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Organizing Agenda

VOICE Organizing Agenda

(For details, see individual issue briefs)

Criminal Justice Reform

End cash bail. This system penalizes the poor and people of color. Across the country, a person’s wealth determines who sits in jail before trial and who is able to go home. For example, a wealthy person arrested for a violent felony who poses a potential safety risk to the community could be released from jail by posting bail. A person arrested for a non-violent misdemeanor, such as shoplifting, could sit in jail for weeks or longer because of the inability to pay a few hundred dollars for bail.  This can then result in the loss of jobs, homes, and families. Cash bail is costly for communities: Local communities spend $13.6 billion every year to detain people who have not been convicted of the charges against them. In fact, around 70% of those currently in jail have yet to be convicted of a crime. Cash bail reform is supported by Republicans, Libertarians, and Democrats alike. Cash bail is perhaps the clearest example of our two-tiered criminal justice system.

Decrease mass incarceration by 40% over the next 5-10 years. VOICE looks to Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring to lead with VOICE to announce a bold blueprint to do so. As a first step, VOICE has asked Gov. Northam to convene a small group of key Republican and Democrat leaders to discuss with VOICE a multi-year strategy to move sweeping criminal justice reform legislation. This plan would be funded by the hundreds of millions of dollars saved by reducing incarceration where appropriate. (A very rough estimate of these savings isaround $464 million, based on the VA Department of Corrections report in 2016 on the cost to incarcerate a person -- $29,353 a year -- and Virginia’s 2016 prison population of 37,813.)  

Restore rights to those who have served their time. They must have a chance for success when they get out.  Restore returning citizens' rights to work, drive, pursue education, vote, access to food stamps, and rent or own a home. 1) Stop Suspension of Driver's Licenses for people with unpaid court debt. In Virginia, nearly a million people currently have suspended driver’s licenses at least in part because of unpaid court debt. This practice punishes people for poverty. 2) Restore Voting Rights. Virginia is one of four states whose constitution permanently disenfranchises citizens with past felony convictions. 3) End Ban on Welfare Assistance & Food Stamps. Allow Those Eligible to Receive Assistance. In 1996, federal welfare reform created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The law also imposed a denial of federal benefits (i.e., TANF and Food Stamps) to people convicted in state or federal courts of felony drug offenses. States must pass legislation to opt out of or modify the ban. Virginia has not done so yet.  

Schools

VOICE believes that our children should be lifted up, not locked down. School safety will not be achieved simply by putting more police officers in our schools or installing metal detectors. Rather, we must invest in our children, including their emotional wellbeing, to promote community and security. This includes: 1) increasing mental health services, 2) Promoting quality after-school and summer programming, 3) hiring and retaining top flight and diverse educators, 4) addressing the opportunity gap, 5) investing in pre-K.

Immigration – Keeping Families Together 

VOICE and the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (Metro IAF) are outraged by the injustice of separating immigrant families and the effect it has on all immigrant children.  VOICE and its 22 Metro IAF sister organizations are pressing their state attorneys general to act collectively to stop family separations due to federal actions terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), implementing travel bans on select Muslim countries, and increasing ICE enforcement. Virginia has 23,500 persons from El Salvador and Honduras who will lose their TPS status effective September 2019.  Virginia TPS residents produce $1.3 billion in economic activity annually. Virginia has 10,200 DACA recipients from whom Virginia would lose $10+ million in taxes each year if DACA is terminated.  States attorneys general have a heightened responsibility to stop family separations that affect US citizen children of undocumented immigrants. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 4.1 million US citizen children living with at least 1 undocumented parent.  In Virginia the estimate is 74,000, in Maryland 67,000, and in the District of Columbia 6,000.  VOICE and Metro IAF want their state attorneys general to expand their efforts to protect the interests of their US citizen children. VOICE and Metro IAF know that family separations are an indelible stain on US history, starting with the violence of slavery and continuing to the present day with the unjust criminal justice system that targets and incarcerates black and brown people disproportionately.

Making Virginia Affordable: Housing & Transportation

A teacher, firefighter, nurse, or police officer cannot afford the cost of the average home in Northern Virginia. Many trade long, stressful commutes -- and time away from their families -- for housing they can afford. One in three households in Virginia are “cost burdened” and pay more than 30% of their income toward housing. VOICE is organizing in local jurisdictions to identify congregational land that can be developed into affordable housing. VOICE congregations are creating several developments that could become models. We are also working in local jurisdictions to ensure that local funding and zoning laws promote affordability.

VOICE knows that the cost and accessibility of transportation enter into families’ ability to afford to live in an area like Northern Virginia. Affordable, accessible public transportation must be available to all, including residents who must live far from their jobs because they cannot afford the cost of closer-in housing. VOICE is working with its sister organizations in the DC Metro area to ensure adequate funding AND route coverage for both rail AND bus service.

Vision

We must act NOW to change the trajectory in Northern Virginia -- to reclaim the promise of living here for ourselves and for the next generation. We must reclaim politics as an honorable pursuit in which people working together have the power to change their communities and their country for the better. We must lead by showing that, if we build trust through relationships that cross the usual lines of division, we will strengthen our region for the challenges ahead. VOICE is expanding and broadening its membership in each jurisdiction so that we have the power to tackle county- and region-wide issues as well as to be a non-partisan force for VOICE’s organizing agenda statewide.

Background

Over the last two years, VOICE has listened closely as more than 7,000 residents in hundreds of sessions throughout Northern Virginia discussed their hopes, fears, and concerns. Their message: The promise of living in Northern Virginia is threatened by:

  • Increasing land and property values that put affordable housing out of reach for many, from school employees to child care, health care, and small business workers, to young couples looking to start a family;
  • A funding squeeze for public schools that tends to affect low- and moderate-income students disproportionately, creates school overcrowding, and causes talented teachers to leave for areas where they can afford to live, while an emphasis on testing and achievement at any cost sucks the joy out of teaching and learning and contributes to alarming stress in schools;
  • An inequitable and unjust criminal justice system in Virginia, which incarcerates minority youth and adults at disproportionate rates, destroying lives while others who are wealthier and commit similar crimes often avoid arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment;
  • Persistent discrimination in policy and practice in this region that has prided itself on welcoming immigrants and celebrating diversity;
  • Fear engendered both by a perceived lack of personal safety in a world with growing gun violence and by real and perceived divisions between communities and law enforcement.

Track record

VOICE has proven it can build power for the long-term, winning impressive victories since it launched in October 2008 with 2,500 leaders from 40+ institutions committed to pooling their collective power to create a New Dominion for Justice and Participation in the Old Dominion.  Victories over the last 10 years include:

  • Holding the CEO’s from Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and General Electric accountable for the foreclosure crisis in Prince William County, resulting in $250 million in principal reduction and 1,500+ loan modifications that kept thousands of families from losing their homes;
  • Addressing 1,500+ housing & fire code violations in apartment complexes in Fairfax, Alexandria, & Prince William;
  • Preserving $9 million in the Virginia budget and winning $700,000+ in local funds to expand dental care for NOVA low-income adults;
  • Organizing with tenants in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax to preserve more than 900+ units from upscale development and to create 1,000+ new affordable housing units on public and non-profit owned land;
  • Training and organizing immigrant leaders to win on local housing, recreation, youth investment and immigration issues, as well as to be a voice on national comprehensive immigration reform.