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People’s Convention organizers want focus on The People’s Agenda, not endorsements

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher thinks that focusing so much attention on the endorsements misses the bigger news story — that for all the criticism of its turnout, process and alleged favoritism, The People’s Convention brought hundreds of everyday Memphians together to organize and mobilize for political action.”

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State Rep. London Lamar presented a state proclamation honoring two prominent leaders who were a part of the original People's Convention in 1991: former city councilman Shep Wilbun and State Rep Barbara Cooper. Also in the photo are convention organizers Earle Fisher and Sijuwola Crawford. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

By Lee Eric Smith, The New Tri-State Defender
lesmith@tsdmemphis.com

Headlines coming out of “The People’s Convention” were all about Tami Sawyer, the activist-turned-county commissioner now seeking to become the next mayor of Memphis. Sawyer and seven other candidates in multiple races won the title of “The People’s Candidate” in the grassroots nonpartisan political event held June 8 at Paradise Entertainment Complex.

But Rev. Dr. Earle Fisher thinks that focusing so much attention on the endorsements misses the bigger news story — that for all the criticism of its turnout, process and alleged favoritism, The People’s Convention brought hundreds of everyday Memphians together to organize and mobilize for political action.

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)

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)

“People are centering on the slate of the candidates more than we would recommend if they want to appreciate the totality of the effort,” said Fisher, whose #UPTheVote901 movement spearheaded the convention. “Our central point is the agenda and the mobilization of people in the political process.”

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. Specifically, given that Fisher and Sawyer aligned to get Confederate statues removed from city parks, some assumed that the event was a rally-in-disguise for Sawyer’s campaign.

Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, opened with fiery remarks, calling for women's health policies that will benefit women of color. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, opened with fiery remarks, calling for women’s health policies that will benefit women of color. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

But even as a diverse collection of 500-plus Memphians steadily streamed into the Paradise Entertainment Complex on Georgia Avenue for the convention, Fisher was on stage declaring that the convention wasn’t just about endorsements – it was about an agenda focused on city finances, education, crime, employment and housing.

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 in his opening remarks.

Co-organizer Sijuwola Crawford said that legalese and legislative lingo was deliberately left out of “The People’s Agenda” to keep it easily digestible for citizens.

“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. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

“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. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

“It’s an aspirational document,” Crawford said Wednesday. “From the inception of the document, it was bigger than this election and what can be accomplished in this general election. This is what we want out of politics moving forward at every level.”

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 an accurate sampling of the city.

“In national polls, people use a sample size of 1,000 to talk about 260 million voters,” Crawford said. “So, we certainly believe (our sample size of) 2,000 people can be representative of Memphis.

“The truth is, this is probably as diverse an event as we’ve seen in Memphis but still representative of the demographic,” Crawford said in earlier remarks. “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.”

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.

Ayanna Watkins, the lead organizer for MICAH, speaks as her two-year-old daughter sleeps on her shoulder at the People’s Convention. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Ayanna Watkins, the lead organizer for MICAH, speaks as her two-year-old daughter sleeps on her shoulder at the People’s Convention. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

“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.”

Incumbent Mayor Jim Strickland declined to attend, as did Herenton, who served as mayor for 17 years and is seeking another term. 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.”

The New Tri-State Defender reached out to both the Strickland and Herenton campaigns for responses to the “People’s Agenda.” At press time, only the Strickland campaign had responded.

“As we have said before, we are focused on the October 3rd election,” said Steven Reid, a consultant on the Strickland campaign. “Mayor Strickland is running a grassroots campaign and is taking his record of accomplishments and plans for the future to every neighborhood in the city.”

Crawford said there will be additional events before the election, including meet-and-greet type events that will give voters another chance to question candidates. But the focus remains squarely on the Agenda itself.

“It’s a living document. We can add to it and subtract from it as needed,” Crawford said. “But for the candidates, we’re going to fight like hell. We’re going to knock on doors, make phone calls and pull people together around this agenda – and get people to the polls to support this agenda.”

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Brittney Griner Sentenced to More than 9 years in Russian Prison

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision. “We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

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

WNBA Superstar Brittney Griner has been sentenced to more than 9 years in a Russian prison following her conviction on drug charges.

Her lawyers called the verdict a disappointment and vowed to appeal.

The lawyers of WNBA star Brittney Griner, Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, said in a written statement following the verdict announcement that the court ignored all the evidence they presented and that they will appeal the decision.

“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality,” Attorneys Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov said in a statement.

“The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea. This contradicts the existing legal practice.

“Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal,” they added.

Russian officials contended that Griner committed the crime on purpose. They also levied a fine totaling about $16,400 American dollars on the basketball star.

Authorities arrested Griner on Feb. 17 at an airport in Moscow after finding less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage.

She has been detained since then.

Recently, American officials revealed that the Biden-Harris administration had offered notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” President Biden said.

“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”

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Report: Human Rights Violations in Prisons Throughout Southern United States Cause Disparate and Lasting Harm in Black Communities  

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center. 

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NNPA Newswire

NEW YORK – The Southern Prisons Coalition, a group of civil and human rights organizations, submitted a new report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on the devastating consequences of incarceration on Black people throughout the southern United States.

With the long-term goal of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in the criminal legal system, including the carceral system, the report describes the widespread, disparate harms resulting from the arrests, harsh prison sentences, and incarceration on Black communities.

The report also cites the devastating impacts of solitary confinement, prison labor, the school to prison pipeline, and incarceration of parents on Black families.

On August 8, 2022, the UN will review the United States’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for the first time since 2014.

Among the ongoing stark racial disparities throughout prisons in the southern United States, Black people are five times more likely to be incarcerated in state prisons.

In states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas, where Black communities comprise 38% of the total population, Black individuals account for as much as 67% of the total incarcerated population.

While incarcerated, Black people are more than eight times more likely to be placed in solitary confinement, and they are 10 times more likely to be held there for exceedingly long periods of time.

By submitting the report to the United Nations, the Southern Prisons Coalition hopes to solicit concrete recommendations from the UN Committee as well as commitments from the United States delegation about their plans to address systemic issues in the United States prison system, particularly in the South.

According to the report, several states in the United States have also failed to meet several of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of incarcerated people, including:

  • Work should help to prepare incarcerated people for their release from prison, including life and job skills;
  • Safety measures and labor protections for incarcerated workers should be the same as those that cover workers who are not incarcerated;
  • Incarcerated workers should receive equitable pay, be able to send money home to their families, and have a portion of their wages set aside to be given to them upon release.

“The U.S. has long failed to live up to its international human rights treaty obligations on eliminating racial discrimination, perhaps more so in the area of mass incarceration and prison conditions than in any other context,” said Lisa Borden, Senior Policy Counsel, International Advocacy at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We hope the Committee will help to shine a light on these very dark truths and prompt the U.S. to take its obligation to make significant improvements more seriously.”

“The abuses of forced labor are inextricably tied to racial discrimination in our nation,” said Jamila Johnson, Deputy Director at the Promise of Justice Initiative.

“In Louisiana, for instance, people are still sent into the fields to labor by hand in dangerously high heat indexes, for little to no compensation, and with brutal enforcement reminiscent of slavery and the era of ‘convict leasing’.”

“This report reveals the suffering of Black people in southern U.S. prisons, whose stories of marginalization and discrimination echo the racial subjugation of slavery and convict leasing during our country’s most shameful past,” said Antonio L. Ingram II, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund.

“Despite widespread knowledge of the longstanding racial inequalities in the criminal legal and carceral systems, the United States continues to allow egregious human rights violations to persist for Black incarcerated people in violation of international law. This report serves as a sobering reminder of how far we need to go.”

Read the full report here.

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Celebrate your birthday with 10 free items

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

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By Angelina Liu, Entertainment Editor of The Trendsetter / Texas Metro News

Is your birthday coming up, and you’re not sure how to celebrate? Beat the summer heat by grabbing free ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery, or a daiquiri at WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe.” Not in the mood for sweets? Head over to Jersey Mike’s or McDonald’s. Check out the rest of these Top 10 places giving out free items on your special day.

1. Chocolate Secrets

At Chocolate Secrets, located at 3926 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 75219, you can celebrate your birthday by getting one free piece of candy under their candy cases.

2. WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”

Head to WhoDaq Daquiris “The Daiquiri Shoppe”, located at 684 W Pioneer Pkwy Suite 100, Grand Prairie, Texas 75051, to claim a free small personal daiquiri on your birthday. Quench your thirst with signature flavors such as “Strawberry Shortcake” or “Bahama Mama.”

3. Sephora

Sign up for a free, Beauty Insider account and receive your choice of 250 bonus points, Laura Mercier, Amika or Tatcha sets on your birthday. The choice of powders, lipsticks and skincare is bound to make you look fabulous for your special day.

4. Starbucks

Need a quick pick-me-up on your birthday? Starbucks has it covered! Join the Starbucks Rewards Program seven days prior to your birthday and make one purchase. Starbucks will then email you a coupon for a free food or beverage item two days before your birthday. The birthday reward qualifies for anything on the menu, including any size handcrafted drink or food item.

5. Jersey Mike’s

In the mood for a sub? Head over to Jersey Mike’s and receive a free sub and drink. Make sure to sign up for the Jersey Mike’s Subs Email Club prior to your birthday to receive this reward. Nothing tastes quite like melted cheese and meat in between a toasted baguette, along with an icy cold drink.

6. The Cheesecake Factory

Celebrating with friends? Tell your server it’s your birthday and receive a free treat as well as a song. It may be mildly embarrassing, but hey, it’s free!

7. Culver’s

Need something cold and sweet to beat the Texas heat? Head to Culver’s for a free sundae when you sign up for their rewards program. The sweet creaminess will surely not disappoint.

8. IHOP

Want to indulge in a sweet breakfast before birthday festivities? Join the International Bank of Pancakes rewards program to receive a free stack of pancakes on your birthday. Pair your pancakes with a choice of chocolate chips, syrup, fresh fruit or a dollop of whipped cream.

9. McDonald’s

Need a snack before embarking on your next birthday adventure? Download the McDonald’s app and join MyMcDonald’s Rewards to receive free large fries. Mmm, the taste and smell of fresh, perfectly salted french fries.

10. Smoothie King

Want to celebrate your birthday with a healthier option? Enjoy a birthday smoothie at Smoothie King. Download the Smoothie King app to receive this offer.

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