BOSTON – Leaders from eight coalitions united on the steps of the State House today to call for action on crucial legislation before the end of this legislative session. Some of these campaigns have been calling for justice for their communities for decades, others have been formed in response to the heavy toll taken by the pandemic. All of the campaigns address the economic and public health disparities that are causing preventable suffering in far too many communities, the majority of which are populated by black and brown people, and people with low incomes.
Leaders from these eight coalitions are uniting because justice can’t wait. Frontline workers need protection and economic support now. People need housing stability now and the looming eviction crisis of 100,000 people being forced from their homes must be prevented. Immigrant families have been relentlessly targeted for the past four years and it would be a failure in Massachusetts leadership to let yet another legislative session pass without action. Environmental Justice is crucial for our communities. The pandemic has exposed the harsh truth that those burdened with the worst air quality are most vulnerable in a public health crisis. And, we join together with Indigenous leaders to end the shame of being the final state that has refused to change its racist flag. How do we call for justice and equity when the very symbol of our Commonwealth is racial oppression?
Four hundred years after the Pilgrims landed In Plymouth, it is long past time for Massachusetts to begin to reckon with its racist and damaging history with Native Americans. Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of COVID-19, police brutality, and climate change.
“Seen from a systemic perspective, Massachusetts Indigenous Legislative Agenda improves confidence between Indigenous peoples and the Commonwealth. From addressing representation in educational environments, council chambers, and courthouses to mitigating harm perpetuated by auctioning sacred objects, our communities demand the dismantling of white supremacy and moving towards a sustainable future,” said Jean-Luc Pierite, President of the North American Indian Center of Boston and a member of United American Indians of New England.
Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said that legislative action is necessary to ensure adequate funding not only for education and the extra demands being placed on public schools, colleges and universities, but also for programs and services that will keep families healthy and economically secure during the pandemic.
“The Baker administration’s fixation with reopening public school buildings misses the bigger picture of what it takes to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of students – all while keeping everyone safe and healthy,” Najimy said. “Families, too, need additional supports and financial resources as their children participate in remote or hybrid education.
“The pandemic has brought about an unparalleled level of trauma for children and families. Educators are prepared to help our students but cannot do it alone,” she continued. “Public schools need vigorous support from the state so they can be part of a communitywide wraparound approach to helping students and their families overcome the challenges presented by the coronavirus.”
“In the few weeks since the moratorium ended we have already seen 750 eviction notices served in Western MA and nearly 700 foreclosure notices! In court, attorneys and organizers have seen dozens of executions issued and hundreds more are scheduled. Meanwhile, applications for rental assistance have increased exponentially statewide, with processing wait times averaging 4-8 weeks. These are the warning signs of the eviction and foreclosure tsunami. Massachusetts legislators have failed to act meaningfully to protect people hardest hit by covid19. Our one last shot before the federal moratorium ends is to pass the Guaranteed Housing Stability Act before Dec 31. Otherwise homeowners and renters will be left out in the cold on Jan 1st,” said Lisa Owens, Executive Director, City Life Vida Urbana.
“We’re in the middle of the expected fall COVID surge, but there’s still time to act and prevent more hospitalizations and deaths this winter. Tens of thousands of Massachusetts workers have used up their existing paid sick time or never had any to begin with, and they feel financial pressure to go to work even when they might be sick. This amendment for an Emergency Paid Sick Time law would allow workers to stay home and avoid spreading COVID to their coworkers and the public,” said Lew FInfer, Co-Director of MA Communities Action Network.
“We need environmental justice legislation now! Environmental Justice communities across the Commonwealth have been carrying an unjust environmental and public health burden for far too long. We have been sounding the alarms for decades, knowing that our communities would be hardest hit by any disaster, and that is exactly what happened with COVID. The legislation sitting in Conference Committee H.4933 is only one small step in providing basic protection to low income communities, communities of color and communities who experience language isolation. This is about human rights and protecting our most vulnerable communities across the State. In the midst of a public health crisis and the social and economic inequities that have been uncovered by the pandemic, we urge the legislature to enact environmental justice legislation now.” said Maria Belen Power, Associate Executive Director, GreenRoots and co-convener of the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Table.
“The Safe Communities Act would ensure that immigrants have access to police and court protection without fear of family separation. Quick passage is especially critical for immigrant victims and survivors of domestic violence, who are forced to quarantine with their abusers during the pandemic. They are living in a high risk situation due to their fear of contacting law enforcement. This is a public health emergency that the state needs to address right now,” said Gladys Ortiz, Bilingual Court Advocacy Manager & Community Outreach Specialist at REACH Beyond Domestic Violence.
“Simply by allowing every qualified state resident the ability to apply for a driver’s license, regardless of his or her immigration status, the Work and Family Mobility Act addresses systemic injustice and improves the health and safety of every Massachusetts resident. We know that the undocumented immigrants who need these licenses are also mostly people of color, and a disproportionate percentage are essential workers. These 180,000 state residents need to legally drive to avoid clogging public transportation and increasing the pandemic’s spread, and to provide us with the groceries, childcare, elderly care, construction, cleaning and other services on which we all depend. The current state-sanctioned bias against these immigrants has turned driving into a criminal act, rewarding racist police for engaging in racial profiling, and turning the simple act of driving into the second most common criminal charge levied in the state. This cruelty has gone on for far too long. We need to pass the Work and Family Mobility Act now,” said Dalida Rocha, Political Director of 32BJ SEIU and co-chair of the Driving Families Forward Coalition.
“They have decided to forge ahead with planned cuts – amputations to be exact, severing connections to work, family and worship, healthcare, entertainment and safe ways to travel from point a to point b. The MBTA’s “Forging Ahead” plan is rolling us back. Advocates fought to get weekend service on lines like the Fairmont line and next month they plan to vote to take that away,” said Mela Bush-Miles, Transit-Oriented Development Director, Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE).
We call on the legislative body of our Commonwealth to act now. Throughout this pandemic, community leaders responded to the needs of their neighbors. We have been there for one another as we have managed this unprecedented crisis for the past ten months. Now, we call on our elected officials to hear us, see us and take care of the people you were elected to protect. Justice Can’t wait.