At her open house in February, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would be hosting a series of three Budget Engagement Forums throughout the city.
The purpose of these forums was to let residents know about the proposed items in her budget, and also to hear directly from residents about what things they would like to see her prioritize.
Sargent Shriver, President Johnson’s personal choice to lead the War on Poverty, was once asked which anti-poverty program he considered the most important.
“My favorite is Head Start because it was my idea,” he answered. “But I am proudest of Legal Services because I recognized that it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people’s lives were being exploited.”
The human service world is full of gatekeepers – individuals or organizations that control access to resources. Gatekeepers manifest in countless ways: they can look like staff who determine eligibility criteria, place people on wait lists, or restrict days and hours that someone can access services.
We recognize that some of this is unavoidable and at times important. We are all working with limited resources that make structure and guidelines necessary. However, for individuals using services, the gates can feel restrictive, endless, and oppressive. We have been thinking about the role that social service providers inadvertently play in perpetuating these systems of oppression. We think that folks accessing services deserve better. We think that as providers, we have a responsibility to do better.
For years, the Language Access Coalition, on which I serve as Bread for the City’s representative, has been talking about amending the Language Access Act to give it more “teeth.” Under the current law, a person who has been denied language access can file a complaint with the DC Office of Human Rights (OHR). The problem is that even if OHR determines that the government agency violated the Act, OHR has no power to force the agency to make changes or to compensate the complainant. As a result, we’ve seen agencies violate the Act over and over again with no sign of changing.
A couple of weeks ago, a number of the Bread for the City staffers met up at Freedom Plaza to participate in the rally to end police brutality against black men. After some thought, I gave the staff permission to join the rally under the Bread for the City banner, rather than insisting that they participate as mere private citizens.
I had initially hesitated to give my permission for them to walk as Bread employees, not because I didn’t like the cause or because I was worried about alienating some donors, which it very well might. No, I hesitated because I fear that the idea of marching regarding police brutality is too narrow of a message. Even one life of an unarmed citizen lost at the hands of the very people paid to protect us is tragic, but of course we know these tragedies have been both numerous and irreversible.
January 05, 2015 by BFC in Advocacy
In early 2013, Bread for the City’s Taylor Healy and I worked with a group of (very awesome) seniors at Victory Square Senior Apartments to get them a bus stop in front of their building. We organized them, helped them draft testimony and they kicked butt and successfully changed their access to a major transportation system (woot woot for systemic change! See the blog post here.).
We worked with those same seniors to do some deeper training around how to self-organize and even took three of them to a WIN training to get EVEN MORE tools. They were incredibly engaged and eager to learn more about how to fight for themselves.