Author: Jen

Mobilize Missouri Local Candidate Endorsements

Mobilize Missouri has selected candidates for endorsement in advance of the August 2018 primary election.

Endorsements are as follows:
St. Louis City License Collector – Dana Kelly-Franks
St. Louis County Council, District 5 – Lisa Clancy
St. Louis County Prosecutor – Wesley Bell
St. Charles County Executive – Lorna Frahm
St. Charles County Council, District 1 – Cheryl Hibbeler
St. Charles County Council, District 3 – Christine Hedges

Read all local survey responses.
Includes responses from Mavis Thompson for St. Louis License Collector and Mark Mantovani for St. Louis County Executive.

Mobilize Missouri Announces Endorsements for State and Federal Candidates

Mobilize Missouri has selected candidates for endorsement in advance of the August 2018 primary election.

Endorsements are as follows:
MO House District 50 – Michela Skelton
MO House District 63 – Janet Kester
MO House District 65 – Bill Otto
MO House District 71 – LaDonna Appelbaum
MO House District 72 – Doug Clemens
MO House District 73 – Raychel Proudie
MO House District 77 – Kimberly-Ann Collins
MO House District 81 – Travis Estes
MO House District 84 – Brad Bakker
MO House District 86 – Farrakhan Shegog
MO House District 87 – Ian Mackey
MO House District 89 – Kevin Fitzgerald
MO House District 96 – Erica Hoffman
MO House District 99 – Mike LaBozzetta
MO House District 105 – Scott Cernicek
MO House District 107 – Curtis Wylde
MO House District 108 – Betty Vining
MO Senate District 2 – Patrice Billings
US Congressional District 2 – Mark Osmack
US Congressional District 1 – Cori Bush (previously announced)

Additional endorsements at this level may be announced following the primary election, including currently serving representatives who may not have been able to complete our questionnaire due to the extended legislative session.

In races for which we did not issue an endorsement, membership may have either felt none of the candidates were appropriate to endorse or that the race included more than one excellent candidate and we did not wish to vote in favor of one over the other.

Voting on races at the local level, including St. Louis County prosecutor and executive, will be held in the coming weeks, with those additional endorsement announcements soon to follow.

Links to completed surveys!

MO House District 42 – Joseph Widner
MO House District 50 – Michela Skelton
MO House District 63 – Janet Kester
MO House District 65 – Bill Otto
MO House District 70 – Paula Brown
MO House District 70 – Donald Klein
MO House District 70 – Greg Upchurch
MO House District 71 – LaDonna Appelbaum
MO House District 72 – Dan Wibracht
MO House District 72 – Doug Clemens
MO House District 73 – Raychel Proudie
MO House District 76 – Marissa Brown
MO House District 76 – Damon Haymer
MO House District 76 – Cydney Johnson
MO House District 77 – Kimberly-Ann Collins
MO House District 79 – Reign Harris
MO House District 79 – J.P. Johnson
MO House District 81 – Steve Butz
MO House District 81 – Travis Estes
MO House District 84 – Brad Bakker
MO House District 84 – Wiley Price IV
MO House District 86 – Farrakhan Shegog
MO House District 86 – Maria Chappelle-Nadal
MO House District 87 – Ian Mackey
MO House District 87 – Sam Gladney
MO House District 89 – Kevin Fitzgerald
MO House District 95 – Mike Walter
MO House District 99 – Mike LaBozzetta
MO House District 101 – Genevieve Steidtmann
MO House District 102 – Gary Wester
MO House District 103 – Jim Klenc
MO House District 104 – Peggy Sherwin
MO House District 105 – Scott Cernicek
MO House District 106 – Jackie Sclair
MO House District 107 – Curtis Wylde
MO House District 108 – Betty Vining
MO Senate District 2 – Patrice Billings
MO Senate District 14 – Joe Adams
MO Senate District 14 – Sharon Pace
MO Senate District 14 – Brian Williams
US Congressional District 3 – Katy Geppert
US Congressional District 2 – Mark Osmack
US Congressional District 2 – Bill Haas
US Congressional District 2 – John Messmer
US Congressional District 2 – Cort VanOstran
US Congressional District 1 – Cori Bush (previously announced)

/ In Elections / By Jen / Comments Off on Mobilize Missouri Announces Endorsements for State and Federal Candidates

Fridays with An Activist: Damen Alexander, March for Our Lives STL Organizer

Photo courtesy of Niles Zee Photography
An interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about the goals for March for Our Lives STL.

The goal of the March was to get politicians to listen to us. Politicians have been non-starters on gun legislation for too long. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. The March put a referendum on complacency. We are here, we’re listening, and we’re taking notes. If you don’t enact the change we want to see, we will use our voting power to vote you out. After the March, we want politicians to treat us like voters, and not kids. Our message has the force of the vote behind it.

How did you spread the word and get people involved?

Facebook was the most effective option. We had 3K people RSVP on Facebook. 15K showed up. That shows you the energy, commitment, and dedication of our generation. 15K people showed up in the cold and rain to march.

Is gun violence the main issue you’re passionate about? What other political or social problems concern you?  

An issue I care about that doesn’t get a lot of attention is voting rights. People talk all day about voter ID,  registering voters, and all that jazz, but for me, voter rights are much more than that. We need to make sure the voting electorate is more engaged, inclusive, and responsive. There was a study done that said people who come of voting age in mid-term years are less likely to vote over the entire course of their life, then someone who came of voting age in a presidential election year. That’s absurd.

We need automatic voter registration. We need to reflect and ask ourselves, “Is a random Tuesday in March, April, August, or November, the best voting day?” For me, personally, I don’t like the idea of partisan election officials at the county and state level. No way should our Secretary of State be partisan. They protect all of our voting rights, not just their party. There are little steps we can take to make the electorate more inclusive. The right to vote is the most important, most precious, and most sacred right. It should be protected with the eye of a hawk.

Do you plan to keep doing this type of work? If so, in what ways?

Here in Saint Louis, this is not only a March. Other marches have been critiqued for only talking about white lives. Historically, when a social issue leaches onto the white community there is IMMEDIATELY a call to action. We have town halls, reports, hearings, all the works. Meanwhile, the black community has been faced with the said issue for years and decades. You can see that without the drug epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, and now with gun violence. Here in Saint Louis, the black community has been plagued by gun violence for years. Mike Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith are victims of gun violence. They are victims of state-sponsored gun violence. Why are we just now mobilizing?

205. That’s how many people died in our own streets last year from gun violence.  It’s time we showed up in the streets not just for students or mainstream issues, but for our neighbors, our brothers, and our sisters too. I don’t think the work of the March is done until all of Saint Louis can stand together and realize Black Lives Matter.

As for specifics, there are town halls, lobby days, and an art show planned. A lot of the time our government is seen as elitist. We feel it’s run by the privileged, we feel only work for the privileged, only the privileged participate, and only the privileged can make the change. Well, we’re knocking down that notion. We are targeting inner-city youth who have never been involved in any type of government. We are providing them an outlet to hold their elected officials accountable. And with the art show, we’re also proving students a chance to express themselves, and make money.

So we’re more than a march. We want to be in the community. We are the community activist.  All details on the art show, lobby day, and town hall, TBA. (edit: Town Hall has since been scheduled: https://www.facebook.com/events/239592749944949/)

What do you think veteran activists can do to invite and welcome younger people into the fold?

I believe veteran activists have been very inviting already. Real activists show up for every single thing, every single day. Many of them were at the March, and we even invited them to our VIP area. Cori Bush, an activist and Congressional candidate helped us lead the March. State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr. and the Rev. Daryl Gray both spoke at our March. This has been a two-way street. There were no hard feelings.

What message do you hope high school and college students receive from the work you’ve done?

The only message I have is the vote. If you are 17.5 in Missouri, you need to register. Today. This is all hypothetical until we go register, mobilize, and vote. This change only happens with all of us united.

/ In Interviews / By Jen / Comments Off on Fridays with An Activist: Damen Alexander, March for Our Lives STL Organizer

Fridays with An Activist: Christine Hedges, St. Charles Resistance Organizer

An interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about the organizations you work with and how you think you’ve been most effective.

I was one of the founding members of Take Action St. Charles, one of many ‘huddle’ groups formed after last year’s Woman’s March. I’ve worked with the national #Resist movement supported by Meetup.com. I’ve been hooked into Moveon.org’s field network for about a year now. I was part of the initial Gateway Advocacy Network (GAN) group working to coordinate the efforts of progressive groups across the bi-county area. And I was an intern with Moveon.org’s Resistance Summer in 2017. And there is a brand-new St. Charles County Progressive Dems group, which I have joined.

One of the things I do all the time at work is plan & facilitate meetings, so stepping in to fill that role when it was needed helped those groups to be more cohesive. As time passed, all the different groups ended up moving in this or that direction, depending on how ‘active’ the group wanted to be, their particular interests, and a variety of other factors. But one of the other things I do at work is team-building and I believe that through planning events and maintaining communication channels (Facebook, email, Slack), I’ve managed to help keep the people who want to be engaged in contact and informed.

How did you get started?

I had always been politically well-informed, but mostly inactive aside from voting every 2 years. After the election in 2016, I disengaged completely for a couple of months, even closing my Facebook and stopping reading the news. After the 1st Muslim ban, I realized that I couldn’t stay on the sidelines anymore.

I started with Google and I found the Indivisible Guide, which led me to Liberal Women Unite (just a Facebook presence at the time). I found the Women’s March website, which led me to the huddle that became TASC. In the past I never talked politics with anyone. Finding people who felt as strongly as I did about the same issues was life-changing. I wanted to keep showing up and taking action, working for change.

How do you mobilize people?

This was actually one of the lessons covered during our MoveOn Resistance Summer program- and it’s not easy. One thing you need to do once you know someone is interested in getting involved is to try to build a relationship with them. Engage and ask them questions about themselves and what they’re interested in. Then you need to find a way to tie those interests into some action that they can take to help your mutual interests. Bottom line though, it’s about relationship-building, if you want to keep people showing up in person.

What’s the main issue that you feel passionately about?  

There are so many issues that I’m passionate about! My campaign is focused on responsible use of our taxes. I am truly angry at the ways the County is spending our money- I can give examples if you like, but the bottom line is that the County police all got shiny new cars last year and many friends and family of our County Executive seem to have cushy jobs with the government. And at the same time, there are low-level jobs going unfilled because there is no public transportation and a lack of affordable housing in the County.

Once I am in office, I will work to address those things, but I’m also passionate about addressing structural racism, strengthening the social safety net, and providing a full range of health care (reproductive included) to every citizen.

How do you stay inspired and engaged with the work?

The people! I have made so many friends and met so many amazing people! Also, there is so much to be done to get this county, this state, and this country moving in a better direction, that I feel obligated to keep pushing. And it’s not always work, there is enough of a social aspect to this activism that I’ve found myself in that it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Advice to other activists? 

No one is going to give you a list of directions, there’s no guide for this. Find a group through Google or Facebook or maybe by reading news websites or blogs. Get in touch, find out what you can do to join, volunteer to help them somehow. Follow your passions and know that even the smallest efforts move us the tiniest bit in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of work to do but don’t get discouraged. As MLK paraphrased from a quote by Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

How do you see St. Charles County evolving, in the business, political, and community culture?

The County has grown tremendously over the last 1/2 century and that growth continues. It was once a Democratic and union-strong place but over the last 20 years has gone strongly Republican, for a number of reasons. In the last year, though, I’ve seen more people of color, more LGBTQ people, more progressives, more women willing to stand up and make their voices heard. I want to continue to amplify those voices- I think that diversity of viewpoints across the County’s business, political, and cultural lives can only make us stronger.

If you could change or improve something about St. Charles County, what would it be?

I’d love for it to be more diverse culturally, I’d love to see the Metrolink extended to the County, and I’d love to see a newspaper (or news website?) cover news and events here more thoroughly. The only way you can know what happens at council meetings (city or county) is to actually attend them. And there’s so much more going on that people should know about.

What do you think is the most pressing need for the people in your area?

Public transportation and affordable housing. Also, the people of the County should have more opportunities to engage with and learn from black and brown people. And that’s on white people to make this a comfortable place for black and brown people to be, not on them by any means.

What are your thoughts on some of the legislation being enacted in our state?

I’m horrified by what I’ve seen. Republicans want to take away women’s reproductive rights, they want to put LGBTQ youth at risk, to make trans people’s lives harder, to slash taxes for corporations and then cut services to Missouri’s elderly and to public education. In addition, they have no respect for people of color or for women. I can’t wait to see my friends like Gary Wester, Jim Klenc, Curtis Wylde, Peggy Sherwin, Scott Cernicek, and Helena Webb take their places in the MO House and for Patrice Billings to sit in the MO senate.

Add any additional thoughts you’d like to share.

Running for office, at any level, is a lot of work. I’d encourage anyone reading this who is also interested in being the change they want is to find a campaign and volunteer for it. They can find mine online but there are plenty of others and we all meed folks’ time and money if we’re going to win.

/ In Interviews / By Jen / Comments Off on Fridays with An Activist: Christine Hedges, St. Charles Resistance Organizer

Unions 101

by Celina della Croce

Unions have been in steady decline over the last few decades, from 20.1 percent of workers in 1983 to just 11.1 percent in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So what are unions, anyway? Where have they gotten us so far and why do they even matter at all?

Simply put, a union is a group of workers coming together to have a voice on the job and to fight for fair wages, treatment and conditions in their workplace. While the structure of individual unions varies, all unions are accountable to their membership. Members pay dues, which fund the union, and they have the right to vote on elected offices in their union’s leadership, to pass or modify bylaws, and to ratify or vote down contracts. Unlike nonprofits, which often receive grant funding, unions’ funding comes directly from the workers that they represent. That means whether you’re a teacher or a janitor or a nurse, if you’re in a union, your union works for you. They negotiate legally binding contracts with employers based on the issues that matter to members, such as wages and working conditions, and hold the employers accountable to that agreement.

Unions are the reason that we have the standard 40-hour workweek. They are the reason we have child labor laws, safety regulations, a minimum wage, and laws that protect working people. Even if you’ve never heard of a union, or if you’ve never been in one, union members are fighting for your rights, too.

Centuries ago, it was perfectly legal for companies to employ both adults and children in unsafe working conditions and, when someone was injured on the job, to get rid of them and simply replace them with someone else. Thanks to unions, we have laws that protect working people, like the Occupational Safety and Hazard Act, which forces your employer to abide by certain safety regulations, and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that makes it illegal for your employer to discriminate against or fire you because of your race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or age.

How did working people with no money and no power win basic protections and fair wages? One worker alone has very little power in the scheme of things. Before unions fought for and won safety regulations, if your arm was cut off on the factory floor, your boss could simply toss you aside and find someone to replace you. But if all of the workers come together and say, “We’re not willing to do this any more. We will not work in unsafe conditions. We will not continue to live in poverty. We will not allow you to profit off of us until you meet our conditions,” the power dynamic starts to shift. Even without every worker participating, if a sizeable amount of your workforce has chained themselves to the front entrance, or is dominating the news cycle and bringing negative publicity to your company, it becomes more profitable to negotiate with your workers and figure out how to get them to stop. And that is the power of unions.

Unions have the right to negotiate contracts that set working conditions and wages. Thinking about that raise you’ve been asking for but keep getting denied? Or more support for a project you’re working on? Stuck with a bad boss and worried if he or she is out to get you? Just buy a new car and you’re worried about rumors of a lay-off? Feel like your boss never listens to you? If you’re in a union, you can negotiate over wages, training, job security, and layoff procedures, among other things. If you and your coworkers come together, you’re a lot more likely to get a strong contract. And if your employer violates that contract, you and your union have the power and the legal right to enforce it.

Without a union, you can be fired for any time, with or without cause. You may think your boss likes you, and maybe they do, but if they retire or move on, you are relying on good luck and the good will of your next boss to keep your job, or for your next raise. They may give you a raise, they may not. They may follow the company handbook, they may not. Without a union, you’re relying on luck and a favorable job market, and you have no mechanism to enforce fair treatment unless it’s a violation of the law. Remember who fought for those laws that are protecting you, too?  Oh yea. Unions.

In addition to negotiating contracts, many unions also advocate for laws and policies that will benefit working people and are supported by their membership. If you are a millennial with a tech job reading this thinking, “Why do I need a union? I make a living wage, and I can always find another job,” just remember that you have unions to thank for the basic protections that you have. If you fall and break your knee on your way to work, your employer is required to grant you a medical leave of absence through the Family Medical Leave of Absence. Unlike your company handbook, FMLA is legally enforceable. Unions fought for that, too.

Unions are formed when workers come together and vote for them. Without getting into the technicalities, if you’re interested in forming a union at your job, contact a union and ask for their support. If you already have one, start showing up at meetings. And even if you don’t work, or if you aren’t able to join a union for some reason, figure out how you can show up and support the folks who are out fighting for your rights.

Mobilize Missouri Endorses Jenny Schmidt for Maplewood City Councilor

Mobilize Missouri is pleased to announce our endorsement of Jenny Schmidt for Maplewood’s Ward 3 City Councilor. With the help of the local action team — Mobilize MO: Maplewood/Richmond Heights — in making this determination, we are proud to support a strong, progressive mother and lawyer who we believe will help steer Maplewood in a forward-thinking direction

Mobilize Missouri believes Jenny’s longstanding ties to her community and the school district position her well to foster community engagement in the area. Her commitment to participatory budgeting, town halls, public forums, and working closely to maintain diversity and inclusivity with the school board signify an important step forward for Maplewood and the surrounding municipalities.

Additionally, Jenny is committed to the continued development of safe, livable, green infrastructure in Maplewood. From making the city more walkable and bikeable, to developing affordable housing solutions for all sectors of the community, we are impressed by her wide-ranging vision for development in the region. At a critical time in Maplewood’s history, Jenny’s community knowledge, expertise and vision are vital for the city.

While many issues make this race critical for Maplewood, few are as poignant as the nuisance ordinance and its alleged discriminatory enforcement against people of color, domestic violence victims, and people with disabilities. The ACLU and Equal Housing and Opportunity Commission (EHOC) have both filed suit against the city, and the legal battle is expected to persist for some time. Further, ArchCity Defenders, Inc. are suing the city for a pay-to-play municipal court fee system, adding to the concerns about discrimination in the area.

As a lawyer who also has experience in social work, Jenny is perfectly positioned to assess the legality of Maplewood’s ordinances, and ensure that enforcement, if necessary, is not discriminatory. Her commitment to holding everyone in government, law enforcement and the court system accountable to the highest standards of ethics in our legal systems cannot be overemphasized. At a time where Maplewood is expected to receive over $400,000 in Prop P funds, it needs a city councilor who will ensure public participation in deciding where those funds go and help direct them towards benefiting all residents regardless of race, gender, income, or housing status.

We firmly believe Jenny is the person to help lead Maplewood into a progressive future and are proud to endorse her.

/ In Elections / By Jen / Comments Off on Mobilize Missouri Endorses Jenny Schmidt for Maplewood City Councilor

Mobilize Missouri Endorses Tishaura Jones for St. Louis Mayor

St. Louis is a city poised to evolve into a 21st century metropolis. Cranes dot the city’s skyline with new projects being announced daily. Just last month, our schools regained accreditation for the first time since 2007. A batch of startups have sprung up all over the city creating new jobs and attracting some of the best and brightest from around the country.

Despite all of the positive news, our city still has real problems when it comes to crime, poverty and our crumbling infrastructure. Business as usual has not been working for many of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations and the people of this city are more engaged than ever to help see that change. Thanks to the work of groups like Team TIF and St. Louis Should Vote, tax abatements and how we spend our tax revenues are part of daily discourse. From issues regarding public use of funds for stadiums, police accountability and homelessness, the citizens of St. Louis are ready to see some real progressive change and want to make sure the benefits of a booming economy in the central corridor are shared by all of its residents, not just a connected few.

In our opinion, the person best suited to lead in the years to come is Treasurer Tishaura Jones. She has the vision, passion and understanding of the issues that will help move our city forward.

After four years in the Treasurer’s office, she has brought fresh ideas and programs to the city, modernized our parking systems, and created a nationally recognized program helping our children save for college. She speaks about being smart on crime, not just tough on crime, and wants to bring social workers on to assist the police department and close down the workhouse; a symbol of what’s wrong with our justice system today.

She knows development cannot just focus on the wealthiest neighborhoods if we want to improve the lives of all of our citizens and she has bright ideas about how to address those inequities. Her campaign’s tagline — “One St. Louis” — isn’t just a catch phrase, it’s an ideology driving her vision for our city; one that works for all of us.

We aren’t the only ones who think so.

Tishaura has earned the endorsement of a number of local groups, including The Young Democrats of St. Louis. Sergio Haro, St. Louis Young Dems Director of Local Politics & Grassroots Organizing and member of Mobilize Missouri says, “Tishaura is the candidate working hard to bring all sections of St. Louis together. As a Latino in this city, it is exciting to have a candidate that will look at policy decisions through a racial equity lens.”

The praise from colleagues and friends continues:

Marty Murray Jr., Chairman of the 78th Legislative District Committee, says, “I whole heartedly endorse Tishaura for Mayor. She is the only candidate that has exhibited the ability to bring fresh and innovative programs to the City. I look forward to seeing her build upon the progress made thus far.”

Ken Haller, former Board President of PROMO, says, “She has been a voice for the powerless and marginalized for years, and she has not just talked the talk, she has walked the walk. And as City Treasurer, she knows this is not just a nice, squishy, politically-progressive thing to do. It is based in science, and it has real dollars and cents implications for the financial health of this City and this region.”

We agree. Tishaura is just what this city needs as we face exciting but challenging times. Last November, St. Louis elected a new Circuit Attorney for the first time in 16 years, and a new Sheriff for the first time since 1989. By April 4th, after 16 years with Francis Slay at the helm, our city will also elect a new mayor. Mobilize Missouri is proud to support Tishaura O. Jones for that position. We have an opportunity to move St. Louis forward and having Tishaura in Room 200 is a step in the right direction. We are all One St. Louis.

MCU School-to-Prison Pipeline Event Recap

Feedback Encouraged
A guest post series by Jack Seigel

Sometimes it’s hard to be a progressive in the county. Thankfully some high school friends and other community activists started the West County Community Action Network (We Can) in response to Ferguson and problematic racial relations in our backyard, through actions like weekly Black Lives Matter vigils that rotate through west county.

Another initiative of We Can is work on the school-to-prison pipeline. Members met last Saturday after the vigil to talk about a potentially problematic new statute that adds a felony class which could be applied to children who fight at school. Past experience leads us to believe that this statute would be applied in a racially discriminatory way and further strengthen the school to prison pipeline.

Given that Missouri is already the worst state for racially applied discipline, we have a lot of work to do towards a more just and equitable future — towards a world with fewer felon labels and a focus on rehabilitative justice; a world that protects children’s rights to education instead of criminalizing them; and one where we address why kids are fighting, and why people are committing crimes.

It’s time to understand that poverty and lack of opportunity are the root causes of crime. It’s time to come together and provide a world where we all can thrive, not one where people profit from locking up and exploiting the labor of fellow human beings. There is a lot to do, and right now that includes understanding and responding to the statute change.

Meeting Recap

Community response ranged from confusion to fear to outrage. In order to provide clarity on the issue and to leverage the sudden interest in reforming the school-to-prison pipeline, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) organized last week’s event, which had a huge turnout. The evening started with organizers from MCU explaining the background, followed by small group discussions about initial reactions.

Representatives from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri and a former Assistant Attorney General explained that the statute was actually not changing much and that children could always be charged. Additionally, kids are always processed through the juvenile justice system before they reach the criminal justice system, except in the most extreme circumstances. This was not satisfactory to members in the audience who wondered why legislators needed to make a change if not to grab more power over an already oppressed group of people— minority children. Additionally, the timing made it seem like the community did not have a chance to respond since the change would go into effect on January 1, 2017. A final indication this was indeed a big change was that school districts had issued statements about how the statute change could criminalize kids.

As people voiced their concerns, it became clear that this passion and momentum could be channeled into something positive. Ideas for increasing involvement included contacting school board members and supporting people who protest and organize around issues of racial justice.

The meeting then broke into small groups and developed a list of possible responses:

  • Create of an app for reporting school staff and administrators at the community level.
  • Hold assemblies/public forums for parents to discuss issues in the schools.
  • Make flow charts for rights of parents and students in the educational setting.
  • Find ways to relate to voters in rural areas and the politicians that represent them.
  • Hold legislative bodies accountable by making them host open forums in their communities and keeping tabs on their legislation and voting records.
  • Organize days of action in Jefferson City, like the one organized by the ACLU.
  • Translate legislation into layman’s terms instead of 600 plus pages of legalese.
  • Eliminate suspensions.
  • Conduct professional development around anti-bias training.
  • Hire more teachers of color.
  • Opt for mediation of school conflict over immediate discipline.
  • Focus on school board elections in the spring.

The MCU facilitator then invited everyone back in a few weeks to develop task forces to act on the action steps each breakout group voted on.

And of course, as we enter the new year, with a new president, a new governor and an increase in hate crimes against minorities, we must remember that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against injustice and hate. Silence is violence and we can only progress as a society when we commit to doing so without leaving everyone behind.

For more information and to get involved please connect with MCU and We Can on Facebook.

Feedback Encouraged.

Fridays with an Activist, Ep 2: Cori Bush, Local Pastor and Community Organizer

Episode 2 of an interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about your work and your organization.

Recently I began getting involved working on homelessness in St. Louis as an independent citizen, not as part of an organization. I am a registered nurse and I worked at a community-based mental health organization in St. Louis City. Many people who are experiencing homelessness are uninsured or underinsured, they sleep outside, lose their meds or can’t afford them. I see the effects that structural problems have on real people and our politicians aren’t vocal enough. I don’t understand it, because everyday people are in dire need of support. It goes beyond housing and we lose sight of the big picture. We are failing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

How’d you get started?

Growing up, my dad was involved in politics. I learned from him and the seeds were sown young. I am ordained as a pastor and that increased my involvement with community work, feeding people and being very active in the streets. My commitment to the work also strengthened when Mike Brown was murdered.

Thoughts on the recent election at the federal and state level?

Mortified to say the least. I can’t believe we will have five conservative statewide officials. And when you think about the regression all the way up to Trump it’s overwhelming. I can’t picture Missouri under Greitens and I anticipate heavy law and order rhetoric and expansion of police.

How do you mobilize people?

It depends on the task; we have a strong activist community. I am active on social media and use it as a mobilization tool. I have a good network and know who to call so I can put stuff together. I also reach out to clergy and elected officials.

What’s your issue personally?  

I don’t have one. Its homelessness right now, but I work hard for marginalized communities, whoever it is. Silence is violence and I refuse to be a part of the injustices that run rampant in our society.

Advice to other activists?

Follow your passion, let it drive you and never back down. There is no activist god, no one is ordained. You just have to be active and do the work. It’s a learning by doing process.

Thoughts on the state of progressivism in St. Louis?

I love it. So glad I could join, meet wonderful people and contribute. Despite the recent election results we kicked butt and made our state recognize the progressive community. I’m excited to keep working and fighting for justice with these people.

Book recommendations?

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Where do We Go from Here by Dr. King, Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Dr. Angela Davis and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

How do you stay inspired and engaged with the work?

I was fighting back tears on the way here tonight because I saw people who needed help. The work is never done, so it’s easy to stay engaged. Just by seeing people who need help and seeing people being active in their communities. My heart breaks when I see injustice.

If I were in charge in St. Louis, I would…

Work to ensure that marginalized communities are taken care of with continuous resources: jobs, homes and training. We can’t move forward while leaving some people behind.

Feedback Encouraged.

Fridays with an Activist, Ep 1: Faizan Syed, Executive Director CAIR-Missouri

Episode 1 of an interview series with local activists about their work in Missouri.

Tell me about your work and your organization.

CAIR stands for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  It defends civil rights in Missouri; like the NAACP for Muslims. But you can’t just sue everyone all the time, so you address the culture problem. We have to challenge and change perceptions perpetuated by the media and the Islamophobia industry — lots of educational work, youth empowerment, working with elected officials, building alliances in the community. We engage in community building, hold events, rallies and marches, creates councils, have open houses and host a Capital Day for legislative work in Jefferson City.  

How’d you get started?

I studied physics, astronomy and math at Drake University. Then I got swept up in the politics around the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 with Obama, Clinton and McCain, so I switched my majors to politics and history. Then the Ground Zero controversy made Islam an American issue. With the pastor burning Qurans and the right-wing media always making CAIR the villain, I knew I had to work for them. They needed a director locally, so this was my first job out of college.

Thoughts on the recent election at the federal and state level?

Nationally, we were shocked. The day after I saw six, seven, eight year-old kids scared for their safety. I didn’t even know who was president at age six. We had multiple instances of hate crimes against Muslims in St. Louis. It was a mainstreaming of the alt-right, of Islamophobia.  The election brought these from the fringe to the mainstream of American society.  

In Missouri, (Governor-elect Eric) Greitens made fake ISIS hunting permits, but ISIS isn’t here. So he created an image that matches innocent people living in our community. Local candidates ran on an anti-Syrian refugee platform. It was all lies and public manipulation. Missouri went super far right and we will see legislation proposed to create anti-Sharia laws and internment camps for refugees.  

How do you mobilize people?

There are 115,000 Muslims here, mostly in St. Louis and Kansas City. You mobilize them by community building, getting groups together and assessing strengths. Get people to come to events, then you can have a ground game and start registering people to vote, getting emails and building a movement. The hope is recent political events will double our attendance at Capital Day. We need to build ourselves up first.   

What’s your issue personally?  

I care about mobilizing American Muslims because they historically don’t vote or act. We need to change culture in the American Muslim community. Also, I want to unify the community so an issue in KC creates action in St. Louis and vice versa. We can always do more for each other.

Advice to other activists?

Donald Trump is not our challenge; apathy is the biggest issue. Fifty percent of the people didn’t vote. It’s easier and more productive to mobilize Muslim communities than to spend all day yelling at racists.

Thoughts on the state of progressivism in St. Louis?

I would argue that most Americans are progressive, we just aren’t unified.  Progressive values help the poor in middle Missouri, but those people vote against their interests. The election was a triumph of identity politics.

Progressives need to go to areas that don’t currently support them with an issue-oriented educational campaign. Customizing an economic populist message to fit a rural/Christian audience. People get distracted by issues that don’t affect them, because what’s real is complicated. It’s easier to yell about nonsense.

Book recommendations?

Read philosophy and religious books to get a grounding on your values. I like anything by Noam Chomsky. Read history.  

How do you stay inspired and engaged with the work?

This job is not work to me, I love it. I’ve never worked a day in my life. Every day is different and I see things getting better. In the Quran it says something bad might happen, but it’s actually really good for you. We will get people mobilized because of the bad and scary times.  

If I were in charge in St. Louis, I would…

That’s a good one, I don’t know.  

Feedback Encouraged.