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Memphis People’s Convention all about The People’s Agenda

NNPA NEWSWIRE — As a diverse collection of 500-plus Memphians steadily streamed into the Paradise Entertainment Complex on Georgia Avenue, there wasn’t so much a set slate of candidates as there was a slate of issues – an agenda focused on city finances, education, crime, employment and housing.

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Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher, founder of #UPTheVote901, offers opening remarks at The People's Convention at the Paradise Entertainment Complex on Saturday, June 8. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer was the consensus “People’s Candidate” for mayor.

By Lee Eric Smith, The New Tri-State Defender

Note: TSD’s Lee Eric Smith was on special assignment for both The New Tri-State Defender and MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. A different version of this story can be found at MLK50.com.

In the run-up to The People’s Convention, there were rumblings that the event would be a glorified pep rally for a predetermined slate of candidates in Memphis’ upcoming municipal elections.

But as a diverse collection of 500-plus Memphians steadily streamed into the Paradise Entertainment Complex on Georgia Avenue, there wasn’t so much a set slate of candidates as there was a slate of issues – an agenda focused on city finances, education, crime, employment and housing.

And if there was any doubt how candidates can win the support of the People’s Convention, the Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher made it clear in his opening remarks.

“At no point in recent history have we had 20 candidates for elected office gathered to be vetted by a group like this,” said Fisher, founder of #UpTheVote901, which organized the convention. “And be very clear: We are not here because of them. They are here because of us.”

After registering, attendees received a handout titled “Memphis People’s Convention Agenda.” The document said that more than 2,200 Memphians were surveyed to identify the most important issues ahead of city elections in October. “Anybody who cannot support and endorse this (agenda) is not capable of providing the political service that we need,” Fisher said.

Organizers say that more than 900 people registered online for the Convention, though only about 500 of those attended. However, another 150 people registered onsite to push the attendance above 650. Those numbers, combined with the more than 2,200 online surveys, made organizers feel they’d achieved a solid but accurate sampling of the city.

And by the end of the convention, current Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer was the consensus “People’s Candidate” for mayor.

Endorsements for other offices include: Judge: Jayne Chandler; City Council #4: Britney Thornton; City Council #6: Theryn C. Bond; City Council #7: Michalyn C. S. Easter-Thomas; City Council #8.1: Pearl Eva Walker; City Council #8.2: Frank W. Johnson; and City Council #9.1: Erika Sugarmon.

“The truth is, this is probably as diverse an event as we’ve seen in Memphis but still representative of the demographic,” said co-organizer Sijuwola Crawford. “There were people who are black or African American, white or Caucasian, people of Hispanic or Latinx descent. There were people we know who identify as gay and trans(gender). Christians. Nation of Islam. People who identify as not religious. Business owners and the working poor and unemployed.

“We saw a great representation of what Memphis looks like – and what it can look like in the future,” he added. “This was a great step in that direction.”

“We saw a great representation of what Memphis looks like – and what it can look like in the future,” he added. “This was a great step in that direction.”

The agenda, which was officially unveiled at the convention, was broken into five major categories, with multiple policy points under each. Among the key policies on the agenda:

  • City Budget: Directly include community members in the city’s budgeting process.
  • Education: Measures for student and teacher success that are untethered to standardized testing. The agenda also calls for free access to art and music instruction.
  • Crime and Safety: More support services, including those for mental health and homelessness. The agenda also calls for the decriminalization of marijuana.
  • Labor and Wages: The agenda calls for the City of Memphis, companies that receive PILOTS (payment in lieu of taxes) and temporary staffing agencies to pay employees a living wage.
  • Affordable Housing: Creation of a public agency to end homelessness, as well as construction of more homeless shelters. The agenda also calls for increased regulations on landlords to ensure property maintenance and fair eviction processes.

And that was just the “official” people’s agenda. Partner organizations to #UpTheVote901 were given time to advocate for a variety of other issues, including reproductive rights, a new green deal and the restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated.

At stake, said Crawford, is more than just an endorsement, or even votes. The idea is to mobilize money, resources and volunteers around “The People’s Candidates,” as convention organizers called endorsed candidates.

“Our work is going to be (about) how do we build this base for the agenda first, and then for candidates who align with that agenda,” Crawford said. “That’ s just the hard work of getting out and having difficult conversations with people.

“People are disengaged and disenchanted because they don’t feel a part of this political process,” he continued. “But what we want to show people is that there is power in our numbers. And we want to link candidates with these issues and from there, with a wider base, we want to move these people to the polls . . . and beyond.”

The convention applied a version of “ranked choice voting” – a method of voting where voters rank multiple candidates on a ballot. For the People’s Convention, participants voted using Menti.com, an online app that collects and presents audience feedback in real time.

Even that method of voting was its own political statement. On multiple occasions, Memphis voters have already approved a form of ranked voting for municipal elections, but implementation has stalled. The convention’s election process provided a learn-by-doing example of how such a ballot would work.

It’s been said that the democratic process is neither quick nor neat, and the Memphis People’s Convention was no different. Even as the event started nearly an hour after its listed time, people were still filing in. And as a political event, there were impassioned political speeches that stretched the convention into late Saturday afternoon.

Among those giving brief remarks was Shep Wilbun, one of the organizers of the 1991 Peoples Convention. That year, Dr. Willie W. Herenton defeated Wilbun to win the People’s Convention – and eventually the mayor’s office itself.

“The times are different. The process is different. The needs are different in some degrees, but your People’s Agenda today is the same as ours,” said Wilbun, a former city councilman. “That’s damning in one sense, and inspiring in another. I told them then that 25 years from now, we would need to have another People’s Convention, because what was done then will have been forgotten.”

But far from berating the current convention, Wilbun echoed calls for voters to hold elected officials accountable.

“People try to say it’s a generational thing. It’s always young people who want to change lives,” said Wilbun, who said he was 38 during the earlier convention. “And no mistake, the people who are favored, the people who are incumbents, they are not people who want change.”

The crowd gradually thinned out over the afternoon, but well over 100 attendees stayed long enough for mayoral candidates Tami Sawyer and Lemichael Wilson to present their cases.

Notably absent was incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland who declined to attend. Herenton, who served as mayor for 17 years and is seeking another term, also was conspicuously absent.
In remarks after the convention, Fisher said that Strickland, Herenton and other candidates had not seen The People’s Agenda, as it hadn’t been released early.

“Now, we fully expect for every candidate to have to respond to The People’s Agenda, and say where they stand,” Fisher said. “What they won’t be able to do is say that they are The People’s Candidate. They won’t be able to say that they were confident enough in the people, compassionate enough towards the people and interested enough in the people’s vision to come out and be vetted by the people.

“We won’t allow them to try to skirt the process,” Fisher said.

Fisher also challenged news outlets to press Strickland, Herenton and others on their reasons for sitting out the convention.

“Ask every one of them to thoroughly explain exactly why they did not come. And don’t settle for a coy answer, like the event was predetermined,” Fisher said. “Ask the candidates who participated in this. Ask them if it was fair, if it was thorough, if it was open to everybody.

“This was not biased,” he continued. “This was much more objective and fair and equitable than the Shelby County Election Commission elections. So don’t let them off the hook easy. Because what they’ll do is put more pressure on us to defend our process and then we will put (more pressure) on them to defend their public record.

“We’re defending our process,” Fisher said. “Make them defend their public record.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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