|A Muslim Justice League member protests
federal surveillance policies
In April 2014, a year after the Boston Marathon Bombings, federal law enforcement agencies announced that Boston would serve as a pilot program for a surveillance practice known as “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE).
In response to the announcement that year, the Muslim Justice League (MJL) was created by four Muslim women seeking to provide legal services and education to local community members who are not fully aware of their constitutional rights when interacting with local and federal authorities. MJL’s goal also seeks to empower local Muslim communities to advocate for their human rights.
In the last two years, MJL has worked in coalition with several other organizations and local Muslim communities to advocate for an end to the CVE campaign, which MJL says is a form of “soft surveillance” that recruits nonprofit, social service, education, and healthcare professionals to report vague "concerning behavior," attitudes, or beliefs of patients, clients and students to federal authorities. The CVE program also solicits religious leaders in mosques to perform soft surveillance activities on community members.
“CVE is a form of ideological policing that institutionalizes the profiling of Muslims,” said Shannon Erwin, executive director for the MJL.
Early in the development of Boston's CVE pilot program, the nonprofit authored a letter to President Obama's Homeland Security Advisor raising concerns about CVE on the basis that the program relies on religious profiling and intrusive surveillance activities that are violations of constitutional rights. MJL has also mobilized communities to raise their concerns with government agencies involved in CVE — including, for example, thorough a collaboratively-sponsored petition of more than 1,000 Massachusetts residents urging Massachusetts's Executive Office of Health and Human Services to end its CVE collaboration with federal prosecutors.
MJL has also established a health justice team and is in the process of establishing an education justice team, groups of volunteers who educate members of their own professional communities in Boston about the CVE program and its harm to professional ethics, dignified health, care and safe learning environments. The organization also provides "Know Your Rights" trainings at mosques and community centers; speaks at public events, forums, and symposia about CVE; and is building coalitions to address the issue of targeted profiling of racial and religious minorities.
MJL is an example of an emerging organization working with the Foundation to further develop its community organizing, educational work, and collective impact.
|UTEC and TLTW youth hold a sign in support of their statewide juvenile records expungement campaign
For the past two years, the Teens Leading the Way (TLTW) coalition has taken the lead in advocating for comprehensive young-adult and juvenile records expungement legislation that, if enacted in Massachusetts, would provide clear policies that allow youth to clear some criminal records after completing their sentences. The bill would allow misdemeanors committed by young adults up to age 21 to be automatically expunged from their records upon completion of a court sentence and for felonies to be considered for expungement after completion of a court sentence, through the petitioning of a judge.
TLTW is a statewide, youth-led coalition which seeks to empower young people to create lasting change through policy-making. Currently TLTW has members in Boston, Everett, Haverhill, Lowell, Lawrence, and Worcester, and Lowell-based UTEC is its coordinating agency.
Having seen and experienced the destabilizing socioeconomic effects of a criminal record, TLTW youth are passionate about changing state law to allow a clean slate for young people with system involvement. Many young adults find it difficult to secure employment, housing, and higher education with a criminal record, which contributes to a cycle of poverty, crime, and increased likelihood of recidivism. Passage of the expungement legislation would promote positive life outcomes for many system-involved youth and help them better transition into adulthood.
“[Young people] identified this problem. They truly learned the ins and outs of policymaking and were able to get it to this stage,” said Gregg Croteau, MSW, executive director of UTEC. “It’s a great thing to create lasting change and a great learning opportunity for young people themselves.”
The nonprofit does a significant amount of outreach to youth living in urban areas to provide them opportunities for growth through social enterprises that provide paid job training, GED/HiSET education programs, and workshops that help them build their skills. According to Croteau, more than 500 young people (ages 17-24) are reached by outreach, and more than 150 were enrolled in UTEC’s intensive program last year.
Geoff Foster, director of organizing and policymaking for UTEC, stressed that the skills learned through advocacy and organizing are life-changing for young people at all of TLTW’s partner agencies: “If they’re given the resources, support and opportunities, they are able to make changes at all levels,” he said.
UTEC’s innovative blend of social enterprise, advocacy, organizing, and mentorship of youth has made it a strong organization with a lasting impact on the young adults it serves. The Foundation is proud to partner with UTEC through TLTW to realize policy wins that contribute to positive outcomes for young adults across the Commonwealth.
|Right to the City Boston members show support for the campaign
Right to the City Boston (RTC-Boston) is a coalition of community organizing groups from across the city that have come together to advance equitable municipal policies that affect their local communities. Through shared communications, advocacy, and direct action, RTC-Boston amplifies and further builds the power of low-income people and people of color in Boston by connecting the grassroots leadership development and community organizing work of its six members: Alternatives for Community and Environment, Boston Workers Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, and New England United for Justice (all also Hyams Foundation grantees).
Among the major issues of concern to RTC-Boston groups’ members are housing displacement and the ability of low- and moderate-income people and families to continue living in Boston, one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities in the country. Boston faces both an acute shortage of permanent affordable housing and escalating housing costs. RTC-Boston’s housing advocacy builds on the organizing work of its members focused on increasing tenant rights and preventing displacement.
RTC-Boston is also a leading member of the “Right to Remain” campaign. This campaign brings together a broader coalition of groups concerned with housing displacement across the city to secure municipal policy changes that increase tenant protections and prevent evictions of low- and moderate- income residents.
RTC-Boston groups have been central to the Right to Remain campaign for just cause eviction protections and for elevating this important issue of housing displacement and how it impacts low-income people and people of color in Boston. These groups and their members have been visible at City Council hearings, garnered a substantial amount of media coverage, and developed several tenant leaders who organize other tenants and galvanize public awareness and support for equitable housing policies.
Darnell Johnson, RTC-Boston’s coordinator, says that the coalition has been working to raise awareness and engage people in the real housing challenges facing Boston’s neighborhoods. A significant amount of outreach and education about no-fault evictions and displacement in the last year has been done— so much so that the number of supporters of the campaign has risen from roughly 1,000 to between 3,000 and 3,500. Member groups also have in-depth conversations on the intersection of race and class, tenants’ rights, and community control of land with community members. Member leaders regularly engage the media and other stakeholders on the issues, and become involved in other housing justice efforts, including the campaign to pass the Community Preservation Act ballot initiative this fall that would result in new affordable housing revenues for Boston.
“RTC-Boston is proud to be made up of organizations led by people of color, working in communities of color. We are united around a platform of building unity across geography and ethnicity and building the power of communities that have for decades been left out of decision making at the city level,” reflects Noemi Ramos of New England United for Justice on the coalition’s work . “Racial and ethnic diversity are a cornerstone of our work.”