Sonya Campion celebrated

Sonya Campion (Campion Foundation photo)

Sonya Campion (photo courtesy of the Campion Foundation)

Sonya Campion and the Campion Foundation have long been among the most powerful champions of the role nonprofits play in moving public policy through advocacy. This summer they were recognized for their visionary leadership by being named to the Top 50 Power & Influence list published by the The NonProfit Times.

“Campion is a rare hybrid of talented fundraiser and shrewd funder,” writes the Times, a nationally recognized leader covering nonprofit management. “The social entrepreneurs in the Northwest also love her passion for new ideas and methods of ‘catalytic philanthropy’ and service. Now she’s collaborating to push board members to speak up for and advocate for organizational mission.”

Campion has long supported Solid Ground and our Statewide Poverty Action Network advocacy branch.

“Sonya Campion understands that the support of advocacy and systems change work is key to ending homelessness. Her understanding of the importance of strong nonprofit operations has benefited so many in our community,” states Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO of Solid Ground. “Campion’s work has encouraged nonprofits to work together and believe in the strength of collaboration when addressing issues that affect us all. Her leadership has allowed nonprofits, funders and the community to have substantive conversations on how to create significant change.”

“Solid Ground and our community are blessed to collaborate with Campion,” McHenry says. “Her personal and foundation support of our advocacy and our operations has been extremely important in helping us fulfill our mission to end poverty.”

Voting Rights Act: democracy’s umbrella


VOTE4Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

 -President Lyndon B. Johnson
March 15, 1965

These words preceded the historic August 6, 1965 signing of the Voting Rights Act. Today is the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing, which celebrates the significant enfranchisement of voters but also reminds us of our responsibility to relentlessly protect this fundamental right of democracy.

In a special message, President Lyndon B. Johnson demanded that Congress pass the Voting Rights Act (VRA), protecting African Americans’ ability to vote. Until that point, southern states had imposed racist voting laws, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, specifically designed to create barriers for African American voters.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights leaders previously pressured Johnson to pass voting rights legislation, but despite his sympathetic stance, Johnson could not reconcile the political landscape with his desire to aid the Civil Rights movement.  Johnson’s presidential opponent Senator Barry Goldwater was already gaining traction in southern states by questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Bill.

Only after America witnessed police assaulting nonviolent Selma marchers did Johnson have the popular mandate to deliver his iconic speech. It was the fortunate collision of a forward-looking president, brave Alabama activism, and horrific police brutality that allowed a politically divided country to pass the VRA on this day in 1965.

On a state level, activists and organizers have worked to build on the impact of the VRA. In 2009, Solid Ground’s advocacy branch, the Statewide Poverty Action Network, joined with the ACLU of Washington to pass the Voting Rights Restoration Act, which restored voting rights to approximately 400,000 previously incarcerated people in our state.

VOTE3

Solid Ground staff & volunteers join CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr. to help get out the vote.

Marcy Bowers, Poverty Action Director, said: “The legacy of the VRA is as important today as it was 50 years ago. Our country still struggles to make peace with its history of slavery and racism. We see this in the news daily: members of the African American and Latino communities dying at the hands of a militarized police force, brave activists demanding change, and a federal government struggling to find the political will to make the needed changes.

“Because of the disproportionate number of people of color in our criminal justice system, this law greatly expanded voting rights for many people of color in our state. Since 2009, Poverty Action’s election efforts have included a special focus on reaching and educating these voters about their rights, as well as registering and engaging them in voting. Through this outreach, we have reached thousands of voters, ensuring that they can access the promises of the national VRA.”

In the year 2013, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the preclearance provision of the VRA. The provision forced historically racist states to get federal approval for their voting procedures. Chief Justice Roberts gutted one of the most effective acts in American history on the basis that racism is not the problem it was 50 years ago. Following the decision, six of nine states announced plans to move forward with more restrictive voter ID laws.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Ginsburg wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

On this 50th anniversary of the VRA, we must renew the call to ensure that everyone can access the most basic, fundamental right of our democracy. If you’re interested in volunteering with Poverty Action to register voters this summer, please contact Davíd at david@povertyaction.org.

Session is officially over: The dust has settled!

After 176 days and edging into a 3rd special session, Washington state’s 2015 legislative session ended in the second week of July. The final budget includes $185 million in new revenue from closing several tax loopholes and increasing some fees. It takes key steps to strengthen our state safety net; invest in early learning, K-12 and college education; provide emergency mental health services; and more.

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Legislative Building, Olympia, WA

Working closely with our communities, we are happy to report that our advocacy led to important wins for equity in Washington state. Here is how our main campaigns fared:

Basic Needs
After years of cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), we saw a 9% increase in the cash grant! This increase also benefits immigrant families who rely on State Family Assistance to meet their basic needs. State Food Assistance was funded fully at 100% (instead of 75%) of the federal SNAP benefit, assisting immigrant families living on low incomes in buying enough food for their families. And Working Connections Child Care (WCCC) now has a 12-month eligibility assessment, which means that a parent won’t lose help with childcare if their income increases slightly due to extra hours or overtime from one month to another.

Unfortunately state funding for Washington Telephone Assistance Program (WTAP), including Community Voice Mail (CVM), was eliminated. CVM provides a stable, secure way for people facing homelessness or who are in crisis to stay connected to critical resources – such as housing and employment opportunities – and accomplish their goals.

Roadblocks to Re-Entry (for previously incarcerated people)
All three of our main campaign priorities – Legal Financial Obligations (LFOs), Certificate of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP), and Ban the Box – gained positive momentum this year though none were passed into law. The LFO bill was voted out of the House almost unanimously and was moving through the Senate before an amended version died on the floor. We are excited to build on this momentum next session!

Consumer Protections
Due to a groundswell of opposition from all across the state, including a lot of media attention, we prevented “small installment loans” (the new payday loan) from being passed. We also prevented passage of several other laws that would weaken our debt protections. We’ll most likely have to keep fighting this fight in the years to come, but it’s worth it. The strong consumer protections you passed in 2009 have saved Washington consumers nearly half a billion dollars in fines and fees.

Your emails, phone calls, stories, and letters supporting revenue and investments in equity in our state made a real difference! Thank you for all the ways you made your voice heard this legislative session to generate revenue and invest in all families in our state. Visit the Statewide Poverty Action Network website for more information.

We have a lot to be proud of: Seattle Pride 2015

 This post was contributed by Lara Sim, Senior Public Policy Campaign Manager, Statewide Poverty Action Network and Debbie Carlsen, Executive Director, LGBTQ Allyship.

Anchored in the iconic Seattle Pride Parade along 4th Avenue, this year’s Seattle Pride showcased the dynamic community in which we live. Following our victories for marriage equality in Washington state, dismantling the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and advances in transgender rights in Washington, the events this year had a certain electric element.

Dominating the celebration was the jubilant feeling that accompanied Friday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality: It is now legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. The decision is a historic victory for LGBTQ rights activists who have fought for years in the lower courts. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia already recognize marriage equality. The remaining 13 states had banned these unions, even as public support has reached record levels nationwide. What a victory for equity and human dignity!

PrideHands

Pride parades began as a result of years of repression by the government. This year’s 41st Seattle Pride celebrated the progress we have made in equality and social justice and put a spotlight on the work still ahead of us. That work includes addressing barriers, such as laws on the books that still legalize discrimination.

In his welcome, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray shared some harrowing numbers and reminded us that “in 76 countries, it is still illegal to be LGBTQ and in 10 countries, the punishment is life in prison or death. We know these laws are on the wrong side of history.” During Pride and beyond, we saw our community and our allies come together to make the call for equality and non-discrimination. At Pride, this was the call to action, and we intend to take up the mantle.

The parade itself was humid, rowdy and loud. And it was filled with glitter and love. Over 200 groups pranced, waved and blew kisses from Union StPrideBeadsreet to Denny Way. We found the 2½ hours of revelry grounded in respect, courage and commitment. Organizers reminded us that Seattle’s Pride Parade is one of the top five parades in the country and that the head count was upwards of a half a million people! As the parade wound down, the crowd made its way to the Seattle Center. To see so many rolling around in the International Fountain after the drizzle of rain earlier in the morning was the perfect blend of silly, celebratory and quintessential Seattle.

Alongside all the merriment, State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu reminded us the fight isn’t over. From her published bio, Justice Yu is the state’s first out lesbian Justice, the first Asian-American Justice, the first Latina Justice, and the 11th woman to ever serve on the Washington Supreme Court. She prompted us to get involved:

For so many of us, acceptance and subsequent success came from an adult or mentor who reached out during a critical time in our lives. You too can be that beacon of hope or voice of comfort for a young person struggling through one of their toughest periods of life. Together we can assist and empower our youth to embrace their identity as they strive for self-sufficiency.”

She is right, of course: The fight isn’t over. For 40 years, in the long arc of struggle for acceptance, we see history changing at breakneck speed. As more LGBTQ individuals pick up the mantle of advocacy, they will help create a world our community never dreamed possible.

Demand fair revenue!

Protester calls for fair revenue in OlympiaFair revenue means asking everyone to pay their fair share and ending the perpetual cycle of revenue crises, while creating a state where everyone can meet their needs. Tell your Washington state lawmakers that it is time to raise fair revenue!

Our state has the most unfair tax system in the nation. Low-income and middle-income people in our state pay seven times more taxes – as a proportion of income – than our state’s wealthiest folks.

Only a few cents of every dollar the state spends on its constitutional obligations (education, highway patrol, etc.) were generated by Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes. Worse still, these business taxes were paid almost entirely by small businesses! Last year, five of our biggest industries combined – aerospace, high-tech, agriculture, timber and mining – contributed only 4% of all the B&O taxes collected. That’s right: Altogether they paid a fraction of a cent on every dollar of taxes collected. Now that is unfair revenue!

Unsurprisingly, this upside-down tax system disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income families the most.

Fair revenue allows us to use our dollars effectively. For example, it allows us to fund both education and social services, instead of pretending that you can gut one to fund the other and call it a “solution.” The good news is that real solutions abound. These solutions are:

  • Fair: Ensuring the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share by creating a state capital gains tax. This would tax profits from the sale of corporate stocks and other luxury financial assets.
  • Accountable: Eliminating wasteful tax breaks by closing tax loopholes for banks, oil refineries, and many others.
  • Sufficient: Raising needed revenue for education through putting a price on carbon pollution.

It’s time for our lawmakers to stop wasting our tax dollars by ignoring the solutions in front of them that support our basic needs, fully fund education, and help small businesses grow. By raising fair revenue, we can ensure that we are treating all our residents justly, regardless of race and class. But equally important, we also ensure that our growing economy supports a state where everyone prospers – rather than a state of haves and have-nots.

New Special Session means a new action! Email your lawmakers and ask them to support the fair revenue solutions put forth in the latest House budget proposal. The House budget takes a step in the right direction by making sure our wealthiest residents are held responsible for their fair share through a capital gains tax, and by increasing accountability through closing tax breaks for large profitable corporations.

Share your story: ‘It’s the most powerful thing you can do’

Poverty Action Member, Nacol, and her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member, Nacol, & her kids at 2014 MLK Lobby Day

Statewide Poverty Action Network member Nacol shares her powerful story. You, too, can make your voice heard through the Sharing Personal Experience As Knowledge (SPEAK) campaign.

“Five years ago, I fled a domestic violence situation with my two-year-old twin daughters – and one suitcase. I spent two years living in shelters while I searched for resources. One of my biggest barriers to stability continues to be the lack of resources for one of my daughters, who lives with a disability. Because of this disability, I am always on call to pick up my daughter from school and cannot afford childcare. It is hard to find a job that is flexible enough to fit the needs of my children.

I want to work and want the best for my daughters.

I receive $478 per month through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for myself and my family. While this money helps a great deal, it is not enough.

I am forced to choose between school supplies and clothes for my children, and paying our rent and utility bills.

TANF is really important though. Because I receive TANF, I was able to more easily obtain transitional housing, and TANF’s emergency assistance program helped me when I needed it.

I would like to see improvements to TANF, such as increasing the asset limits for TANF recipients. The few times I had any money to save, I didn’t do it because I was worried that I would lose my TANF benefits. I shouldn’t have to choose between saving for my family’s future and accessing resources to meet our basic needs now.

As a person who has life experience, I think sharing my story is so important. Step up and let someone know how you feel. Go down and talk to your representatives. I think it’s the most powerful thing you can do.”

Nacol, Member
Statewide Poverty Action Network

By stepping up and telling her story, Nacol, along with other members of the Statewide Poverty Action Network, were powerful enough to prevent $87.8 million in cuts to TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) programs. To learn more or share your story, visit povertyaction.org.

MLK Lobby Day: Making our voices heard

In late 2005, Marcy Bowers, now Director of Solid Ground’s Statewide Poverty Action Network, was hired as a Community Organizer to support their first-ever MLK Lobby Day event. Ten years later, this large gathering of people from all over Washington state is still going strong, mobilizing hundreds of people living on low incomes and their allies to come together in Olympia on MLK Day to advocate with their state senators and representatives, and to promote change during the legislative session.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

Members of District 33 at Poverty Action’s Activist Space photobooth.

In keeping with the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Lobby Day is scheduled on his day of honor in hopes of stimulating action for social, racial and economic justice. Since it is a legal holiday, a greater number of working adults can attend than might on a typical work day.

Lobby Day is comprised of about six hours of speeches, advocacy training, and an “Activist Space”/photobooth where people can share their stories through photos and postcard writing. In the afternoon, participants fan out on the Capitol Campus for meetings with their own district legislators. This year, roughly 200 attendees participated in 90 meetings, with about 30 of Washington’s 49 districts represented. Community Organizer Davíd Reyes scheduled these meetings in advance of the event so that participants had the chance to make their voices heard with decision makers in their home districts.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

200 participants gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia to advocate for change during meetings with their legislators.

Before Lobby Day, the Poverty Action Board – comprised of a majority of people of color and people living on low incomes from all over the state – hosts listening sessions with members from across the state to establish the themes they will primarily advocate for throughout the legislative session. This year’s priorities included:

  • criminal justice reform through reduction or elimination of Legal Financial Obligations
  • a greater Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant
  • consumer protections against predatory lending and debt services

Lobby Day connects the public policies that shape the framework of our society and the individuals affected by it. Citizens who advocate for change on Lobby Day bring a personal face and story to the issues that most affect them – and by meeting with their lawmakers, they can see firsthand how their voice can make a significant impact, which can result in real changes. The event creates an indescribable sense of solidarity as individuals bond together as a community for the day.

Community Relations & Development Manager Roshni Sampath has been involved in Lobby Day activities for several years. Through the photographs staged in the Activist Space, she has watched families returning with their children growing older and more passionate as time passes on. Other moments captured this year are shown in the slideshow below.

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After Lobby Day, participants can continue to make their voices heard through the SPEAK project, as well as attending hearings in Olympia. It is important to not let the feeling of empowerment that Lobby Day imparts on attendees and supporters alike fade. Rather, we should build upon the energy from the legislative meetings, positive interactions and comradery between the districts to effect both immediate and long-term changes for Washington state’s low-income families and communities.

For more information about current issues, see Poverty Action’s 2015 Legislative Agenda online. And throughout the legislative session, you can stay in touch with legislative priority progress by signing up to receive their Network News, following their social media on Facebook and Twitter, or via their website.

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