fresh voices from the front lines of change








Alyssa Aguilera, Jeremy Saunders

Our Fight For Freedom Is Far From Over

New York’s City Council has voted to allow the construction of four new jails as part of a plan to close Rikers Island, where thousands of New Yorkers are jailed. The vast majority are there without convictions because they can’t afford bail, or locked up when their real needs are housing, services and care. For 20 years, VOCAL-NY has fought to end AIDS, the drug war, mass incarceration and homelessness. These issues trap marginalized communities in a never-ending cycle of poverty and oppression, and are issues that have been long ignored and stigmatized, even by many of our allies. From the day this Mayor has taken office, we have come to his administration – as both allies and adversaries – with calls for investments and policy changes to set our city on a path free from our historic crises of homelessness and overdose, free of Rikers Island, and with a just, equitable and compassionate public health and social safety net infrastructure that will change the lives of our members and the future of our City. We also fought for and won bail reform at the state level, which was opposed by the Mayor, but has made jail reductions a clear reality. The Mayor eventually conceded to this demand, and committed to closing Riker’s Island. His administration did propose decreasing the city’s overall jail population, but also to build four new towering jails at other locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan the Bronx and Queens. We were called upon to choose between supporting either the building of new jails as a part of the plan to close Rikers, or a vision that does not address the deplorable conditions of the current borough-based jails. We could not do either. We will continue to demand a financial and political reorientation for our city. We demand a Caring & Compassionate New Deal that creates a housing, public health and social services workforce and infrastructure to tackle the intersecting issues of incarceration, homelessness, extreme poverty, substance use disorder and mental health issues. Our fight for freedom is far from over.

Alyssa Aguilera and Jeremy Saunders are co-executive directors of VOCAL-NY, part of the People's Action national network of grassroots groups.

AOC Endorses Sanders At Massive Queens Rally

'I am back': Sanders tops Warren with massive New York City rally. Politico: "Bernie Sanders one-upped Elizabeth Warren. In his first rally since suffering a heart attack, the Vermont senator delivered a speech Saturday to a crowd his campaign estimated at 26,000 people, the largest number any Democratic presidential candidate has drawn this year. And he was joined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the star liberal congresswoman who made her endorsement official onstage. It was a triumphant moment for Sanders, coming after his hospitalization triggered questions about his candidacy. The crowd apparently eclipsed the more than 20,000 people that Warren's team said attended her September rally a few miles away in Washington Square Park, as well as the estimated 20,000-plus at Kamala Harris' campaign kickoff in January. Against the backdrop of the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the nation, Sanders railed against President Donald Trump, income inequality, racial disparities, the political status quo and the economic elite. 'A few miles away from here, people on Wall Street make unbelievable amounts of money and live in incredible and ostentatious luxury,' he said, 'while right here, across the street from us, people are struggling day after day just to survive.'"

Warren To Release Medicare For All Plan

After weeks of criticism, Warren says she will release a plan to pay for Medicare-for-all. WaPo: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday her campaign will release a plan to pay for the Medicare-for-all health proposal she’s backed 'in the next few weeks,' but she continued to deflect questions about whether middle-class taxes would go up. That promise comes after weeks of attacks from other Democratic candidates in the presidential race, who say Warren is not being honest with voters about how she would fund the massive health-care plan. The lag in unveiling a payment plan speaks to the difficult position Warren is in: She can either offer some kind of large tax above her wealth tax on the very rich or be pegged as evasive about a major element of her platform. Both carry political risks. 'The cheapest possible way to make sure that everyone gets health care is Medicare-for-all,' the senator from Massachusetts said at the end of a town hall in Indianola, attended by about 475 people. 'What I see, though, is, we need to talk about costs.' Over 'the next few weeks,' Warren added, she will offer a proposal for 'specifically how we pay for it.'"

Sanders Pledges To Maintain Grassroots Mobilization

Sanders: I wouldn't make mistake of shutting down grassroots. The Intercept: "in 2008, Barack Obama, before being sworn in as president, effectively shuttered the unprecedented grassroots army his campaign had mobilized. The decision, which took his 10-million-plus donors and volunteers off the political battle field, is regularly cited today as having handicapped his first-term agenda. Bernie Sanders, asked on Saturday afternoon whether he would make a different decision if he were to win the presidency in 2020, said, 'Yes, I absolutely would.' Sanders, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., sat down for an interview with The Intercept ahead of his rally in Queens, New York — his first since his Las Vegas heart attack earlier in October — and spoke in granular detail about what political revolution means to him. While he was eager to expound on the ability of an organized, working-class movement to overpower structural obstacles, he stopped short of endorsing new congressional primary challengers. He did say that he plans to become more involved in such challenges in the near future."

HUD Intentionally Stalled Puerto Rico Disaster Aid

HUD officials knowingly failed 'to comply with the law,' stalled Puerto Rico hurricane relief funds. NBC: "Two top officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development admitted at a congressional hearing this week that the agency knowingly missed a legally required deadline that would have made desperately needed hurricane relief funding available to Puerto Rico. HUD’s chief financial officer, Irv Dennis, and David Woll, the department's principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, made the admission Thursday before a House Appropriations subcommittee. The two told bewildered lawmakers that the agency missed the congressionally mandated deadline to issue a notice that would have kicked off a monthslong process to help Puerto Rico get billions in federal housing funds Congress allocated after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. 'HUD did fail to comply with the law,' said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., said at the hearing. The housing agency was supposed to issue funding notices to 18 states affected by disasters on Sept. 4. They published all the notices except Puerto Rico’s. The publication of the notice would have allowed Puerto Rico to start drafting a plan that would create the structures needed to manage the much-needed funds."

NYC Shelters Take Millions For Shoddy Facilities

NYC’s biggest shelter contractor makes millions, offers shoddy facilities. Truthout: "Acacia is the largest provider of homeless housing in New York’s metropolitan area, but it is not just a shelter operator. Over the decades, Acacia has built a small empire with connections running up the ladder of city government. It has amassed a web of interconnected nonprofits and for-profits that offer shelter, affordable housing, addiction and medical services, and security. According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services website, Acacia manages 750 individual family units and four buildings for approximately 550 homeless adults.' The shelter tends to respond to incidents in ways that hurt residents. To address toilet problems, the shelter’s cleaning staff stopped stocking rooms with toilet paper as soon as the facility’s annual 'Callahan' inspection—named for the 1981 court case that established the 'right to shelter' in New York City—had completed. What Annie describes is a complete culture of neglect, which doesn’t square with the large amount of money Acacia rakes in from the city. In the 2019 fiscal year alone (July 2018 through June 2019), it received $259 million in contracts from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), which accounted for 18.5% of the department’s contracts that year. Acacia gets additional funding from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Since the 2011 fiscal year, it has received over $1.1 billion worth of city contracts."

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