is a zero-sum game.

When I say the curb-cut effect I’m talking about how that curb-cut that is in the sidewalks because of the advocacy of people with disabilities in wheelchairs, who could not access opportunity that was theoretically available to them because they couldn't traverse their communities. And yet when that curb-cut was there, people pushing strollers immediately went to it, workers with carts, and parents could feel a little better about their new bike riders traversing the city sidewalk to sidewalk, not having to ride in the street. It also saves lives because that curb-cut orients people to cross at the corner and that makes a tremendous difference. The curb-cut effect makes the point that by focusing authentically and effectively on those who are most vulnerable while we address challenges, we create solutions that benefit everybody.

I have the impression from something that Sasha wrote in the New York Times, that he very much appreciates this point of view. I wanted to bring his voice and his story to the equity movement that is often associated with PolicyLink to be able to understand how expansive we can be when we think about the benefits to society when we make sure that everyone can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. So thanks again Sasha for joining.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: My pleasure. 

Angela Glover Blackwell: I must say, Sasha, when I saw your op-ed in the New York Times, I was interested for two reasons: One, the topic was very interesting to me because you were talking about access, but I also remembered that I read about you in the New York Times years ago when you had your terrible accident in New York City that left you in a wheelchair. Therefore, there was a direct relationship between that story I read years ago and this story, so I was drawn to it. I wondered if you would take a little time to tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, how you happened tragically to end up in the situation you’re now in, and how that has changed the way you see the world. 

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: I’d be glad to. Nearly eight years ago, almost exactly eight years ago — July 2009 — I was a fit, able bodied person walking in Central Park on my way to work and a giant limb chose that exact second to fall. It was a clear day, it was just preposterously bad luck that I happened to be walking under it at that moment and it fell on top of me. From that moment, I had very much good luck to still be here I would say. There’s really no question about that actually, because it was really touch and go for a while. I was in an intensive care unit for about a month and a rehab hospital for six months, and by the time I got out I got back so very much. I didn’t get back the ability to walk, so I would have to start getting around in a wheelchair. So for the past several years that has been my life and my experience, and it’s been...obviously your life changes, but you become aware of a lot of things. And a big one has been access. I grew up in the city and the subway is how you get around. I was kind of proud [of it]. I’d have friends visit from other cities and towns, and I’d say isn’t this cool there’s this subway that anybody can take. For two dollars you go anywhere around town, and it runs all night. It's not always the cleanest, it's not beautiful, but it works, it gets you there. And then lo and behold it doesn’t get you there at all — it doesn’t get a lot of people there.

Angela Glover Blackwell: I would love for you, if you can, to say a word about the litigation. I know you can’t go into any details, but I want our listeners to know that your activism has taken you all the way into a direct challenge. If you could just describe it. Then I want to talk a little bit more about how important this is, not just for you, or people in wheelchairs, but how important it is for all New Yorkers, and ultimately all people who need to access opportunity.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: Sure thing. There are four elevators between my home and my getting to work. Any one of those elevators being out stops me. Concretely, what does that mean? In any week going back and forth from work, there will be at least one time that one is out. So, one of my trips back and forth to work — and it’s not like the trip is delayed a bit, people can deal with that — it means I get halfway through a trip and I’m stopped.  And the thing is there is no system. First of all it’s not announced on the subway, so you can get off the train, on the platform, you get up to the elevator, and, ”Oh.” It’ll be bad enough if it were just out and nobody knew, but not infrequently it’s out and it’s clear that somebody knew. There will be a cardboard sign on it or a little strip of nylon tape across it. Someone knew and thought that that was a sufficient reaction. And then in a few days, maybe somebody will fix it. What do you do at that moment? You got off the train, you can’t get on the elevator. Your options are, if I’m in a rush…you know, you got to get to work, pick up your kids, people are going somewhere, that’s why they’re on the train. What I’ve found is the quickest way to get going is to find two or three strong-looking, industrious-looking people on the platform and ask them. It took me a while to get up the gumption to do that and have the confidence. It’s terribly dangerous — it’s not an advisable thing, my physical therapist would not want me to do that. I’ve come to find that it actually kind of works. I’ve gotten good at managing people and being the foreman and say, “You here, you here, you here.” And I have a system. It works, but it’s awful. I take it back: it’s awful that I have to do it and that’s the system and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) hasn’t made anything better than that. But there is something very affirming about it, which is to say, community. Community is a big deal, and people are kind. People are always busy ignoring people and acting anonymous, especially in big cities. People have sometimes refused because they have a bad elbow or something. Much more often than not, people will chip in and say, “Ok, yeah I got ya.”

So, I was having this happen all the time, and I thought, am I just having back luck? So my cousin, who is a journalist, she put in a freedom of information law (FOIL) request to get a year’s worth of outage data from the MTA and they dumped it into a big spreadsheet. I’m a computer scientist so what do I do? I analyze it, I took the average. And I was like, whoa, this is not just me, not at all. There were 9,000 outages over the past year. What does that mean? So let’s see 365 days in a year, neighborhood of 20+ a day, and these are not outages because they are improving. No these are just things that nobody predicted and the situations that happened to me where it just stopped working and these outages, these aren’t five minutes. The median time, some have more or have less, four hours. This is an elevator. Once I saw that, I thought, this is far from being just me, and I ended up getting in touch with DRA (Disability Rights Advocates). It was astounding — those are the numbers that I put in the [New York Times] article. 

Angela Glover Blackwell: So I talk about the curb-cuts and the people pushing strollers and workers with carts, but also the lives saved by ordering people to cross at the corner. When you think about this issue of access to the subway and what difference working elevators could make, have you couched this argument in the context of all the other people who haven’t been activists around this that should be? 

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: Absolutely. I haven’t had to stretch too hard to think about that. It’s not like I’m thinking how can I make this a bigger issue than just me. No, because every time I get in an elevator in a subway, I’m very rarely alone. And who is always in there? Very rarely is it other wheelchairs actually, because most people in wheelchairs have given up on the subway because it works so poorly so if they actually wanted to get somewhere, they’d probably find another way. So since I’m one of the ones on the subway elevators, who do I see all the time —  strollers, elderly people, workers, often. That’s someone you mentioned in your article. Who takes the curb-cuts? It’s workers with handcarts. Talk about not being a zero-sum game, we’re making our whole community, our whole society more functional and more economically viable [when we deal] with obstacles in our way that don't need to be there.

Angela Glover Blackwell: We have been talking about that at PolicyLink in the context of the economy and the people who are being marginalized and left out of it. A lot of what’s happening now in the United States is that people who are White and working class, White and poor are really front and center because of their angst, their insecurity, the opiate addiction, increasing suicide rates, and early mortality.  And a lot of people are starting to write about it. Ann Case and Sir Angus Deaton at Princeton University have probably written the most. When we’re talking about poor, near-poor White people, if we intervene, and just try to solve the problem there, we’re going to still have the fundamental problem of what’s been happening with people of color.  And that fundamental problem of what’s happening with people of color — if we were to address it directly the benefits of it would go to all. So getting people to understand what you just said: always go to the most vulnerable not out of charity, go to the most vulnerable because the only way to sustainable, effectively fix something for the long term is to start there.

Sasha Blair-Goldensohn: What it reminds me of, right now in New York City…the MTA is never well-loved, but this is a disastrously bad summer. The lead story on local news more or less every night is about the so-called “summer of hell” because Penn Station, which is a major choke point and has been in bad shape for many historical reasons for many years, has come to a [breaking] point. Commuters from Long Island and New Jersey, and all over the place, are thinking this is the worst, I’m being late to work every day, I’m sitting on the train, they’ve cut down the number of trains. And in a funny way, I’ve come to think that they’re finding out what I’ve been dealing with and what this community has been dealing with for much longer. This is what it feels like when the system is at best, sort of okay on a regular day, and on many days far worse than that. So, the point is that I feel like sometimes now we come to the MTA and say they need to deal with this elevator thing, they’ll say they can’t deal with this now, Penn Station is already a mess, everyone else is already struggling. [We need] to convince people that this is the same fight and convince people that this is in some ways the best moment to deal with it. Because this is already going to be hard. So, let’s make it work together and approach it in the universal design way and say what's the way to fix it for everybody, to look at all these problems as one problem and how can we help the maximum number of people with one effort instead of doing it piecemeal and with band-aids, because that’s never going to get it done.

Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility Provides Feedback to the Senate Finance Committee on How to Improve Tax Reform

In response to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) call for input and feedback from tax stakeholders across the country on how to improve the American tax system through tax reform, The Tax Alliance for Economic Mobility submitted the following letter to the Finance Committee that focuses on reform that outs low and moderate income people first, and fuels upward economic mobility instead of exacerbating an already-growing wealth divide.

The letter hones in on four sets of principles for reform of tax-based aid that can lead to more equitable programs that will expand opportunity throughout the country:

  1. Increasing Financial Security for Working Families;
  2. Making Higher Education Tax Expenditures Work for Everyone;
  3. Using the Tax Code to Encourage Savings and Investment for Retirement
  4. Reduce Subsidies for Mortagage Debt and Larger Homes Owned by High-Income Households

Read the full letter here and sign up for the Tax Alliance newsletter for updates on our work.

Narrative Change in a Shifting Political Landscape: The Ambassadors for Health Equity Focus on Building a Culture of Health

Cultural narratives are powerful, often underutilized tools for promoting policy change. Especially in today’s shifting political landscape — where fear, anger, and xenophobia have taken root in the public discourse — the story of who we are and what we value as a nation has never been more important. 

That is why narrative change has become a central theme in the work of the Ambassadors for Health Equity, a year-long fellowship of 13 national leaders from the private and social sectors who have worked together to foster environments where everyone — regardless of race, neighborhood, or financial status — has the opportunity for health and well-being.

A joint venture of PolicyLink and FSG, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), this fellowship creates a platform for leaders from outside the health field to share ideas and experiences, forge new alliances, and collaborate around promoting health equity in their work. Guided by three health equity experts, the fellowship included five in-person meetings, a series of webinars, and ongoing remote engagement around pressing topics in health equity.

The power of narrative has been at the forefront of the ambassadors’ work since the fellowship’s launch when ambassador, author, and executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Jeff Chang presented on the importance of art and culture in promoting policy change.

“We can’t understand the social movements of recent years — Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter — without understanding the power of culture,” Chang said at the July 2016 launch meeting in Oakland, CA. “Culture is where we can introduce ideas, attach emotions to concrete change, and foster enthusiasm for our values…culture is where we change the narrative.”

As the year progressed, the need for counter-narratives within an increasingly contentious political climate brought new urgency to this work, and the ambassadors sought to deepen their knowledge and share their own experiences of using storytelling to advocate for low-income communities and communities of color both locally and nationally.

What follows are some of the insights and best practices that have emerged from the many discussions around narrative change that took place throughout the Ambassadors for Health Equity fellowship.

Narrative Change in the Field

Narrative change is a slow, culturally-embedded process, and the results — a shift in public consciousness and public policy — can take years, if not a generation to appear. 

“In some ways, in doing the work of narrative change we’re running a relay marathon that we won’t see the finish line of, but our children and grandchildren will,” Michael Skolnik, ambassador, entrepreneur, and CEO of creative agency SOZE, said during the May 2017 fellowship meeting in New York, NY.  “It can be challenging to make the case for the need for narrative work when it’s so difficult to quantify.”

This challenge makes examples from the field a powerful tool for communicating the potential of narrative work. At the May meeting, Skolnik shared a case study from activists and artists in Ferguson, MO, who used street art to send a powerful message of solidarity and hope to the community and the national media covering the protests. 

In the fall of 2014, as America waited to hear if officer Darren Wilson would be indicted for the lethal shooting of unarmed Black youth, Michael Brown, tensions were running high in Ferguson. Along the two-block stretch of West Florissant Avenue where demonstrations had continued for weeks, shopkeepers had boarded up entire storefronts in preparation for the protests that might ensue following the grand jury’s decision. 

With the press swamping protests for weeks, local artist and activist Damon Davis saw an opportunity in the boarded-up storefronts. 

“It was a stage where the whole world was watching,” Skolnik said. “These boards would become a canvas for communicating with news cameras, and by extension, to America.” 

Working with community members, Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, Skolnik helped secure funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support the activists and Davis’ art project. Davis photographed the backs of the hands of people of all ages and races, papering the storefronts (with the owners’ permission) with larger-than-life black and white prints. The images evoked the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture, which had become a symbol of outrage over the shooting of unarmed Black youth, but also suggested solidarity and hope, the artist said. 

The art received widespread, national media coverage almost immediately upon installation, and was noted as “the most powerful street art in America” at the time. 

“The fight with narrative work is to lift up the voices of those directly impacted, and build compassion to open up the heart,” Skolnik said. “This project moved people across America.” 

Shaping the Message, Finding the Messenger 

In a charged political climate, shifting the narrative on a contentious issue isn’t just about communicating an argument; it’s about building empathy and finding avenues for human connection. 

This was the overwhelming takeaway from political strategist Marc Solomon’s work on the Freedom to Marry campaign, which helped activists win marriage equality nationwide in 2015. Sharing his experience with the Ambassadors during a May webinar, Solomon recounted a turning point in their campaign that forced them to re-envision how they talked about gay rights.

“For years we'd been focusing on raising awareness of how gay couples were excluded from rights and benefits, but it wasn't moving the needle; we realized we’d lost touch with the core reason why most gay couples wanted to get married in the first place: to show love and commitment to their partners,” Solomon said.

Solomon and colleagues revamped their advocacy campaign to tap into the shared humanity of issue, highlighting the fact that “gay people shared the same hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations as straight people,” Solomon said.

Instead of using celebrities or politicians in their campaign, they selected messengers that would speak to these priorities. They enlisted friends and family members who had moved from disapproval to acceptance when they discovered their loved one was gay, using them as spokespeople for commercial, ads, and congressional testimony. 

“We wanted to take people who were conflicted on the issue on a journey that allowed for the fact that it was okay to be conflicted, and yet showed them people they could relate to who had journeyed to a place of support,” Solomon added. 

This human connection piece is especially important in the realm of health equity work, where the sites of intervention — the need for healthy food, quality healthcare, and safe housing, for example — are both deeply personal and universal. 

“People can see themselves in work to promote health, improve education, and help the environment,” Tynesia Boyea-Robinson, ambassador and president and CEO of Reliance Methods said at the May 2017 meeting. “There is less othering because everyone has had a sick family member, everyone wants clean air and good schools for their kids.” 

Forging New Conversations in Health Equity

When we talk about narrative change, we are ultimately talking about a cultural shift — a fundamental change in the dominant views, values, and eventually policies. 

Advancing a health equity agenda within today’s tumultuous political climate will require advocates to build on the creativity and compassion showcased by the examples above, and push the narrative further through new partners, messengers, and platforms for discussion, debate, and dissemination.

That is why the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has focused on building a Culture of Health, in part through cross-sector initiatives like the Ambassadors for Health Equity that bring together new allies from outside the health sector and gives them the tools to promote health equity within their own work.

“In my field of criminal justice, we’re extremely siloed,” said James Bell, ambassador and founder & president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute. “These meetings have helped me get the language and educate others about the connections between criminal justice and other sectors like health, education, and housing.” 

In this way, the work of narrative change begins with the conversations that transpire between colleagues, opponents, and community members. 

“We need to be able to see the humanity in each other, even when we disagree,” Sarah Kastelic, ambassador & executive director at the National Indian Child Welfare Association said at the May 2017 meeting. “If we’re going to have the conversations we need to have, we need to build relationships that are durable enough to make mistakes.” 

She added, “We must be vulnerable enough to say things and know we may not get it right at first, and compassionate enough to listen and help our opponents get it right.”

PolicyLink Launches All-In Cities Policy Toolkit

Today marks the launch of the All-In Cities Policy Toolkit, a new online resource designed to help leaders inside and outside city government identify, understand, and choose targeted policy solutions to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.

The toolkit includes an initial selection of 21 tools, including, but not limited to: Equitable contracting and procurement, Financial empowerment centers, incentivized savings accounts, living wage, local and targeted hiring, minimum wage, worker-owned cooperatives, and more. New content and additional policies will be added throughout 2017 and beyond. The toolkit provides examples of specific policies that local leaders can adapt to their own economic and political contexts, key considerations for design and implementation, and outlines where these policies are working to advance racial and economic equity.

This toolkit is just one resource from All-In Cities. Through this initiative, PolicyLink continues its work to change the dialogue about how and why equity matters to city and regional futures, while working hand-in-hand with city leaders to advance equitable growth strategies.

These Boston Apprenticeships Are Pushing the Economy Toward Equity

Donan Cosme was only 15 when he found himself in the crosshairs of gang life, facing off against a member of a competing gang, guns raised. More than a decade later, these two men would meet again — not as rivals, but as colleagues and fellow apprentices in Boston’s Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 550.

“We’ve put our differences aside and we can work together like it never happened,” Cosme, 30, said. “This is what’s possible when you give people a second opportunity to make something of themselves.”

Cosme credits this second opportunity to Operation Exit, a program that provides formerly incarcerated and at-risk residents with the skills and support necessary to enter apprenticeships in building trades, culinary arts and the tech industry. The program has placed dozens of graduates into career-track apprentice opportunities that pay well above the city’s living wage.

Read the full article in Next City>>>