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Three People-Powered Advocacy Campaigns to Watch in 2018

These campaigns are using our moment of upheaval to mobilize people to protect birth control, voting rights and against economic inequality this year and beyond.

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Feb 20 2018, 6:00pm

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When President Trump first announced the Muslim ban a year ago, and lawyers, case workers and activists flooded JFK airport and others across the country in resistance, it was a sign of things to come. Civil liberties of working people have been under attack since before Trump was elected to office, but the threats have grown more unapologetic in the past year, particularly with a GOP-controlled Congress that seems wholly interested in moving along whatever the president wants. Now, policies carefully designed to disenfranchise are out in the open, and people are coming together to stand up against them. While there are tons of exciting, actionable advocacy efforts going down this year, here are three campaigns to watch that we’re particularly excited about.

THE ACLU’S PEOPLE POWER CAMPAIGN

The People Power Campaign is the ACLU’s plan to channel the energy of its members towards activism. Before Trump was elected, the ACLU had 400,000 formal members. Now, there are 1.6 million. But the People Power Campaign isn’t about getting monthly donors or other traditional membership goals.

“In the People Power universe, it’s for people to take a little time out of their week and engage in concrete, off-the-sofa activism that helps us advance the civil rights agenda. 250,000 people have taken that plunge,” Ronald Newman, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the ACLU, told VICE Impact,

The campaign launched in March of 2017 with a focus on immigration, and by mobilizing people to consistently take a small amount of time out of their lives, they celebrated some significant victories. For example, over the past few months in Fairfax, Virginia, a group of People Power volunteers met with the Sheriff’s office repeatedly, and eventually convinced them not to detain inmates wanted by ICE.


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“A handful of everyday folks spent a little time and made a change in Fairfax,” said Newman. “There’s real impact to be had. There are a lot of people who are down about where we are, but there are lots of opportunities for change out there.”

Since October 1, People Power has shifted its focus to voting. Newman says that up until 2010, voting rights in this country were on an expansive trajectory. There were setbacks, of course, but overall, the movement was towards making voting more accessible. When President Obama was elected in 2008, there were celebrations about the many people who voted for the first time.

“We present volunteers with a suite of activism options. From attending legislative hearings, collecting petitions, submitting letters to the editor, or doing letter writing parties, we have a game plan in every state.”

“The reaction to that uptick in voting were these concerted, coordinated attempts to suppress the vote,” he said. “Starting in 2010 we saw a slew of various forms of voter restrictions from practices and protocols that purge voters from rolls to practices that reduce early voting or unnecessary voter ID.”

The People Power initiatives related to voting go beyond trying to resist restrictive voter ID laws or purges to finding ways to expand voting rights.

“A big part of what we are trying to do through Let People Vote is to reverse that trend. Instead of just playing defense as folks try to suppress the vote, it’s also to play offense.”

Initiatives like automatic voter registration, election day registration, and restoring the right to vote to former felons who served their time are some of the tactics they’re employing. With 51 different plans (one for each state and one for Washington, DC), they are coming in to November 2018 with a path to progress.

“We present volunteers with a suite of activism options,” said Newman. “From attending legislative hearings, collecting petitions, submitting letters to the editor, or doing letter writing parties, we have a game plan in every state.”

THE POOR PEOPLE’S CAMPAIGN

The original Poor People’s Campaign was formed in another time of political upheaval and civil rights battles: Dr. Martin Luther King and other leaders came together in December of 1967 to say the country needed a Poor People’s Campaign.

“Dr. King came out against the Vietnam War in the last year of his life,” Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, explained to VICE Impact. “He made deeper connections between poverty, racism, and militarization.”

"It’s for people to take a little time out of their week and engage in concrete, off-the-sofa activism that helps us advance the civil rights agenda."

Dr. King felt that the thing that had the power to disrupt those three evils, she said, was uniting the poor people of the world across racial and geographic lines. But when he was killed soon after the original Poor People’s Campaign was launched, much of the work was left unfinished. On December 4, 2017, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s original campaign, the new Poor People’s Campaign was launched.

“We’ve been organizing for years to build a Poor People’s Campaign for today,” said Rev. Dr. Theoharis. “Most particularly for those who have been impacted by racism and economic injustice.”

This spring the Poor People’s Campaign will gather tens of thousands of people together in state capitals across the country and in Washington, D.C. Over the course of 40 days, the legacy of Dr. King will be celebrated through grassroots organizing, protests, marches, direct action, and education. As Dr. King used his faith as a catalyst for the human rights struggle, the new Poor People’s Campaign too leans heavily on faith leaders for a “national call for moral revival”. As Evangelicals and other faith leaders have galvanized the religious right to limit such freedoms and women’s right to choose, the new Poor People’s Campaign acknowledges that religion has always been used as a tool of justification.

“Right now there is a battle going on about what is at the heart of our religious traditions,” said Rev. Dr. Theoharis. “As a person of faith, I know there are 2,500 passages in the Bible about how you’re supposed to care for the poor and defend immigrants. There’s nothing about spewing hate and discriminating against people.”

THE FIGHT FOR BIRTH CONTROL CAMPAIGN

It’s pretty obvious that the Trump administration has never had women’s health as a top priority. But when you actually peruse the Trump appointees that Planned Parenthood lays out on its Fight for Birth Control site, the attacks become much more clear. For example, Valerie Huber, Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, promotes an abstinence-only education plan.

“The Trump/Pence administration has stacked the whole department of Health and Human Services with people who have archaic, out-of-the-mainstream views about birth control,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood, told VICE Impact.

Items on their agenda have included giving bosses the right to decide whether their employees should have birth control coverage based on their own religious or moral beliefs. Or giving doctors the right to deny women birth control because of their own views.

“Your body and decisions about it should be your own, and if they are not, you cannot be equal and you cannot be free.”

This is not only a personal problem, says Laguens. Birth control access leads to economic growth and social advances as well.

“There is tremendous economic evidence that when women can decide if and when to have children, they complete their education at higher levels, they enter the workforce at higher levels, and their children do better in school,” she said.

The Fight for Birth Control raises awareness to Planned Parenthood’s 11 million supporters that yes, in fact, politicians are coming after this reproductive right. They’ve encouraged people, including influencers like actors and performers, to share their own stories of how birth control changed their lives, and they submitted 500,000 comments to the administration in opposition of rolling back birth control protections.

“It goes back to Planned Parenthood’s larger values and big idea,” said Laguens. “Your body and decisions about it should be your own, and if they are not, you cannot be equal and you cannot be free.”

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