Anti-Racism Organizing in Bucks County, Indigenous Rights in Guatemala, Ecocide at the ICC?, and More!
This week in Meet a Progressive we stay local in Bucks County and meet a man whose anti-racism work has really become indispensable locally. He has been inspired by all of the organizing and activism across the country in 2020. I also submitted my column to the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer for next week as I hope to continue to shine a spotlight on local right-wing extremism.
Finally, please offer feedback and suggestions and forward this newsletter to folks you think might appreciate it.
Also, special thanks to Blair Haney who helped research and write the newsletter this week!
Meet a Progressive
Kevin E. Leven is co-leader of the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition, a 503(c)(3) nonprofit charity organization dedicated to educating, informing, and taking action on matters of racial justice.
More importantly than any of this, however, Kevin, aside from a four year stretch at an HBCU, has lived as a Black American amongst white Americans in suburban culture for his entire life. He's had a front row seat at the threshold of race relations, and been privy to the nuances of those relations from his very earliest days.
What inspired you to start working for progressive social change?
My parents, and the unique parts they each played during the civil rights movement in their day. Feel free to ask me about it sometime, it's a lot to go into here.
While I think I've always had it in me to act for social change, for me it didn't really take hold until this past year. Partly because I felt like generally people were finally listening and ready to be receptive to what I had to say, partly because I've started saying it a lot louder and less apologetically. I'm not considering much that I've done prior to this year as activism, at least not in any material capacity.
What do you identify as the top issue progressives must confront:
a) locally in Bucks County? In working with school committees and other individuals who do the same across the district, it seems there's a lot of work to be done with and for our schools. A lot. There's even a recent report by the Public Citizens for Children and Youth that outlines just how much we need to accomplish locally, and which districts need this work the most.
b) in PA? Voter suppression and gerrymandering efforts. It's no mystery why PA is such an obvious target for these efforts - we've seen its importance. We therefore need to be vigilant and keep an eye on things like PA House Bill 38, which those that have everything to gain from an uneven playing field tried to slide through as quietly as possible.
c) across the nation? Wealth and income inequity - how to not only correct it, but sustain that correction.
d) around the globe? Aside from climate change? As a tech worker, one thing I'd love to see is equitable access to technology and the internet on a global scale. There's no reason why it couldn't be done, and if we've learned nothing else from the past year, we know how badly this is needed.
What types of organizing and projects are you working on right now?
As I said earlier we (the coalition) are in the initial stages of working with school districts in the ways we are able to. We are continually being asked to speak and present in classrooms for students and student teachers; we moderate/curate an online discussion group; and organize and assist with in-person demonstrations for racial justice. We plan on assisting in mutual aid efforts with other local groups, and supporting the efforts of the Coalition of Natives and Allies in the very near future.
How can folks get engaged and help?
Despite the dumpster fire that was 2020, the one silver lining in all the smoke was the number of people and groups we've seen materialize to speak out, speak up, and act on behalf of marginalized folks. I've not seen anything like it in my lifetime, and the fact that almost a year later the movement has no signs of slowing down is encouraging. We are going to need every single voice and all hands on deck to accomplish all that is needed to be done.
Saying all this to say, if you are even a little bit inclined or even just curious about what you can do or how you can help, and you are not already involved in a local or online group to spark some ideas or inspire you to take action, I'd do that first. And if you can't find one, start one! You'll be surprised how many people around you are willing to contribute in either case. If you are confused about what to do or how to help, find like minded people, start listening (or ask!) to determine what's needed and where, and take it from there. It's more straightforward to get started than most imagine.
Which journalists, writers, podcasts, and publications do you turn to for information and inspiration?
For information I rely mostly on the people around me. I've been fortunate enough to work alongside and befriend so many intelligent and well-informed people that I often find that is my primary resource for choosing what to read, listen to, or research. For example, someone who knew we were looking at Bucks County school districts sent me this incredible book, "Reading, Writing, and Racism" by Bree Picower, just in time to feature it, and her, as our group's next read for April, and just in time for school board primary elections in May. I'm finding more and more these days that good information has a way of finding me, as a natural result of those in my proximity.
I almost never find myself needing to seek inspiration explicitly, it's a rare day that I don't find myself inspired by something, sometimes multiple somethings, throughout the course of the day. My alter ego is an artist, so I'm easily inspired. I love how seemingly disparate disciplines and areas of study can influence one another, and progressive issues are not exempt from this process. I once made a realization about racial justice while listening to a totally unrelated episode of the podcast "Hidden Brain" for example. I like to just let inspiration happen, and it can and does happen from almost anywhere.
State of the Nation
Good news, but not completely. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Monday an extension to the eviction moratorium until June 30, which was set to expire March 31. Renters of color have faced disproportionate hardships during the pandemic.
Census data shows over 8 million households are behind on rent payments and a recent Covid-19 study shows the importance of moratoriums to stop the spread. The moratorium does not erase rent debt nor does it prevent interest charges or other penalties. Meanwhile, Big Landlords have been making a killing financially despite the pandemic, and are expected to profiteer even more as a result of the American Rescue Plan’s $50 billion in rental assistance. Pennsylvania continues to roll out their rent and utility relief program. The CDC announcement will help PA renters tap into the $857 million assistance program. Locally, Bucks County residents can find help here. The State Treasury provided an interactive map to see distribution of rent and utility funds by county. The State rent and utility legislation can be found here.
Thank God Pennsylvania has Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe and his veto because Republicans can’t stand democracy. American voters in 2020 cast 158.4 million votes, a staggering 10 million more than in 2016. The Pennsylvania state GOP’s response to this development is 14 policy proposals to restrict access to voting; this is second most among state legislatures according to the Brennan Center for Justice and is part of a nationwide Republican program to suppress the vote. Right-wing groups have even created boot camps to help lawmakers effectively gerrymander and roll back voting rights. The PA state GOP has proposed four restrictions to mail-in and absentee voting. However, this would undo bipartisan election reform legislation, Act 77 in 2019, that created the no-excuse mail-in and absentee ballots they now seek to eliminate. Prior to Act 77, a voter was required to check a state-allowed reason to vote absentee. The no-excuse legislation even survived a Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenge by unanimous decision; one of many frivolous post-2020 election lawsuits to be thrown out. Voters in Pennsylvania should monitor the newly formed Election Law Advisory Board. This Board will review the Act 77 election reform legislation from 2019. Some PA election officials testified they want reform to ease deadlines for counting ballots. The advisory board hopes to report recommendations for revision by June 30, 2021.
Another right-wing Pennsylvania police officer was outed as racist, this time by himself, when he filmed a video on Tik Tok, while on duty and in uniform, going off on a racist and sexist rant defending the Confederate flag. Mansfield Borough cop Brian Gossert has been suspended, though it is unclear whether he is still getting paid. The Mansfield Borough Council announced it is investigating the situation. In newer video that was released, Gossert told commenters he is not afraid of ever losing his job because of his police union.
Beyond the U.S. Bubble
Sign this Petition! Indigenous Peoples’ Human Rights in Migration - The good folks at the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) are circulating a petition calling on the Biden administration “to recognize, consult, and directly engage with the leadership of Indigenous and Black migrants.” NISGUA is circulating this because “Indigenous peoples of Abiayala (the Americas, in colonial terms) continue to face the destructive results of ongoing Doctrine of Discovery — based colonialism: imposed resource extraction, impunity for crimes against humanity, systemic poverty, robbing of ancestral lands, and more. Because national governments fail to uphold their human rights obligations, Indigenous peoples are forced to migrate in disproportionate numbers to seek those protections.” Sign HERE and watch a webinar with Guatemalan Indigenous leaders Juanita Cabrera Lopez (Maya Mam), Luis Marcos (Q'anjob'al Maya), Giovanni Batz (K'iche' Maya) here:
A big win for global environmental justice may be on the horizon. The New Internationalist has a very interesting article explaining that “by June 2021, an expert panel of international lawyers are set to complete a draft definition of ‘ecocide’ which could see it added to the Rome Statute,” which means that corporations could potentially be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court for crimes against the planet. “The adoption of ecocide as a crime by the ICC would be a game-changer for getting justice to indigenous communities and other victims of environmental destruction. The culprits will be taken to the ICC, and the whole world will be able to see the faces of those that destroyed the marginalized community's environment and the livelihoods that they derived from it,” says Omar Elmawi, a lawyer at DeCOALonize. This is definitely something to follow and support!
Thanks for reading! I look forward to your feedback and suggestions.