2020 has been a difficult year, but, amidst the struggle, we have seen how communities can come together and enact the kinds of policies that we need in this time. As we end 2020 and prepare ourselves for the new year, we should find time to celebrate the significant victories from community leaders who continue to fight for social justice. In celebrating advocates’ tireless work this year, below are four inspiring efforts and accomplishments. While each of the advocates is to be lauded for their commitment, their success would have been impossible without the strong communities they work within. So, we also acknowledge the vast network of activists it took to reach these goals.
Defending Voting Rights in Jail
Democracy only works if everyone can participate and have their voices heard. This past election saw record voter turn-out, owing largely to the work of organizers committed to registering all eligible voters, including those in jail. Roughly 750,000 people are held in jails across the United States and, though the majority of those people still have the right to vote, they encounter multiple hurdles to participating in elections. Troy Rienstra, Outreach Director of Safe and Just Michigan, saw that many counties in Michigan did not have clear processes to support people who want to vote from jail, and he decided to act. Troy worked with the Voting Access for All Coalition to engage Michigan’s sheriffs to help with voter engagement in Michigan’s jails. Through the coalition’s work, they helped empower thousands of people to register to vote and exercise their Democratic right.
Troy also recorded this video with Nation Outside to talk about the importance of providing Transitional Assistance for people who recently left prison. You can also learn more about the Voting Access for All Coalition here.
Extending the Window for Voter Registration
While voting is a core right, countless communities have been disenfranchised from America’s democracy, and COVID-19 only added to the struggles for people who wanted to register in 2020. In Florida, the voter registration website crashed because of the number of people who were trying to register to vote, and in Virginia, the registration site crashed because a fiber-optic cable was accidentally cut. Fortunately, attorneys like Advancement Project’s Jorge Luis Vasquez Jr., alongside the Lawyers Committee, responded quickly to ensure that Florida and Virgina extended their voter registration deadlines, resulting in more than 40,000 new voters. This voter protection work continues in the Georgia Senate runoff elections where the voter registration deadline was Dec. 7, early voting starts on Dec. 14, and election day is Jan. 5.
Engaging Voters to Reimagine Public Safety
Defunding the police means increased investment in communities and exploring alternatives to incarceration. In this election season we saw multiple examples of city and state action to counter police forces that threaten community safety by investing in communities. Nowhere was this bold demand more successful than in Los Angeles, where Isaac Bryan, serving as co-chair of the Reimagine LA Campaign, led a truly groundbreaking campaign to pass LA County Ballot Measure J, resulting in the county setting aside up to $1 billion dollars for youth development, housing, mental health services and alternatives to incarceration -- dollars that ultimately impact the Sheriff’s budget and cannot be repurposed by any law enforcement agency. Find out more about this effort and what it means for Isaac here.
Combatting the Immigration Ban
We are a country of immigrants and we have fought to ensure that the door for immigration stays open. Unfortunately, the blanket denial of immigration visas this year has left immigrants with pending applications for visas stuck, waiting without little hope of their petitions being heard. Fortunately, Karen Tumlin of Justice Action Center worked with a broad legal team to challenge this ban on immigrants in Gomez v. Trump. Karen and her team were able to show why it is so important for people who were awarded diversity visas be able to proceed with the visas they were granted. This victory in the courts allowed for 25,000 visas to be issued, despite the immigration ban. The legal battle to overturn the immigration ban continues with another hearing in January. Read an FAQ about the legal battle along with a summary of the case here.
Hindsight is 2020
At the end of this challenging year everyone, but especially advocates, need the space and time to process and heal from all that has happened. We at The Opportunity Agenda are grateful to have worked with such compelling voices over the years. From the Communications Institute to developing messaging guidance, The Opportunity Agenda remains here to work with those committed to liberating our communities. We join with our partners to end 2020 in celebration and healing so that we are ready in 2021 to continue building a society that respects the values and wellbeing of our communities.