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Peoria Defender

Peoria Chapter CPUSA Club Conference Speech @ Peoria Main Branch Library September 16 2023

Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, and friends,

My journey into activism

Realistically started before even I was born but my personal radicalization began at a young age when my mother took me to the Rodney King protests in San Francisco that turned to “Riots” we were in the middle of. An incident that left a burning memory for me but also sparked my interest in what could drive that kind of bold resistance from people, I knew even then that what happened to Rodney King was wrong but had no idea the systems and processes behind it upholding such injustices. Though my education into such would progress shortly after in part by my mother’s move to a career in non-profit criminal justice reform for mothers and women in prison. Those early experiences and exposure instilled in me a passion for police reform, justice for all and a determination to stand up against inequality that has lived in me ‘til this day.

Decades of personal advocacy and activism for police reform led me to getting involved with Change Peoria and the cause I’m here to talk to you about today. So it truly is an honor for me to be able to say I was a part of the monumental achievement that is the Pretrial Fairness Act in Illinois. The landmark legislation, poised to go into effect this Monday to eradicate the oppressive practice of money bond across our entire state will impact hundreds of thousands of Illinois residents every year.

It's important to recognize that this act restores the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental principle of our justice system as many of those residents previously would have been incarcerated while awaiting trial as a penalty for poverty. But It's not just about ending money bond; it's about better stabilized housing, job opportunities, economic prospects, and increased educational opportunities for our people. Pretrial jailing has wreaked havoc on our communities, leading to the loss of jobs, housing, and even custody of children.

For far too long, our pretrial legal system prioritized access to wealth over public safety when making release decisions. But the Pretrial Fairness Act marks the end of this archaic practice, ensuring that freedom is not fee-based. It’s a huge step to an end to the unfair targeting of our most marginalized communities, especially Black and Brown people. No longer will millions of dollars be unfairly extracted from our poorest to free their loved ones. These resources will remain where they belong—in our communities.

The Illinois Network for Pretrial Justice (INPJ), has worked to end the unjust money bond system for over seven years. Now we are working to ensure the law is properly implemented and achieves its goals of reducing pretrial jailing and increasing community safety. Currently comprising of over fifty member organizations. While many are centered near Cook County and the Chicagoland area, success would not have been possible without support from all corners of the state, and the likes of all of us in central IL. This accomplishment underscores the importance of statewide reforms and the power of unity.

Survivors of gender-based violence and groups representing them across the state also played a pivotal role in shaping the Pretrial Fairness Act. This law supports survivors by ensuring that courts use more robust hearings to determine pretrial release and detention, making their decisions based on facts rather than money. This prioritizes survivor safety and risk over monetary considerations.

The journey to pass the Pretrial Fairness Acct was not without its challenges. We faced conservative backlash, lawsuits, constitutional challenges, and a massive propaganda campaign riddled with misinformation. But we persevered, and we owe this victory to the unwavering solidarity and unity within our statewide coalition.

It's crucial to remember that no single group could have achieved these reforms alone. It took the collective efforts of a coalition representing nine counties and several statewide organizations and networks. Our members stretch from Carbondale to Waukegan and from Rockford to Champaign. This experience serves as a powerful reminder when working for change and progress in Peoria. Community Control of Policing, Just Cause for Eviction, the food crisis, Homelessness, Community Safety, and more can all be addressed in Peoria but will take the necessity of breaking down existing silos and building coalitions focused on common causes to create solidarity and coordinated action.

With that said, allow me to share some of the lessons we've learned from our coalition-building experience and how they can be applied to future campaigns. Unity and solidarity, todays theme were at the core of our success. Coalition building is not easy, but it is necessary if we want to achieve systemic change and challenge the status quo.

- Build relationships based on trust, respect, and shared values.

The foundation of any successful coalition is built upon trust, respect, and shared values. When diverse organizations come together, it is essential to acknowledge and appreciate each other's strengths, expertise, and constituencies. Recognition fosters an environment of trust and respect, making it easier to work collaboratively towards a common goal.

We recognized that each organization had its own contributions, and we valued the diversity of perspectives and experiences that they brought to the table. We also respected each other's autonomy and decision-making processes, and we communicated openly and honestly about our goals, strategies, and challenges.

Recognizing the diversity of perspectives and experiences that each organization brings to the table is crucial. Legal advocacy groups might have a deeper understanding of legal intricacies, while grassroots organizations may have direct insights into the community's needs. Valuing these differences, helps a coalition harness the collective power of its members effectively.

- Identify common ground and align on a shared vision.

Once trust is set up in a coalition, the next step is to identify common ground and articulate a shared vision. Ensure your active stakeholders agree on the core principles and demands of the campaign. This step involves intensive discussions and negotiations, as organizations may have different priorities and strategies. However, by focusing on the ultimate goal – in our case, achieving pretrial justice in Illinois – a coalition can find alignment.

We agreed on core principles and defined demands of our campaign to end money bond and make our communities safer, we also articulated a clear and compelling vision of what pretrial justice would look like in Illinois. We then developed a common narrative with messaging framework that highlighted the human impact of existing pretrial injustice and an urgency for reform.

A clear and compelling vision is essential. It serves as a guiding light for all coalition members, ensuring that everyone’s on the same page. This not only defines the desired outcome but also invites growth while it motivates and inspires existing members to actively contribute to the cause.

- Coordinate actions and leverage collective power.

With a shared vision in place, a coalition can move on to coordinating actions and leveraging its collective power. This phase involves careful planning and execution.

We orchestrated various actions together, such as rallies, press conferences, lobby days, petitions, social media campaigns, and public education events. We also mobilized our members, allies, and supporters to pressure key decision-makers and stakeholders. We had check in’s at every meeting to see where support could be given, and amplified each other’s voices and actions. With this we showed that we had a broad and diverse base of support across our state.

Crucially, a coalition must mobilize its members, allies, and supporters effectively. This often means putting pressure on specific decision-makers and stakeholders. In the context of pretrial justice reform, this involved engaging with legislators, states attorneys, public defenders, judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, and media outlets. By showing that a coalition has a broad and diverse base of support across the state, it becomes more challenging for decision-makers to ignore their demands.

- Celebrate wins and acknowledge challenges.

While working towards their goal, it's vital for coalition members to celebrate wins, no matter how small they may seem. This helps boost morale and maintain positive attitudes within. Recognizing and applauding the contributions and achievements of each organization and individual fosters a sense of belonging, increasing motivation.

With the INPJ we celebrated every milestone and victory along the way, no matter how big or small. We also recognized the contributions and achievements of each organization and individual involved in the campaign. We acknowledged the challenges and setbacks that we faced, and we learned from them. We supported each other through the highs and lows of the campaign, to keep a positive and hopeful attitude throughout.

However, challenges and setbacks are inevitable in any campaign. Acknowledging these challenges is also essential. They serve as opportunities for learning and growth. By analyzing what went wrong and why, a coalition can adapt and become more resilient. Supporting each other through these highs and lows is crucial for supporting a coalition's cohesion and effectiveness.

- Sustain the momentum and plan for the future.

Building a coalition is not just about achieving a single goal and disbanding. To create lasting change, it's essential to sustain the momentum and plan for the future. Moreover, coalitions should be proactive in identifying new opportunities and challenges. Continuously strengthening a coalition ensures that it remains a potent force for change.

We did not stop after passing the Pretrial Fairness Act. Just like we are committed to continuing to monitor its implementation and enforcement. We also are working to identify new opportunities and challenges for advancing pretrial justice in Illinois, such as expanding community-based alternatives to incarceration, addressing racial disparities in the system, and ensuring adequate funding and resources for reform. Additionally, we continuously explore ways to strengthen our coalition and expand the network, such as engaging new partners, building leadership capacity, and sharing best practices.

Building a successful coalition requires careful attention to trust, shared values, vision, coordinated action, celebration, and long-term planning. By following these principles, coalitions can effectively harness the power of collaboration to bring about meaningful and lasting change in society.

Moving forward, we must carry these lessons if we're committed to bringing Community Control of Policing to Peoria. We have the desire, we have some roadmaps, as a testament to our unity and determination, it's time to build a coalition. Only then can we create solidarity and the power to connect with stakeholders, bringing community oversight and accountability to the Peoria Police Department.

But our call to action extends beyond our city's borders. I hope these lessons inspire you to join the Change Peoria and the INPJ in the movement for pretrial justice by joining us for court watching training on the 21st and attending our more detailed Pretrial Fairness Act teach-in tomorrow to learn more. Or that they inspire you to start your own campaigns and coalitions in your communities. Together, we can make a difference, not just in Illinois but across the nation.

Solidarity forever!


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