While we celebrate the Fourth of July as the day the United States won independence from England, Black people in this country would not gain freedom for another 89 years. It wasn’t until June 19th, 1865 – two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation – that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War was over and all enslaved people were now free. And now, Juneteenth is recognized as a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States, but this isn’t enough.
We must continue to fight for Black people in the United States to be seen in their full humanity and treated as such. This week, the Alliance is celebrating Juneteenth by highlighting the youth organizers who are fighting for Black liberation in their communities.
We want to celebrate the youth organizers who fight for equal justice and liberation that has yet to be delivered to Black people across the country. Black and Brown liberation organizing takes shape in different forms throughout the network; here’s a look into what the Alliance youth organizers are doing to continue this work in their communities.
Restoration of Voting Rights
Chicago Votes has been leading some of the most revolutionary voting rights through their Unlock Civics program. In 2019, they wrote and passed landmark legislation – the Voting in Jails bill – that expanded voting access for incarcerated citizens who are eligible to vote. This made Cook County Jail the first jail in the country to become an official polling location allowing for 1,500 people in pretrial detention to vote.
Now, they are organizing to pass new legislation that would restore voting rights to people in prison.
Next Up is organizing to pass legislation to restore voting rights to Oregonians in prison. This bill would not only restore voting rights, it would also address the disproportionate silencing of the voices of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx citizens due to their higher rates of imprisonment.
Washington Bus organized to help pass legislation that would immediately restore the right to vote for 26,000 Washingtonians who are convicted of a felony and released from jail, removing complicated and expensive barriers for returning citizens.
Mississippi Votes worked to defend against over 70 voter suppression bills and also supported 52 voter suffrage applications through the state legislature in the 2021 Mississippi legislative session. Today, MS Votes continues to lead voting rights restoration efforts.
Getting Cops out of Schools
Since their founding in 2018, Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) has been at the forefront of the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline in their community. In 2020, after years of organizing, public pressure, and over 1,000 testimonies, the Milwaukee Public School Board unanimously passed a resolution to end all contracts between the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Public Schools! They’ve also blocked TSA-style metal detectors from schools and decreased police presence in and around Milwaukee and La Crosse area-schools.
Now, LIT is calling for Wisconsin universities to divest from policing on campuses and reinvest those funds to support BIPOC communities and students in their Dare to Divest campaign.
The Virginia Student Power Network is demanding the immediate dissolution and abolition of the Virginia Commonwealth University police department. They are also calling on the university system to re-allocate those funds to directly support Black and Brown students on campus and increasing support for University Counseling Services. In May of 2021, they took direct action across the state and dropped banners on campuses calling for cops off campus.
Divesting from Police and Holding Police Accountable
Ohio Student Association (OSA) worked in coalition to canvass, host educational events, and collect signatures to pass the Citizens for a Safer Cleveland ballot initiative and won this last November. This initiative would ensure independent civilian oversight of investigations into police misconduct and give final authority on discipline decisions to a board of community leaders.
New Hampshire Youth Movement is supporting the efforts of local Black Lives Matter chapters to defund the police and reinvest that money in local communities across the state. In 2020, they hosted trainings for young people to learn how they can support this work in Manchester, Keene, and Dover by focusing on city council budgets and ballot initiatives. New Hampshire Youth Movement also hosted letter writing workshops for young people to write to their local leaders about reinvesting resources away from police departments and into community services and health initiatives.
This year, they launched “D.A.R.E” – the Don’t Alter Real Education program – to combat critical race theory and other banned topics in New Hampshire schools.
Poder in Action has been holding the police in Arizona accountable for their violence against community members. In 2019, they conducted a report asking community members about their experiences with the police and found experiences of profiling, mistreatment, and distrust. Poder in Action is currently fighting to block additional city funds from being allocated to the police.
Affordable Housing for Black Families
Minnesota Youth Collective is part of the Minneapolis United for Rent Control coalition building a movement for strong rent control, mobilizing to council meetings, and community events. After the rent control ballot measure passed last November, the coalition is fighting for policies that reflect the needs of the majority-renter population in the city. With inflation at 8%, working-class people face a real choice between paying sky-rocketing rents with wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation, moving out of their communities, or losing their homes. Forty-five percent of renters in the metro area have become cost burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. As a result of systemic racism, the homeownership gap between white people in Minnesota and people of color is the fourth-highest in the nation.
Abortion Access is Black Liberation
Mississippi Votes knows that abortion care is essential to Black liberation. The burdens imposed by Mississippi’s law making most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy falls hardest on people who already face structural barriers to health care, especially Black, Indigenous and other people of color, and those having difficulty making ends meet.The only abortion provider in Mississippi is at the center of the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. MSVotes is part of the Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition assuring that Mississippians know that they still have access to abortion and contraception.
Strong Black leadership is another way we celebrate Black Liberation. Get to know some of the Black leaders throughout the Alliance Network, and the work their orgs are doing this year!
Youth organizers in the Alliance Network know that the fight for Black liberation will transform our communities and create a better future for us all. We’re grateful for their leadership always – but especially today.