Voices of Everyday Leaders

by Maya Boddie | March 19, 2019 3:46 pm

Last week, educators, students and lawmakers, from Community Change president Dorian Warren to democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, gathered in Northeast Washington, D.C.’s Union Market to share “bold” ideas for how to end poverty and inequality. Organized by Community Change, Economic Security Project, Roosevelt Institute and the California based Hewlett Foundation, and emceed by author and comedian Baratunde Thurston, Bold v. Old, rather provocatively named, emphasized the boldness of economic justice ideas both past and present.

Joining Together to Make Bold Change

Bold ideas are needed for rapidly-growing inequality and the concentration of wealth in the hands of too few. Politicians, organizers, thought leaders and policy experts joined forces with Community Change, Economic Security Project, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Roosevelt Institute for #BoldvOld to showcase how a partnership of movers and shakers are embracing big economic ideas.

Posted by Community Change on Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The ideas came from experiments conducted to build worker power in corporate spaces and help the income needs of families struggling to get by. Former Georgia state representative and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, in conversation with Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color of Change, highlighted the importance of giving voice to those who don’t always have it. She said, “We need to tell our story over and over again with a repetition that exhausts people. If people are tired of hearing you, that means they finally heard you.”

The speakers and panelists spent the day solidifying that message.  Mary Kay Henry (president of SEIU), along with Palak Shah, (Social Innovations Director, Domestic Worker’s Alliance) and Andrea Dehlendorf, (Co-Director, OUR Walmart), talked about rewriting the rules for the 21st century economy and how their organizations are mobilizing workers and encouraging worker power.

Among the speakers of the day were Senators and Democratic presidential hopefuls Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who both discussed their plans to create a better America for the working and middle class. “We have to rewrite the rules in a way that we are supporting working and middle class families in America. Because we’re not,” Harris said to Felicia Wong of Roosevelt Institute. Booker sat down with Darrick Hamilton (Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University) and reminded us that we can’t talk about marijuana legalization without talking about expunging sentences, and also highlighted the role systemic racism plays in economic inequality, as two white people had to pose as his Black parents in order to buy a home in New Jersey just a few decades back.

Other speakers included Chris Hughes (co-founder, Facebook), Natalie Foster (co-chair, Economic Security Project), Julie Margetta Morgan (Executive Director, Great Democracy Initiative), Ai-Jen Poo (Director, Domestic Workers), Lina Khan (Academic Fellow, Columbia Law), Sabeel Ramen (Associate Professor, Brooklyn Law), Jenn Harris (Senior Fellow, Hewlett Foundation), Ganesh Sitaramen (Professor of Law, Vanderbilt), Mehrsa Baharen Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, UGA Law), Demetrius  Jifunza (President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition), Demond Drummer (Co-founder, CoderSpace), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and U.S. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07). Each shared their insight on topics ranging from taxes, student debt and voting rights in Florida, to the “bold” ideas of the Green New Deal and universal healthcare.

Former Community Change fellow turned best-selling author Stephanie Land, is a living example of the results of working together to amplify the voices of the voiceless. Land shared her poignant story of once cleaning houses for a living and being forced to live in a homeless shelter to overcoming through the opportunity to advocate for herself.

“The truth is, for those living in the margins working day and night to survive, there is often no real path out of poverty. The welfare cliff is too high, the obstacles are simply too great. The system is too broken,” she told the audience.  

“What the government calls handouts we call means to survive.” By “we,” she’s talking about the housekeepers and janitors, the cab drivers, and single parents trying to provide the best life for their children are often “working to make life easier for others,” and yet we are failing them by paying them minimum wage.”

Often times, those of us in need get lost in the system. Take 26-year-old Michael Tubbs for example, his drive to fight for young Black men like himself is fueled by listening to  gunshots every night, unsure if he would be able to make it out. Just as much, as mayor of Stockton, California, Tubbs is pushing legislation that demands higher pay for the Uber and Lyft drivers who sometimes drive hours away to San Francisco only to return home and still be unable to keep food on the table.

Reflecting on the day-long convening of countless bold ideas, Community Change president Dorian Warren said, “people are at least curious. There’s something happening in this country right now, and I would argue it’s actually the upside of the Trump effect,” he said.

“It’s one thing to talk about the ideas. It’s another thing to build power to win them. And that’s what we do.”


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