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Name: Ana Garcia-Ashley

Title/Occupation: Executive Director

Organization: Gamaliel Foundation

What Makes The Person A Game Changer: Ana Garcia-Ashley is the first woman of color in America to head a national community organizing network. Born in the Dominican Republic in 1958, Garcia-Ashley was just four years old when she began canvassing in a rural village as part of a public safety campaign headed by her grandmother, a neighborhood activist. She joined Gamaliel in 1992 as the lead organizer of MICAH in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she led one of the most successful campaigns in Gamaliel’s history: winning a $500 million commitment from local banks to invest in affordable housing. As a result, 7,000 low-income families in Milwaukee were able to buy homes. Garcia-Ashley also founded Gamaliel’s statewide Wisconsin affiliate, WISDOM.

To learn more about Ana Garcia-Ashley and Gamaliel, visit

Free Speech Radio News 6/29/12

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With many deadlines looming, the House of Representatives took up a massive bill today to reauthorize federal transportation funding for two years, keep student loan interest rates low for one year, and fund the national flood insurance program for five years. A conference committee made up of Democrats and Republicans finalized the text late last night, and many lawmakers are criticizing House Republican leaders for rushing the bill to the floor before they have time to fully read the text. And transportation advocacy groups who have sifted through the massive bill say important public transit, bike and pedestrian programs have been gutted, and are pushing members of Congress to reject the bill. On Capitol Hill, FSRN’s Alice Ollstein reports.

Original Link:

Kalamazoo congregation lauded for wide-ranging social justice efforts

People’s Church earns UUA’s 2012 Bennett Award for social action.
By Donald E. Skinner

The roots of social justice work run deep at People’s Church, Kalamazoo, Mich., the winner of the 2012 Bennett Award. In 1892 it opened a free public kindergarten. It followed that with a gymnasium for women, a school of “household science,” a manual training class for men, and a literary club called “The Frederick Douglass Club” for blacks.

In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, it was active in school integration, reproductive rights, and gay and lesbian rights. Currently it is engaged in more than a dozen social justice programs from non-discrimination to prison ministry and domestic violence, and it is undertaking a major new initiative around antiracism.

The Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action is an annual honor given by the Unitarian Universalist Association to a congregation that has done exemplary work in social justice. The award’s selection team wrote to the Kalamazoo congregation in April: “We were inspired at the breadth and depth of your ministry. Your congregation’s steady progression toward a healthy, multicultural, and anti-racist/anti-oppressive justice-oriented congregation is admirable and deserves to be publicly recognized.” The team was led by Susan Leslie, the UUA’s director of the Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness. The award will be presented at General Assembly June 20-24 in Phoenix, Ariz.

Much of the congregation’s early social justice work was taken on by individuals since the congregation had long had a philosophy that the church itself should never take a stand on issues.

In the mid-1990s the congregation went through a period of conflict. Then by 1998 it was ready for a new approach. It called the Rev. Jill McAllister, who had a deep commitment to social justice. In 2000 she suggested the creation of a “social concerns committee.” The following year two board members attended a Heartland District social justice workshop and brought home information and enthusiasm. That was followed by an all-church planning retreat to talk about social justice, among other topics.

A Social Justice Coordinating Committee was formed out of that retreat. One of its first projects was to bring in the Rev. William Gardiner and Rev. Cynthia Prescott to conduct a Social Justice Empowerment Workshop in 2002.

“They showed us that freedom of conscience and a congregation standing up for what it believed in were not mutually exclusive,” said McAllister. “We began to speak the language that there were things that we believed in so much as a congregation that we could stand up and say so.”

Then came the Gamaliel Foundation and DART. These two community organizing groups arrived in Kalamazoo about the same time. Members of People’s Church learned about both, then joined Gamaliel, and through it, helped form an interfaith organizing network, ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Action & Advocacy in the Community) in 2002.

Since then, the congregation’s work in the community has taken off. Members of People’s Church became involved in ISAAC’s many task forces. Some became leaders of city-wide coalitions, securing major grants for family health and for preschool education. In 2009 ISAAC helped defeat a proposed repeal of a city non-discrimination ordinance for LGBT people.

Members are involved in many other social justice activities, as well. Some members volunteer as mentors at a local school. The Green Sanctuary task force organizes road cleanup activities and sales of fair trade coffee and candy. There is a support group for people just out of prison. And members help prepare a weekly meal for homeless people.

People’s Church is also a partner with a Transylvania congregation and a new congregation in Bujumbura, Burundi. In the latter partnership it is supporting a microlending program, has advocated for the rights of indigenous people there, and supported the congregation in its fight to prevent the criminalization of LGBT people.

People’s Church’s newest venture, getting under way this fall, is a deep exploration around antiracism and multiculturalism.

In its letter of application for the Bennett Award, congregational leaders noted the congregation’s social justice evolution. “We have gone from writing individual letters to the editor to engaging deeply as a congregation together with others across religious, economic, and race divides in our community to work powerfully with our local and state elected officials to accomplish social justice actions that impact much closer to the core of the issues addressed.”

McAllister said ISAAC was transformative for the congregation. “Some of our members moved quickly and easily into leadership of that coalition and it began to depend on us. Within ISAAC we are seen as a congregation that always turns people out for events and who are competent and effective at what we do.”

She said she preaches only infrequently about social justice. “Social justice is not the primary function of church,” McAlister said. “The primary function is to help people learn about and practice living in right relation within the church and in families. If you can’t do it with people in your congregation, how can you create peace in the world?”

She is enthusiastic about this fall’s exploration of antiracism and multiculturalism. “How do you actually change the way you interact with others? There are skills that can be learned by people and organizations to that end. Antiracism work often gets you to the talking level and then stops short. If you’re still embedded in your own habits, it just stops. Now, there are ways to learn skills and to practice them in the congregation. This is a very exciting thing we’re moving into. “

Phil Kramer, chair of the congregation’s Social Justice Coordinating Committee, credits three factors for the congregation’s engagement in community work. “Having a new minister who was committed to social justice in a different way than prior ministers. Then with the workshop with Bill Gardiner and Cynthia Prescott we began to identify a model we wanted to pursue. The third thing was the arrival of ISAAC. It gave us good impetus for moving ahead.”

He said the congregation has a core group of about 40 people who are deeply engaged in social justice. “There’s a second larger circle of people who will participate when they’re called upon. The congregation as a whole will support causes in more minor ways.”

Kramer added, “I don’t feel that we’re unique. What we have is good leadership. The minister’s role is very important. So is a core group that’s prepared to start an issue off. I feel very proud about being involved in social issues and receiving the Bennett Award. Our social justice work is part of our UU values system. It’s who we are.”

The Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action, instituted in 1999 by James Bennett to honor the congregation that has done exemplary work in social justice, is accompanied by a $500 cash award. Dr. James R. Bennett is professor emeritus of the University of Arkansas and he is the former director of the Gustavus Meyers Center of Human Rights in North America, founded in 1984. Bennett is a member of the UU Fellowship of Fayetteville, Ark.

This story originally appeared on the on June 25, 2012 and is available here:

The Rock Island County Branch NAACP No. 3268 will host our 5th Gala Freedom Fund Banquet and Image Awards "NAACP: Your Power, Your Decision -- VOTE" at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 30, at the Holiday Inn, Rock Island in "The District." The evening will include a pre-dinner mixer that will showcase the artwork of local African American quilt-makers. The program and "soul food" dinner will follow.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Dwight L. Ford, executive director of Eastern Nebraska Community Action Partnership, Omaha, Neb. "Rev. Ford is an innovative leader, author, thought-provoker, and public theologian. He is affectionately known as "The People's Pastor" for his commitment to vulnerable populations and impoverished communities."

The Image Awards recognize "outstanding" men and women of the Quad-Cities in the Arts, Business, Civil Rights, Education, Justice, Religion and Youth Development.

The 2012 Image Awards will be presented to the following individuals: IMANI Dancers and Dorian Byrd, Davenport, Arts and Entertainment; James Overton, Coal Valley, "Jim's Rib Haven," Business; Suzanne Golden, Rock Island, Civil Rights Hero; Janet Lockhart Johnson, Rock Island, Charles and Annie Robinson Education; Reggie Freeman, East Moline, Justice; Quad City Interfaith, Transportation Equity Network, Religion; and Ramsey Vesey, Rock Island, Youth Development.

The first time RI County Branch scholarship recognizes youth with outstanding achievements in academics and civic participation. The recipients in 2012 are:

Simone Collins, Rock Island; and Kylie Romeo, Moline.

For more information about the banquet and program or how to obtain tickets please contact Rexie Tyson, (309) 787-1373 or (563) 650-6702, or Liz Sherwin at (309) 793-0090. The deadline for obtaining tickets is Wednesday, June 27, at noon.

Original Article:

Santa Rosa voters may get to decide in November whether they want to elect their City Council representatives by districts rather than citywide.

City Council members expressed support Tuesday for the recommendations of the 21-member Charter Review Committee, including putting district elections before voters in the fall.

“I don't see why we shouldn't move forward with the committee's recommendations,” Mayor Ernesto Olivares said.

The move sets the stage for a Nov. 6 vote which, if approved, could lead to the first-ever City Council election by districts in 2014.

Supporters of district elections packed the City Council chambers, with dozens holding signs saying “District Elections. Let the voters decide.” Many pushed for a “simple seven” format with seven council members elected from seven districts and a mayor named from their ranks.

Kyra Janssen, 74, said she attended the charter review meetings, studied the district elections issue closely and concluded that while it is not a “silver bullet,” it's preferable given the changing face of Santa Rosa.

“District elections looks to the future rather than to the past,” Janssen said.

One of the main arguments for district elections has long been that it would broaden diversity in local politics, which has historically been controlled by residents from the wealthier and whiter northeast section of the city. All seven city council members live in the northeast.

Anne Seeley, of Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa, said there would be several other benefits to district elections, including reducing the costs of political campaigns and thereby allowing people of more modest means to serve; reduced election costs for the city; and making it easier for voters get to know their elected representatives.

“We think it really is the time to give your constituents the choice in this matter,” Seeley said.

Other supporters noted that studies show district elections increase voter participation. Others claimed district elections make sense given the city's emphasis on strong, distinct neighborhoods.

Perhaps the most unexpected testimony was from David Walls of the North Bay Organizing Project, who linked district elections to the civil rights struggle by invoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King.

“Today we say let freedom ring in Santa Rosa!” Wall said.

He then led the chamber, accompanied by a guitarist, in a nearly standing-room-only rendition of “My Country 'Tis of Thee.”

Not everyone claimed district elections would improve the city's politics.

World War II veteran Arthur Koenig, 85, said he'd voted in every City Council election for the past 50 years and never once voted for someone because of where they lived, but rather did so based on the positions they took.

“Don't vote for the seven districts because we're going to have (separation) instead of continuity within our city,” Koenig said.

The council didn't make a final decision. It accepted the report of the committee and instructed City Attorney Caroline Fowler to return with more information about the three significant items being recommended: district elections, setting clearer ground rules for the arbitration of public safety contract disputes, and allowing so-called design-build city government projects, which are designed and constructed by the same contractor.

The council has until Aug. 10 to tell the county registrar of voters what measures it wants on the ballot. Each measure will cost the city $75,000. Several minor ones many be included in a “cleanup” ballot measure.

Fowler said that it would be difficult to establish district boundaries before the election and thus let the voters approve them.

An alternative would be to simply ask voters whether they support switching to electing all seven council members by district. If the measure passed, the council could hold public hearings to decide what the boundaries of the districts would be, and approve them in time for the 2014 election.

Committee member Bill Carle, an attorney who served on the previous charter review panel 10 years ago, said he wasn't in favor of them then but is now because of the passage of the California Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law in 2002.

He said he worried that the city might be in violation of the act because the city may have areas of “racially polarized voting.” This could lead to expensive litigation that he said he'd prefer to avoid.

“I don't want to spend millions of dollars in lawsuits down the line. I want to spend that on city services, Carle said.

He urged the city to hire a consultant to determine if the city is in violation of the act before November.

“If in fact those patterns exist, there ought to nobody who votes against district elections, because it would be fiscally irresponsible,” Carle said.

This story originally appeared in the Press Democrat on June 12, 2012 and is available here: