Campaigns

Redistributing White Wealth Campaign Launch Event

Join us on Monday, May 23 at 6pm for a virtual launch event for SURJ’s new Redistributing White Wealth campaign. The event requires advance registration via this form.

Redistributing White Wealth is a campaign to encourage people who benefit from the injustice of the racial wealth gap in Tompkins County to move money to BIPOC-led activist organizations. We want to normalize the idea that white folks in our county should redistribute a portion of their income as a response to systemic racism. You can read more about the motivation and the structure in our post introducing the campaign.

At the event, we’ll get to hear from local leaders at the organizations who will receive the redistributed wealth. We’ll encourage folks to sign up to start moving money during the event. Register today!

End Immigrant Detention in New York State

Thursday, April 28 @ 7pm
Please register now! (Zoom)

It’s time for communities in Upstate NY to mobilize support for the Dignity Not Detention Act!

At this gathering we will hear directly from immigrant rights organizers in New York City and Tompkins County. You will learn the most up-to-date information about the campaign to get the Dignity Not Detention Act passed in the NYS legislature and connect with activists from across the state. We will develop strategies together to expand support for the act. You will also hear about other strategies in NYS that treat immigrants with dignity.  

Presenters:

To register, click here

On any given night, hundreds of New Yorkers are detained by ICE in jails and prisons across the state. They are subjected to inhumane conditions and separated from their families and communities. Several counties in New York profit from immigration detention and ICE is actively seeking to expand detention in New York.

The New York Dignity Not Detention Act (S7373 Salazar /A7099A Reyes) gets New York out of the business of immigration detention. 

Co-sponsored by: Transforming Justice and Organizing Abolition Work Group, Tompkins County SURJ; TC Immigrant Rights Coalition; TC Workers’ Center; SURJ NYC; Abolish ICE NY-NJ; Coordinating Circle, Dryden Groton Plus – Human Dignity Coalition.
Image: https://www.nysylc.org/
For info: beth55harris@gmail.com or kathystute@gmail.com

Parole Justice & Survivor Justice Advocacy Day

We are just a few days away from our upcoming Parole Justice & Survivor Justice advocacy day. At the beginning of National Crime Victims Week, The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Common Justice, and some of the state’s other leading victim/survivor groups are coming together for an all-day advocacy day in Albany. This event is in support of the Elder Parole, Fair & Timely Parole, and Fair Access to Victim Compensation bills. Together, these three bills promote pathways to redemption for incarcerated people and their families, access to key resources for victims and survivors, and a framework for what real healing and safety can look like.

The day will include a rally, press conference, and meetings with lawmakers at the NY State Capitol in Albany. Food, transportation, and materials will be provided.

Can you join us on April 25th from 9am-5pm? RSVP here. Share this post with your colleagues, friends, and neighbors.

Provide Your Feedback on SURJ’s New Redistributing White Wealth Campaign

We are excited to be exploring a new campaign to redistribute white wealth in Tompkins County, and we would love your feedback! Click here to go straight to the survey, and read on for more background.

Why redistribute white wealth?

One of SURJ’s core values as a national organization is “there is enough for all”. While we know that there are enough resources to go around and take care of everyone’s basic needs, wealth is distributed unfairly and is deeply impacted by white supremacy, including the historical realities of slavery, land theft, housing discrimination, food apartheid, environmental racism and more. Although certainly not all white people have access to excess wealth, due to systemic racism, the typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Latinx family. The median white worker in 2021 made 26% more income than the median Black worker. In other words, white people hold a vastly disproportionate amount of wealth in this country and have a large role to play in working towards economic justice for all.

Here in Tompkins County, there are many BIPOC-led organizations working to address systemic racism and its impacts. Because of the racial wealth and income gaps, their work is often impacted by limited resources, including time and money. Even grant funding can cause challenges by restricting uses of the money, requiring staff time to complete applications and reporting, and at times failing to acknowledge racism within review and decision-making processes. 

The goal of SURJ’s Redistributing White Wealth Campaign is to move some of the money that white folks in Tompkins County have access to into BIPOC-led anti-racist organizing work on an ongoing basis, with no strings attached. 

We understand that this proposed campaign is only one small step towards the redistribution of white wealth; however, we believe it’s an important step. Initiatives like this one are being launched in many other communities. It is our hope and vision that this campaign and others like it will eventually lead to broader actions at the local, state and national levels (such as taxing the rich, the land back movement, and the passage of national reparations legislation like H.R. 40). 

Will you join us in redistributing wealth in Tompkins County?

It’s easy! All you will have to do is set up a recurring contribution of any amount to our Redistributing White Wealth fund (link coming when the campaign launches). You don’t have to be wealthy to contribute. Social science research shows that those with lower incomes actually give a greater percentage of their money than those with higher incomes. Maybe you can contribute $8/month, in recognition of the fact that white families have, on average, 8 times the wealth of Black families. Or maybe you are a higher income earner, and are able to contribute $26/month, or even 26% of your monthly income, in recognition of the 26% more income that white workers earn on average compared to Black workers. Maybe you can contribute $100, or even $1000, per month. Choose an amount that feels meaningful to you. You can always adjust your contribution if your circumstances change. When you think about how much you can contribute, consider that this is not a charity project, but a redistribution of wealth in response to systemic racism. 

TC SURJ has partnered with BIPOC-led anti-racist organizations in Tompkins County since our founding – this accountability is core to all the work we do. This new project is intended to increase available resources for our partners, not to replace all the other ways that we strive to support racial justice work in our community. We have been in conversation with some of our partners as we begin to plan for this initiative, and will continue checking in with these and other partners to adapt the project as needed. 

Partner organizations who SURJ has been in communication with about this project include:

  • Ithaca Multicultural Resource Center
  • Southside Community Center
  • Black Lives Matter Ithaca
  • Alliance of Families for Justice
  • Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ (Cayuga) Nation

While the campaign is still taking shape, we have created a survey to gauge the community’s interest and feedback in the proposal. Filling out the survey isn’t a firm commitment, but we hope to follow up when the campaign launches to get you signed up to move money. Thank you for helping the campaign move ahead by filling out the survey! It may take 2–10 minutes.

People’s Campaign for Parole Justice: Advocacy Day

The People’s Campaign for Parole Justice fights for fair and meaningful release opportunities for incarcerated people in NY prisons with the primary goals of decarceration and family reunification. Through the passage of the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills, we will collectively ensure that every person in NY State prison has a real chance to come home. They will help to prevent the crisis of aging, sickness, and death in prisons, reunite families and communities, and help to uproot NY’s racist criminal legal system.

On Jan. 11, the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, a statewide grassroots coalition, will hold their first major Advocacy Day of the year and we’re asking EVERYBODY to come. The advocacy day will be virtual and take place via Zoom. RSVP today!

Virtual Teach-In: Creating Anti-racist Communities

7:00-9:00 pm, Tuesday October 26, 2021

Please register here to get zoom link for teach-in.

While Ithaca and Tompkins County focus on “reimagining public safety,” many people want to spark deeper conversations and build a movement that goes beyond a government-centered approach. We want genuine transformative and restorative justice! We want real abolitionist strategies! 

This forum will discuss a social movement approach to changing the current system and building relationships in our communities based on principles of equity, justice and healing. Join us! Spread the word!

Goals: 

  • Share practical lessons, building knowledge and solidarity
  • Expand supportive community spaces for people formerly incarcerated and their loved ones to talk about their experiences, needs and visions
  • Build support and recruit members for a new workgroup “Transforming Justice and Abolitionist Organizing”
  • Create an opportunity for antiracist groups, including other SURJ chapters in NYS, to learn about and get involved with initiatives to transform justice systems and organize for abolition

We’ll learn from the  People’s Campaign for Parole Justice, Central NY Alliance of Families for Justice, and from local efforts to build alternatives to policing and incarceration. Speakers will include: Mark Shervington, statewide advocacy associate for Release Aging People in Prison; Khalil Bey, assistant coordinator for the Alliance of Families for Justice; Rochelle Matthews, activist with Ithaca Pantheras, and Carl Williams, social movement lawyer and organizer for racial justice, abolition and liberation. We’ll have break-out groups in addition to the panelists.

Please register here to get zoom link for teach-in.

Co-sponsors: Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Coordinating Circle, Dryden Groton Plus – Human Dignity Coalition

For more information, contact Beth Harris beth55harris@gmail.com or Kathy Russell kathystute@gmail.com

Tompkins County Virtual Town Hall

Tompkins County Virtual Town Hall
Racial Justice and Healing:
Voting Rights, HALT Solitary Confinement and Parole Justice
7-8:30pm, Wednesday, May 19
Zoom registration link: http://bit.ly/519Justice
For info: Liza Cobb, elcobb54@gmail.com, 571-275-2107

To a virtual town hall, the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) and Tompkins County
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) have invited racial justice activists, people most
affected by our state’s punishment system, and advocates for social justice to speak
about policies that contribute to flourishing communities that respect the dignity and
humanity of all.

At the town hall, outstanding organizers will share recent victories for fundamental
human rights during the 2021 NYS legislative session and advocate for important bills
central to the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice. Phoebe Brown, the CNY AFJ
coordinator and a candidate for the Ithaca Common Council, will serve as moderator.
Following the presentations, there will be an opportunity for questions.
Speakers:

ReEntry Theatre actors: Personal experiences of incarceration
Soffiyah Elijah, ED, Alliance of Families for Justice: Voting rights for disenfranchised
people
Jerome Wright, Western NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC):
HALT solitary confinement
Jose Saldaña, ED, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP): People’s Campaign for
Parole Justice
TeAna Taylor, Policy and Communications Associate, RAPP: Take Action: Elder Parole
and Fair and Timely Parole bills
Anna Kelles, NYS Assembly member for District 125: Call to support “Justice Roadmap,”
including parole justice bills, in Upstate NY
Khalil Bey, Ithaca artist, community activist and mentor who was formerly incarcerated:
Inspiration through art
Bill Underwood, former entrepreneur in the music and entertainment business, now
serving community through Underwood Legacy Fund: After 33 years of incarceration,
creating second chance at life

Co-sponsors: Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP); People’s Campaign for Parole
Justice (PCPJ); Western NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC);
ReEntry Theatre, project of Civic Ensemble; Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition; and
Decarcerate Tompkins.

Response to Mayor Myrick’s Reimagining Public Safety Proposal

The Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition, a collection of progressive organizations and individuals active since 2020, opposes Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s “Reimagining Public Safety” initiative as an attempt to dilute and rebrand the grassroots demand for police defunding and community reinvestment.

While aspects of Myrick’s proposal appear progressive, the plan sidesteps the call to defund police—a central demand of the antiracist movement that arose last year after the brutal killing of George Floyd. Myrick’s proposal, which actually expands law enforcement budgets, seeks to reorganize policing instead of shifting real resources and power to vulnerable communities that are most in need of genuine safety and security.

Media coverage of the proposal has touted its seemingly bold elements, including unarmed officers, dismantling the current IPD structure, increased access to mental health services, and the mandate that IPD officers would have to reapply to a redesigned Public Safety department. However, Mayor Myrick’s assertion—not present in the proposal—that current officers would be rehired under his plan suggests that the plan’s objective is to reshuffle rather than defund or dissolve the IPD.

The proposal’s general ambiguity is troubling. We see no commitment to permanently terminate IPD officers who have abused and brutalized black community members and other targeted citizens. When questioned about this omission during a webinar that followed his proposal’s release, Myrick skirted the question, saying only that, “Accountability is very important to me.”

The main problem with this proposal is that it calls for INCREASING rather than reducing law enforcement budgets. The demands that crystallized last summer in the wake of the police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many others were to defund and even abolish the police. Policing as an institution is fundamentally shaped by white supremacy and capitalism. A real vision of public safety means reinvesting in the needs of our community—to name a few,

housing, dignified employment, childcare, and mental health and addiction services that are fully detached from the punitive mechanisms of criminal justice and law enforcement. The Myrick proposal cunningly reinforces the core logic of policing while expanding law enforcement personnel. Dubbing such officers “public safety workers” is a cynical marketing scheme. Additionally, we reject a $50,000 rebranding of the SWAT truck. Organizers have been demanding for years that the SWAT truck be transformed into a community resource such as a mobile health clinic, but this proposal instead invests significant money into making it over while its terrorizing purpose remains the same.

The proposal fails to specify the ratio of armed to unarmed officers. Nor does it specify the nature of the relationship between armed and unarmed personnel, and precisely how the two groups would coordinate in the context of routine and urgent responses. It remains unclear how officers—armed or unarmed—would be deployed to EMS calls. This ambiguity leaves ample room for the continuation of entrenched prejudices that have so often proved deadly for people of color and other vulnerable populations.

Disarming police is an important step toward real public safety. However, the deep ambiguities of the proposal make it impossible to determine whether the new Public Safety department would actually constitute a decrease or increase in the aggregate presence of law enforcement weapons and mechanisms of violence.

It is important to note that unarmed people DO harm Black, Indigenous and People of Color community members all the time. Nor is training the answer to racist police violence. Under the Mayor’s ”reimagined” police, just as under the current system, law enforcement personnel inevitably serve as the entry point into the mass incarceration regime. Police interactions are the first step into a system of racial control that routinely monitors, harasses, detains, incarcerates, and otherwise oppresses BIPOC people. Instead of reimagining, genuine defunding of police is crucial: we need a large-scale reinvestment away from policing and toward a true vision of anti-racism and community safety.

While we do not support the mayor’s vague and misleading proposal, we also forcefully reject the claim that the plan amounts to “union busting.” Those who weaponize support for organized labor to undermine grassroots demands for defunding and depolicing are opponents of BOTH racial justice AND genuine struggles for worker power.

Cayuga SHARE Farm Fundraiser – please share far and wide

GoFundMe Fundraiser Page to Donate

This fundraiser supports saving the Cayuga SHARE Farm in the interest of the traditional people of Cayuga (Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ- People of the Pipe), a sovereign nation of the Haudenosaunee confederacy. It is an urgent need to ensure that Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ traditional leadership of chiefs and clan mothers can keep SHARE Farm, the only land which they currently have stewardship rights to within their people’s homeland. Donations made through Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming will be used to ensure the farm continues to be a place of education, healing, and Haudenosaunee culture.

New York State still will not recognize Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ sovereignty and the Bureau of Indian Affairs names Clint Halftown (who performed acts of terrorism against his own people last year, during the time when he destroyed their businesses, schoolhouse, and gardens) as the Cayuga Nation “tribal representative”. Because of NYS and BIA’s refusals to recognize Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ as a sovereign people, Cayuga County is claiming, in spite of treaty law, 14 years of unpaid property taxes against the Cayuga SHARE Farm without notifying the traditional chiefs and clan mothers. The total amount demanded by the county is $116,000. The deadline to raise funds in order to keep the farm is April 16th, 2021. Your monetary gift will be used for the purpose of supporting the education, cultural survival, and community development of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ traditional people.

Since the farm resides in a NYS-determined “reservation area”, the traditional leadership can and will use legal means to prevent the county’s tax claims in the future. But there is no future for the SHARE Farm if we don’t raise $116,000 by April 16th. If the SHARE Farm is taken, Halftown could consolidate more power while the traditional people lose educational and cultural opportunities through another separation from their land. Indigenous sovereignty and government needs a homeland in order to function. Raising funds to pay off Cayuga County’s tax claim- which is actually not legally defensible, as taxing Haudenosaunee nations is against treaty law- on the Farm is currently the only viable means to keep the farm. Having land is important for the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ traditional leaders’ continued efforts to gain recognition of their people’s treaty rights by NYS and the US, and the security of their cultural freedom as a sovereign nation.

This fundraiser’s fiscal sponsor is Groundswell Center for Local Food & Farming! Groundswell is a 501c3 not for profit. Your donation to support this fundraiser the Cayuga SHARE Farm is tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. 

For more information about the SHARE Farm, please visit their website https://cayugasharefarm.org/

GoFundMe FundraiserPage to Donate

In Our Name

In many minds, Ithaca NY is a mythical place, intertwining academia and social activism and peppered with small town niceness.  I grew up in a small rural town in Northern California, not only separated from Ithaca by distance but ideologically opposed both to academia in general and to social activism as communism.  When I ended up in Ithaca for work, I was unaware of, well, anything about Ithaca.  However, it wasn’t long before I learned of the Gradys, a family that exemplifies both the approachability and far reach typical of activism here.  I knew Clare Grady from reading articles about her work and from a few brief interactions around town.  After reading her sentencing statement this last Fall, I was struck.  At the beginning of February, Clare began a 12 month prison sentence, for entering a Georgia naval base and symbolically damaging weapons systems in protest of nuclear armaments. Clare’s actions arise from deep listening in many communities, as she describes in her powerful sentencing statement (included at the end of this post).  My initial response to Clare’s statement was discomfort.  And, as I am learning more, this discomfort was signalling me to pay attention to something.  I believe that “something” is guilt related to the ways I have been complicit with white supremacy and the patriarchy.  My hope is that in sharing this discomfort, other white christian cis-women who read this will be able to see a path from complicity with systems of oppression to nurturing more complete communities through action.

I grew up in a very white town, going to a very white christian church.  The church ladies were certainly very kind to me, but I often felt deeply alone at church functions.  While the adults in my life were largely saying one thing about the teachings of Jesus, what I was learning from their actions was the opposite.  I learned that color blindness was nice, that women obeyed (and ensured everyone else did too), and that people who were suffering likely needed elbow grease rather than a neighborly hand.  In contrast, at the outset of Clare’s sentencing statement she describes how her love of the Bible compels her actions:

“7. I love the mission statement of Loaves and Fishes from Matthew 25. I especially hold the part that says, “whatsoever we do to the least, that we do to Jesus.” The Bible passage tells us a little about the least, that they are those without food, drink, clothes, those without health care, without welcome, and the imprisoned. I add to this list of the “least”, those who are being killed, ESPECIALLY THOSE BEING KILLED IN OUR NAME. Because, when we kill others and harm others, we do that to Jesus. I believe it is a Christian calling to withdraw consent, interrupt our consent, from killing in our name. To do so is an act of Love, an act of justice, a sacred act that brings us into right relationship with God and neighbor.”

In high school, I remember being upset by the fearlessness of some of the young women whom I argued with between classes.  I was arguing for the death penalty and against abortion in the name of ‘goodness’. It took me many years before I understood that what upset me was being shown the cognitive dissonance in my thinking.  These conversations brought to mind uncomfortable questions around the internalized rules of whiteness and the patriarchy and capitalism, and the ways in which I might be complicit in harming others.  In Clare’s statement, again right at the beginning, she reminds us of our responsibility for one another.

“It is the consequence of my choice to join friends to undertake an action of sacramental, non-violent, symbolic, disarmament because the Trident at Kings Bay is killing and harming IN MY NAME. To be clear, these weapons are not private property. They belong to the people of the United States. They belong to me, to you, to us. These weapons kill and cause harm in our name, and with our money.”

Over slow decades, I have experienced increasing clarity in understanding the systems of oppression that remove from view harm being done in our name, and how community can exist in the absence of that harm.  I have learned from SURJ to follow the teachings of the most impacted, and in Ella Baker’s life I’ve found an incredible guide in deep listening.  Stephen Preskill of the University of New Mexico wrote about Ella Baker: 

When asked by an interviewer to explain how you organize people, she said matter of factly that you don’t start with what you think. You start with what they think. She continued, ‘You start where the people are. Identification with people…If you talk down to people, they can sense it. They can feel it. And they know whether you are talking with them, or talking at them, or talking about them’

It is this sort of community building that is often used in quick slogans but is the slow work of a lifetime.  Throughout Clare’s sentencing statement she references conversations and learning in her life that center the communities who were most impacted.  Clare speaks to and urges us to also listen to experts on nuclear weapons policy, indigenous people whose lands and lives are harmed by mining and testing of nuclear weapons, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people from the Marshall Islands, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.  It is through deep listening and organizing that we can speak with one another, form community, and take actions to reduce harm.

I still feel far from any sort of revelation or complete healing, but I now recognize that feeling of intimidation and unease, familiar from debates with my friends in high school, as a signpost toward a deeper understanding of a community where we all belong.  There is however, incremental resolution of this discomfort, an ease that follows taking responsibility for the harm I cause, and joining in a deeper, more vulnerable, and real community. 

It was that familiar feeling of discomfort that came up for me in reading Clare Grady’s sentencing statement. Her strength and conviction about the teachings of Jesus drew my attention towards the gaping chasms between what is often taught in white churches and the harm that is proliferated through christian legislation, charity, and evangelism. My understanding of the lesson of Jesus’ life: to build abundant community by deep listening and leaning into discomfort to better understand how to care for one another.

One day in Sunday School, my father drew a picture of a wall with a garden on one side and suffering on the other. He drew people climbing the wall, seeing the garden and not turning around. “Jesus,” he said, “saw the garden and went back to tell others about it”.  As a child, I understood the lesson of kindness in the story.  Now, I think that the wall represents all the ways in which we separate ourselves from one another, how we ‘don’t have time’ to understand the suffering of others, or the ways we invalidate trauma with stories of bootstraps.  We can begin to take down the walls of oppression by simply listening to others’ experiences of harm, and as good folks (christian or not) taking action in community to reduce harm.  Clare Grady’s deep listening and commitment to action are a wonderful example of how to do exactly that.  

There is room for so much more connection, more love, and more discomfort.  I would love to talk with you about what that might look like, or hear how my story might be similar or different from your own journey.  You can leave comments here, or reach out via email at coralee.m@gmail.com.