BLOG CALL SCRIPTS THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 12, 2018

Tell Rep. Garamendi that Democrats need to stand together to protect Dreamers

My name is _______ and I am calling from zip code ______.

I am profoundly disappointed in Rep. Garamendi for not standing with minority leader Pelosi and the majority of Democrats in their fight for the Dreamers. The Democrats made a promise to fight for a clean DACA but when they are not willing to stand strong as a group when needed they will fail.

Paul Ryan wont put a clean DACA up for a vote unless he is forced to do so, it is not in his political interest. Can I trust Rep. Garamendi to stand with the rest of the Democrats to make sure this happens next time the CR runs out?

 

Call on Senators to continue to support a “clean” DREAM Act

Hi! My name is [name] and I live in [part of state].

First I’d like to thank the Senator for her fight for the Dreamers so far. I’m calling to tell {PERSON} that we need to pass a clean Dream Act, now. 122 Dreamers have been losing their DACA protections every day since Trump announced the end of the program back in September, and starting on March 5 that number will rise to over 1,200 a day. Dreamers are Americans too, and by failing to act Congress is letting Trump and his deportation force enact the administration’s white supremacist agenda.

Dreamers are not a bargaining chip to be used to advance Trump’s racist policies. Every Congressional leader AND Trump himself supports keeping Dreamers in America because it’s the only home they’ve ever known; Congress must keep the promise that we made to Dreamers when DACA was first started. I ask that {PERSON} vote to permanently protect them from deportation and oppose the family ban, more ICE agents, and the border wall.

Tell Rep. Garamendi to Stand up for the Disabled Community and Vote No on HR620

Hello, my name is _________ and I am a constituent from zip code ______.

I am calling today about HR620, the ADA Education and Reform Act. I am very concerned about the implications this bill. ADA has existed for 27 years and yet disabled people still faces a lot of limitations in their daily life. This bill significantly slows down the process for removing barriers for the disabled and practically removes any incentive for businesses to remove barriers pro-actively.
I urge the Representative to oppose this dismantling of the ADA and stand up for the disabled community.

Tell MoCs to denounce “the memo” and protect Mueller’s investigation

Hi! I’m a constituent from [zip code] and my nam is _____.

I’m calling because I’m really disappointed that this Nunes memo is getting so much attention. It’s a see-through political stunt to hurt the Mueller investigation and shield Trump from accountability. I’m calling on {PERSON} to speak out and to denounce “the memo”. I would like to see {PERSON} publicly state that using this “memo” as an excuse to fire Rosenstein or Mueller are red lines and that the memo is a Republican PR stunt and not an excuse to obstruct justice.

In addition, I think that {PERSON} should read the Democratic rebuttal memo into the congressional record. The Constitution protects them from liability in sharing that information, even if it’s classified. We need to have that context in order to counter the misinformation of the Nunes “memo.”

 

Tell MoCs to support a “clean” DREAM Act

My name is ____ and my zip code is _____.

I’m calling on {PERSON} to support a “clean” DREAM Act only. Dreamers are being deported and Trump and the GOP aren’t doing anything to clean up the mess Trump made when he ended DACA in September. We need Congress to fix Trump’s mess, but we can’t let Trump use Dreamers as hostages for his extreme immigration plans, which is why we won’t accept anything less than a “clean” Dream Act.

If this has not been resolved by the time of the budget vote, don’t vote for a budget or CR unless it includes a clean Dream act.

Tell MoCs to prevent increases in military spending

Hello, I am a constituent from zip code ____. I am also a member of Indivisible.

I am asking the Senator to stay strong in the budget negotiations and not allow military expansion. Social safety net programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, housing subsidies, environmental protection, and more, must not be sacrificed for unnecessary increases in military spending. If preventing cuts to social spending risks a government shutdown, I urge the Senator to take that risk. We must defend the social safety net.

 

Thank Our Senators for standing with DREAMers

Hello! My name is ___ and I’m calling from [zip code].

I wanted to thank the senator for voting against the continuing resolution that didn’t include the Dream Act. I expect that the senator will continue to be a champion for Dreamers by voting against the upcoming continuing resolution on February 8. With the administration threatening to deport Dreamers en masse after DACA ends on March 5, and tens of thousands of Dreamers already at risk, there is no excuse for the senator to enable this by voting for a CR that doesn’t protect Dreamers.

 

Tell Rep. Garamendi that he should be ashamed of abandoning DREAMers

Hello! My name is ___ and I’m calling from [zip code].

I am very disappointed Rep. Garamendi changed his vote from Friday to Monday and voted for the CR that didn’t include the Dream Act. Dreamers deserve MoCs who will stand with them and use their vote to protect them from the Trump deportation machine.

Rep. Garamendi can only end his complicity in Trump’s racist policies by demanding a vote on the Dream Act now. With the administration threatening to deport Dreamers en masse after DACA ends on March 5, and tens of thousands of Dreamers already at risk, there is no excuse to enable this by voting for a CR that doesn’t protect Dreamers.

 

Tell all MoC’s to defend the census

Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent from zip code______ and a member of Indivisible. I’m calling to ask MoC to insist that the 2020 Census not include a question about the respondent’s citizenship.

The Census count is used to determine representation in Congress. An inaccurate count will result in unfair representation, which is exactly why Republicans are trying to scare off respondents by inserting a question asking if they are citizens. The GOP can’t win elections fairly and they’re determined to cheat instead. They must be stopped.

Will MoC demand that the citizenship question be stripped from the Census?

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Tell Our Senators to Hold GOP to their Promise on DACA

 

Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent from zip code______ and a member of Indivisible. I’m calling to thank {PERSON} for voting no on the continuing resolution without DACA. I share the senator’s disappointment that many Democrats decided to support a spending bill on a promise from the GOP when it is clear they are not negotiating in good faith.

I now urge the Senator to push the bi-partisan DACA bill and hold McConnell to his promise to put it up for a vote.

 

 

Urge MoCs to boycott the State of the Union address

Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent from zip code______ and a member of Indivisible. I’m calling to ask {PERSON} to boycott the State of the Union address.

In normal times boycotting the Address would be unthinkable. However. Trump is unfit to be President. He is an authoritarian who has called for attacks on the press, the judiciary and the rule of law. This when he isn’t calling countries with brown people “shitholes” and asking to let in lily-white Norwegians. He’s also a pathological liar. He doesn’t deserve to be respected and he shouldn’t be listened to. A number of Representatives have already said they won’t attend the address. Will {PERSON} please join them in boycotting the State of the Union address?

 

Dr Mindy Romero, Director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis, joins our hosts on the podcast this week. Dr. Romero founded the Civic Engagement project to address a need for more research on civic engagement, particularly voting behavior, and particularly in respect to underrepresented groups, and disparity in both engagement and representation. The CCEP aims to understand why and how groups are underrepresented and disenfranchised, with the goal of aiding in the implementation of solutions to create a more representative democracy.

On CCEP’s website, http://ccep.ucdavis.edu, you can find a whole host of resources and all of CCEP’s publications. There you can find a number of tools, including a mapping tool that visualizes the findings of the Center’s research – down to a neighborhood level. It visualizes participation and voter turnout, and draws correlations between engagement and social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Currently CCEP is working on projects pertaining to elections, both pre- and post-election. Before an election they look questions around policy and summarize what to expect in the election, and afterward, questions around what happened – who participated, how to make sense of the outcome, what, if anything, would have changed it, and how to increase turnout in the future. Another major focus is election behavior and voting reforms, like online voter registration and California’s new pre-registration program.

Beyond voting, CCEP does research around policy, including a project focused around a new bill called the “Ballot Initiative Transparency Act.” Currently, California does a lot of its legislating through the ballot box – some notable examples include legalizing recreational marijuana, or reforming the appeals process for the death penalty. CCEP is planning to track how this bill will affect the way that Californians vote on ballot initiatives, and if it changes voting behavior in the future.

CCEP also looks at voter disenfranchisement, and one of its current major emphases is the youth vote. Their website will soon host a new study on youth turnout and participation in California’s central valley, particularly focused on Latino youth. They ask why youth engage, what engagement means to them, what opportunities and barriers exist in their communities, and whether what we think of as civic engagement actually matches up with what’s available to young people, and what makes sense in their lives. As is true of any survey, metrics must match and reflect what they aim to study, and it’s not clear that traditional metrics always match or resonate with young people’s experience. The CCEP is interested in examining these metrics in an effort to better study young people’s engagement and motives.

In addition to ongoing projects, CCEP partners with any number of organizations and individuals to address any burning questions and help them better advocate or legislate for Californians. They also partner with dissemination groups in an effort to make sure that the research is heard and understood by as many people as possible. They do briefings at the capital, through the press office at UC Davis, through advocacy organizations and lawmakers offices, and hold talks and conferences throughout the state to help get the word out. That kind of outreach and “aggressive dissemination” is key to making sure the research has an impact – information is only useful if as many people know about it as possible. It’s also key to make sure that it is easy to understand and accessible for anyone who needs it, which is why CCEP’s website is full of data visualization tools and tables, and why all of their research is published there with open access to all. But CCEP knows that it can always do more to make sure its findings reach affected groups, and is constantly looking for education and outreach opportunities.

One of CCEP’s major studies, “As California Goes, So Goes the Nation?” looks at the changing demographics in California, how that’s changed the makeup of voters, and what that means for California and the nation. It’s no surprise that California’s demographics have changed significantly with respect to race, ethnicity, and age. Compared to 1980, a common marker for demographic research, the Latino population has grown from 19% to 39%, and currently is larger than the white population (38%). Asian Americans are currently about 13%, and African Americans are about 6% of California’s population. This means California is a much more diverse state than it was even 40 years ago, but raises questions of how that translates to the electorate – who is participating, who is eligible, and what the outcomes are as a result.

What CCEP has found is that the voting population – those who are eligible and who do vote – does not match up demographically to the makeup of the state. Both people of color and young people are drastically underrepresented in the electorate, and thus in government. Part of the reason CCEP does its research is to better understand why these trends exist, and how to get these demographics engaged and voting.

In an ideal democracy, there would be 100% voter turnout, but currently the U.S. has the lowest voter turnout rate for all established democracies across the world. And that has serious consequences. Policy makers are influenced by their voting base, particularly those who will hold them accountable during elections. When demographics don’t vote, it has a direct effect on what policies lawmakers will pursue, whether because they don’t have the information they need, or for more sinister reasons. Oftentimes, though, lawmakers want more data on their constituents, which is why they will partner with the CCEP.

The study also looks at how California compares to the rest of the nation in terms of demographic shift, and the power the Californians have over the presidential races. The bottom line is that Californian numbers represent a more national trend towards diversification, but illustrate how that doesn’t necessarily translate into better representation in government.

Another major area of research focuses on the youth vote – what kinds of roadblocks exist, in registration and engagement, and the culture around youth vote. There are a number that exist, and many are intentional. Oftentimes, we as a culture don’t want to see young people participate, and certainly don’t actively encourage them to participate. However, after elections, one of the first questions asked is “why don’t young people participate?” It’s easy to blame young people, but in reality, the system and our culture does very little to give any sort of support, encouragement, or education on how to participate. In fact, we often expect young people, when they turn 18, to magically know all the nuts and bolts of voter registration and elections, and also to be motivated to vote.

Even here in California, we have a culture where it is socially acceptable for young people to not participate in the political process. In addition, there are structural barriers that keep young people from voting. Voter registration is tied to an address, when we know that many young people are incredibly mobile, and often move every year or two. So, students at Davis, for example, have to figure out which address to use when they register to vote, which means they may not get their ballot in time, or must remember to re-register every year when they move.

There are also attitudes that discourage young people from voting, and discount their experiences. A commonly held notion is that young people don’t have enough worldly knowledge or experience to vote, and that they should wait until they pay taxes, have stable jobs, and ‘know more,’ before they participate. And this attitude is often internalized by young people – the CCEP often hears how young people don’t feel they know enough, or haven’t experienced enough to feel comfortable voting. This is a form of voter suppression. We have a long history in the U.S. of qualifying the right to vote – making people prove that they are worthy and ‘competent,’ enough to participate. This has taken the form of literacy tests, and poll taxes, but more recently looks like voter I.D. laws, a lack of civics education, and this quiet discouragement of young people.

But even though young people aren’t always voting, that doesn’t mean they aren’t involved. Often, they are volunteering and participating in their local communities, but don’t see how casting a ballot will affect tangible change, particularly when they grew up during a recession, and have witnessed gridlock and government shutdowns. Making the connection between casting a ballot and improving their communities will be key in engaging young people in the political process, as well as acknowledging and valuing the work that young people are already doing in their communities.

In addition to making the connection between voting and policy changes that affect communities, it’s important to impart how impactful every vote is. Particularly in state and local elections, we’ve seen one vote be the deciding factor, and local elections are arguably some of the most important, because they impact how policy will be implemented in a community. Even nationally, CCEP’s research has shown that, in the last presidential election, if more people had voted, we likely would have had a different outcome. As it stands, a little under 60% of eligible voters participated, and only a quarter of them voted for the winning candidate, which was a slightly lower than average year in terms of turnout. Recently, in Alabama, we saw an unexpected candidate win as a result of record levels of turnout by the African American community. Ultimately, every vote matters, even on a scale as large as the national and presidential level.

California is at the forefront of voter engagement policy, having recently enacted online voter registration and voter pre-registration. Online voter registration has changed the way people register to vote, and about 4 million people (about 40% of voters) are using the service – whether to register for the first time, or to re-register. It’s also changing the accuracy of voter information, because the forms don’t allow for incorrect addresses or typos, and there’s no issue with deciphering handwriting.

Despite its positive impacts, there are still groups that are underrepresented in their use of online voter registration – most notably Latinos, low income voters, and foreign born voters. So there is room for improvement in the implementation of the online voter registration system, and outreach to underrepresented communities. Overall, however, the system has been a success in the number of people who are using it, and a number of voter advocacy and registration groups have expressed their appreciation in the ease of registering voters. The Secretary of State is a big proponent of registration efforts, and there were a number of online campaigns – most notably on Facebook – where click through advertisements took eligible voters directly to a registration form. Often, spikes of voter registration occurred around key points in the election, such as super Tuesday, and CCEP infers that people were seeing developments in politics that they did or didn’t like, and were spurred to register to vote. Online voter registration is key in capturing that momentum, because it creates an instant connection, and removes barriers of time and space – it is no longer required to go out and pick up a form, fill it out, and mail or submit it, let alone leave the house.

If you’d like to check out some of the research done by CCEP, their findings are posted on the website: http://ccep.ucdavis.edu. In addition, you can find Dr. Romero’s contact information if you or someone you know is interested in partnering for a study, interning as a researcher, or using some of the data to guide and implement policy.

Sarah Zimmerman, Program Director for Retirement Security for All, joins the podcast this week, to discuss the effects of the #TaxScam with respect to social programs, and her research into retirement security across the state of California.

Last year, in October, Congress passed a budget resolution that, along with $5.8 trillion ($5,800,000,000,000) in spending cuts, included a provision that allowed them to pass their tax resolution with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than a ⅔ majority. Although the cuts weren’t enacted, the resolution gives a pretty clear picture of which programs the GOP is planning to cut, particularly in the wake of the #TaxScam, and subsequent deficit increase.

A number of programs slated for the chopping block include those that benefit seniors, which is Sarah’s research focus. They’re coming after the housing assistance budget, they want to eliminate the legal services budget, and they want to eliminate state grants for emergencies – things like hurricanes and wildfires. In addition, they want to cut more than $1 trillion ($1,000,000,000,000) from Medicaid, even though approximately 6 out of every 10 people in a nursing home depend almost exclusively on it.

Sarah has been looking into what these types of cuts would look like, and how they’d manifest in counties across California. She looked at 10 counties in California that are in districts represented by vulnerable Republicans – meaning they represent a district that Hillary Clinton won. San Joaquin county, for instance, which is in California’s 10th district, represented by Jeff Dehnem, would see a $12 million ($12,000,000) cut to its budget through Trump’s $6 billion ($6,000,000,000) housing cuts. Currently, 9,000 senior headed homes pay more than half of their income in housing costs, and over 2,000 of these households could lose their housing entirely, as a result of these cuts.

Every county has numbers like that. In Yolo, there are 3,000 senior headed households that pay more than half of their income in housing costs. Because senior headed households are often older couples, that means that 6,000 people are vulnerable. In addition, about 1,000 households include a senior who relies on federal subsidies, meaning those households could also lose their housing. Sarah points out that the only way that people are surviving on Social Security benefits is that they have subsides from other government programs, like housing, Medicare, or legal aid. The average Social Security check is about $1,300 per month, which is comparable to what most one bedroom apartments cost to rent in Yolo county. Pulling these programs, and reducing payouts obviously puts a strain on these people and their households.

A strain will also be put on the local economy, through lost government revenue, and loss of consumer purchasing power. A tax break to seniors, that puts more spending money in their pockets, for example, means that money will be spent in their communities and taxed by the local economy. A tax break for a billionaire, on the other hand, doesn’t ensure that kind of local and widespread spending – one person simply can’t be spending little amounts everywhere the same way that a multitude of people in communities across the country can. This is called a multiplier effect: a senior who has an extra dollar in their pocket, and who spends that dollar in a local economy, will have an economic ripple effect, multiplying the value of that dollar.

Another program on the chopping block is SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more colloquially known as food stamps. Here in California, it’s known as CalFresh, and you can learn more by listening to our podcast with Don Saylor (episode 28). SNAP is another program that has a multiplier effect – roughly 1.79%. Moody’s, a fairly conservative economic analysis group, estimates that funding SNAP has a greater positive effect on the economy than tax cuts. SNAP’s multiplier of 1.79% means that for every dollar invested in SNAP, that generates growth in the local economy equivalent to almost double its original worth. For Yolo County, that means about $57 million ($57,000,000).

On an individual level, many people benefit from overlap of these programs. For example, a single parent, making $15 an hour, taking care of an aging parent, might head a household that receives Social Security, Medicare, and SNAP benefits, among others. This means that they can take time off work to take care of that aging parent, or can afford to have a caregiver for when they have to go to work. It means they can afford childcare for young children, so the parent can go to work. If the kids are older, they may be able to take advantage of federal grants and scholarships for college. The family might receive subsidies that allow them to afford their housing, electricity, or even their centralized heating and air, particularly if they live in dangerously hot places like California’s central valley. If these subsidies go away, this family could lose their housing, their heat, their child or elder care, and any hope of attending college. Sarah’s research has found that many families like this are only one or two paychecks away from losing their housing, or their cars, and any type of emergency or medical disaster can put them in financial ruin. It is a precarious and incredibly stressful situation.

One of the most dangerous cuts would be to the legal services budget. Many may not realize how important it is that low-income folks have access to legal services, but Sarah mentions a man who required medicine to control his high blood pressure, but through clerical error, was unable to register for MediCal. He couldn’t leave his home because his other medical supplies had run dangerously low, but he was able to call legal services and within a day they had re-established his MediCal. Without legal aid, he may not have survived, and certainly would not have been able to keep his dignity, yet the GOP budget aims to cut these services entirely.

Part of what we can do to fight back is to continue educating. For a long, and yet somehow still incomplete, detailing of the horrors in the tax bill, check out the Holiday Tax Scam Special, or read the blog. Educate proponents of the bill that a one time bonus of $1,000 won’t last long in the face of health insurance rate hikes, new expenses that were previously covered by social programs, or even new taxes. Make sure when 2019 rolls around, people understand that their taxes have changed because of that bill that was passed at the end of 2017. Keep reminding them. Major Republican donors like the Koch brothers have already pledged millions of dollars to try and put a positive spin on the bill, and they are rolling out an extended PR campaign. We can combat it by spreading information about what this bill actually does, getting out in the streets – like the graduate students Averyl Dietering and Breanne Weber did at UC Davis – and continuing to shame the GOP. Most importantly, the only way to change the situation is to take back the government in November 2018, which means registering and making sure folks are able to vote.

If you’d like to learn more about retirement security, and Sarah’s research, you can check out Retirement Security for All’s website: RSAcalifornia.org. They also have a facebook page, and work closely with CARA – California Alliance for Retired Americans. Sarah suggests getting involved, in part, because the seniors of CARA are so courageous and fun to work with. She’d also like to ask that anyone who has a story of how they benefited from social welfare programs – CHIP, Social Security, MediCal, legal services, or others – share it on the RSA website. On the homepage, there’s a link to share your experience, and Sarah suggests ignoring the prompt and simply telling your story.

If you’d like to get involved with flipping Jeff Denham’s seat in California District 10, Organize Win Legislate’s Director, Tristan Brown, stopped by the pod, and has a number of ways to get involved. Indivisible Manteca is also organizing to wrest power away from Denham in 2018.

Tell Garamendi to fight for net neutrality

I’m calling from [zip code] to ask Rep. Garamendi to do anything in his power to stop the FCC from killing net neutrality and the strong Title II oversight of Internet Service Providers.

Preserving an open internet is crucial for fair and equal access to the resources and information available on it.

 

Tell senators to vote NO and slow down the Tax Scam bill

My name is ________ and I am a constituent of the Senator  in the _______ zip code. I am also a member of IndivisibleYolo. I am calling to ask the Senator to do everything in her power to block the terrible tax bill being pushed through Congress by the GOP.

This bill is a scam that will give massive tax cuts to the wealthy, paid for by increasing taxes on ordinary taxpayers and by forcing deep cuts to critical programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. This bill represents a massive transfer of wealth from poor and middle class taxpayers to the richest individuals and corporations. It is especially harmful to states like California, by eliminating SALT (state and local tax) deductions, mortgage interest and property tax deductions, and programs that fund affordable housing.

I hope the Senator will continue her work on all fronts to avoid this tax bill becoming law. 

 

Tell Garamendi to renew funding for the CHIP Program

Hello! My name is [ name ] and I’m calling from [area].

I’m calling to ask that Rep. Garamendi support reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program immediately. The Children’s Health Insurance Program ensures nearly 9 million children have health insurance. CHIP is a federal-state partnership where the federal government provides most—or in some cases, all—of the funding necessary to cover uninsured children. This is an important and necessary program that protects our children.

Diego Rivas, Chapter Chair of the Democrats Abroad in Berlin, joined us this week on the pod to discuss voter engagement overseas.

Democrats Abroad is the official arm of the Democratic party for Americans living abroad. It’s main purpose is to ensure that voters are able to vote and participate in the civic process. One of the ways they make sure to stay in touch is to send postcards, which members can pick up at their meetings, and to stay informed about issues in their home states.

And Democrats don’t forget about their voters abroad. Several prominent figures, including Martin O’Malley, Eric Garcetti, and Howard Dean, have come to speak to the Democrats Abroad of Berlin, in particular. Some important races are decided by absentee ballots, which are most often cast by Americans living overseas. In 2008, Al Franken even won his senate seat by a mere 312 votes – a number of which were from Americans abroad.

A big focus for the group is voter engagement, which is particularly difficult when members are from diverse areas of origin. In the Berlin group alone, there are few people who come from the same state, let alone the same county. And since states often have different voter registration and ID laws, keeping track and making sure that folks have up-to-date information is crucial and difficult.

Some things that Americans don’t think twice about can make a huge difference for Democrats Abroad. For instance, they must be incredibly selective about who they take donations from, or even sell things to, as they run the risk of taking campaign donations from foreign nationals, which is illegal. Although they often find friends, family, and colleagues sympathetic to their cause, they must be sure to never engage in any sort of financial transaction that could be considered illegal.

In addition to voter engagement, the party at large is pushing a Tax Reform plan, regarding residence based taxation, or RBT. Currently, the US taxes residents of other countries, while they also pay taxes in their country of residence. Many Democrats would like to see fair, residence based taxation, while others argue that removing US taxes would create unfair loopholes for corporations with overseas operations. Whatever the outcome, it’s important that Americans living in other countries are taxed within reason, and that corporations aren’t allowed to circumvent the law through these types of loopholes.

Democrats Abroad, as an official arm of the party, is also involved in the Democratic National Convention, and sends around 13 delegates every year. Similarly to how delegates are designated and selected stateside, the world is divided up into several slices – the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia – each of which sends a certain number of delegates. Delegates are chosen the way they are stateside: each delegate runs a small campaign and is elected to represent their district. Diego was lucky enough to be part of the Berlin elections, which is where the European delegates were chosen.

If you’re planning on living abroad, or know someone who is living abroad, the best way to get involved is to go to the Democrats Abroad webpage, and find the nearest group. If there isn’t one, Diego recommends starting a charter – it’s a lot easier than it looks!

Kara Hunter, Executive Director of the Yolo Conflict and Resolution Center, visited the podcast this week. The Yolo Conflict and Resolution Center (YCRC) is a local nonprofit that offers mediation and other services to the region. Anyone having a conflict can call YCRC for mediation services for free or low cost, and the group is meant to be a community resource. They also do trainings on conflict resolution skills, communication, and listening, to help people deal with conflicts that come up in the course of their lives. One of their newest endeavors is a restorative justice program, that aims to keep low-level crimes out of the court system and have them handled through a restorative justice and communication process.

Prior to working at YCRC, Kara spent about 14 years working with juvenile offenders, particularly through advocacy and mentorship. The restorative justice program was what drew her to YCRC, because it particularly works with youth and young offenders to keep them out of the courts and out of the prison system.

YCRC, although it doesn’t really have a target group – anyone from the community is welcome to use their services – they tend to focus on groups individuals who interface with the public and often need to have good conflict resolution skills, like police or public figures. The main service they provide, however, is mediation, where two or more parties having a conflict will call upon YCRC to mediate and facilitate communication. Some of their most common cases, particularly in Davis, are landlord tenant cases.

The YCRC actually got it start to fill a void that was left when the city defunded its landlord-tenant mediation services. Former city government employees from that department got together and founded the nonprofit as a way to continue those services in Davis and the greater Yolo region.

YCRC has expanded its programming beyond mediation, to include trainings, like the ones they provide for public figures and others. This is useful for anyone who has conflict at any point in their lives (hint: it’s all of us). Many people get nervous, or angry, when confronted with conflict, and YCRC strives to make communities better at addressing issues in a peaceful, communicative manner. They aim to make conflict a constructive, rather than a destructive, force in both the community at large, and individuals’ lives.

One of the focuses that drew Kara to the organization was this educational service, particularly its focus on youth. There are many people who are never taught how to productively deal with conflict, and YCRC aims to begin education from a young age, which is why it reaches out to youth and particularly at-risk youth, populations.

Currently, YCRC partners with the school district, the police department, and the district attourney’s office. In the future, they’re looking forward to working with the courts and prison systems more, including mentoring and teaching folks as they’re released from the prison system, both in restorative justice practices and in conflict resolution skills. Kara feels this is particularly important because people coming out of the prison system are constantly dealing with conflict, and most people are not naturals at constructively mitigating conflict. She is looking forward to offering their mediation services and trainings to these vulnerable communities, as a way to help them not only productively manage conflict in their own lives, but to use their newfound skills to help integrate back into society after incarceration.

A newer, but exciting program YCRC is offering is restorative justice, which presents a different way of looking at crime – rather than focusing on the act of wrongdoing, they focus on how it has harmed a community, and how to make the wrongdoer understand the harm and the obligations it creates. The program aims to bring together the people involved, and have them come to an agreement by which the harm can be righted or mitigated in some way. Then, once the act or acts of restoration have been completed, the wrongdoers is accepted back into their society, rather than ostracized, and their label of ‘offender,’ is often struck from their record. The program aims to heal in a way that the current justice system does not – Kara points out that many folks who go through the traditional justice system, on both sides of the act, do not feel any type of closure, even after the verdict. The restorative justice program, however, works to create that feeling of closure by bringing together both parties and coming to a mutual agreement.

Currently, the Yolo County DA offers a volunteer program called Neighborhood Court, which deals with low-level crimes in the specified neighborhood. YCRC has facilitated the trainings for the members of the neighborhood courts, and these groups work at helping the offender right the wrong or undo the harm caused by their actions, so that the community can heal and the offender can learn. In addition, YCRC has partnered with Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) for a referral program, where youth who have committed low level, nonviolent crimes (such as graffiti, or possession of marijuana), are brought together with the victim (if there is one), for a dialogue about how to proceed in a way where both the victim and the offender feel the wrong has been righted, and the outcome is achievable for the offender.

Often, restorative justice is called ‘transformative justice,’ because of how it transforms not only the situation of how justice is administered, but how it transforms the offender and the victim, and offers a way of accepting and understanding that allows people to become whole after a wrong has been done. All of us, Kara points out, have done something stupid, and we don’t deserve to be punished for life because of a small offense. If offenders are allowed to work through the wrong, and to reintegrate into the community after it occurs, it can head off many of the school to prison pipelines we see happening all across the country. It’s a slippery slope once a youth is labeled an offender, and Kara acknowledges that some kids really embrace it, which only makes things worse, both for their trajectory, and for the community as a whole. This is even more important when considering racial justice in the community, particularly with who is disproportionately targeted to bear the label of ‘offender,’ for low-level, nonviolent crimes that most youth commit.

Its often said that our prison system is broken, and Kara argues that at its core is the fact that we don’t allow for reintegration into society after someone has been to prison. Once someone is incarcerated, that stays with them for life – they can’t vote, must report it on every job application, and it follows them everywhere. It can become someone’s identity, and it’s no wonder there are so many repeat offenders. We have to, offer people a way to make amends for the crimes they’ve committed, but also, once they have, to accept them back into our society. As Kara mentioned before, people will embrace the labels they are given, especially if they have no way of casting them off, and with that in mind, it’s no wonder we see so many repeat offenders in our prison system.

But Kara is hopeful – many agencies, from law enforcement to the District Attourney’s office, have asked YCRC for help. They acknowledge that there is an issue, and that not only restorative justice, but conflict resolution training, can help change the way things are. Even people in the California Department of Corrections have informally reached out to learn more about restorative justice and what they can do to make the justice system work.

Here in Yolo, particularly in Davis, there have been two high-profile cases that have floated the idea of using restorative justice: the vandalism at the Davis Islamic Center and the Picnic Day 5 incident. Kara points out that while these might seem like good candidates for restorative justice, in order for the process to work, both parties have to come to the table willing and open to discuss. Mandates to participate in restorative justice tend to color or sour the conversation, and can negatively affect the outcomes. Particularly in these cases, the high profile of the events has made all parties involved understandably cautious about their next moves, but restorative justice is still on the table.

To get involved in YCRC check out their facebook page, or go to one of their board meetings. They reserve time at every meeting for public comment and they post the agenda on their website. They talk about everything from the nuts and bolts of a nonprofit to the strategy of which populations they can reach out to next. One group that has been on the YCRC radar is the elder population in Yolo, and what conflicts they might have – from interpersonal conflicts in assisted living facilities, to family disputes around end of life care or wills. Beyond the board meetings, YCRC is always looking for new volunteers and community mediators. They facilitate a community mediator training every year (the upcoming one is in January 2018), and many mediators come back to volunteer with the community mediation process. In addition, they’re always looking for folks to join the restorative justice and neighborhood court programs – facilitator training is free. They are particularly interested in office and legislative interns, and had a fabulous UC Davis intern help them track policy and legislative changes over the summer. More information for all these services, events, and ways to get involved is available on their website.

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