Last week was both Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland’s birthdays, reminding us not only of the vibrant lives that were lost, but also the deadly cocktail of police violence and inaction that terrorizes black communities daily. Unlike Gabby Petito, the missing white woman whose remains were found shortly after a worldwide search, cases like Rashawn Anthony Francis, Lauren Smith-Fields, and Amir Locke are actively covered up and ignored.
We do see some bright spots where community activists no longer subscribe to respectability politics and interrupt the cover up before it can happen. (Big props to activist Nekima Levy Armstrong!)
We also want you to relax with some movies that showcase the best of black joy!
Shut Down Berks
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has resumed immigrant imprisonment at the Berks Detention Center. The Shut Down Berks Coalition calls on the Biden administration to immediately release the women and permanently close the Berks immigrant prison.
ICE has used the Berks family prison for over 20 years to incarcerate immigrant families, including children as young as 14 days old. After years of community resistance, the Biden administration released all people incarcerated at Berks on February 26, 2021. In September 2021, despite strong opposition from the community, ICE and the Berks County Commissioners reached an agreement to reopen and repurpose the Berks County Residential Center to detain women as young as 18 years old. Today, the facility is incarcerating as many as 65 immigrant women and girls.
Not the last we’ll hear about redistricting…
The Legislative Redistricting Commission held its final vote on the new maps for State House and State Senate districts for the next 10 years. The maps are mostly the same as the preliminary maps released in December, but with a few small changes. During the public comment period we asked folks to weigh in on the Senate maps due to their bias towards protecting incumbents and the Republican majority. In particular we hoped that the LRC would redraw the Senate maps to keep Allentown intact and keep Lancaster’s inner suburbs with the city of Lancaster. The new Senate maps do not do this, but they are slightly more favorable to Democrats than the preliminary maps.
The changes to the State House maps were more minor, but some of the moving lines had significant impact on progressive candidates. In the Lehigh Valley, Tara Zrinski had initially planned on running for the 137th State House district, but the new maps redrew the new district line directly across the street from her. Under the new maps she now lives in the 135th State House District. Similarly, in Philadelphia - Representative Chris Rabb now finds himself in the same district as Representative Isabella Fitzgerald and the two of them will now be running against each other.
Senate Race updates
In the United States Senate Race, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh has dropped out of the race. With Arkoosh’s withdrawal, the only three leading contenders for the Democratic nomination are all men. As we creep closer to the tentatively set primary election on May 17th, our chapters are preparing their endorsement processes. If you want the opportunity to vote on endorsements for your chapter, make sure to become a dues paying member!
Build Back Better Wars?
The best part about working with our local city budgets and federal budgets is being told that the resources we ask for don’t exist. Suddenly, the funding exists for war efforts. The Build Back Better Act is still being debated in the Senate and SEIU has helpfully created a short calculator about how it will help you, your household, and your community once it passes. There’s also a number at the end to contact Senators Toomey and Casey about getting this show to build back on the road.
CDC recommends running for school board
School boards across the state are re-evaluating their mask mandates. COVID cases have gone down since the winter holidays, but only back down to the initial case numbers we saw near mid-2021. They’re rising in school age kids across the state. The state mandate was lifted back in June, but the CDC still recommends masks for people spending time indoors in close proximity.
For those of you still wearing masks, you are entitled to free KN-95 masks through your local grocery store or pharmacy. Get ‘em while they’re hot!
Right to Nunya
In the Lehigh Valley, the local paper filed a right-to-know request on the types of taxes that are being absorbed by the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), because the public has a right to know the actual tax revenue that the city and county was losing while it gentrified Allentown., Sen. Pat Browne, who wrote the NIZ legislations and is also chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, attached an itsy bitsy teeny weeny little amendment to last year's state spending bill which said that any tax info from 2016 going forward (the exact year on the paper’s request) was now confidential.
This protects the local developers and was voted on by a senate that was inundated with nearly 50 roll calls the same week it went through and wasn’t caught until after it was passed.