Rethinking Communities

May 15, 2014

National change begins in our own back yards. Learn how the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative is making it happen.

National change begins in our own back yards. Learn how the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Rethinking Communities initiative is making it happen.

Learn more at rethinkingcommunities.com and join the conversation using hashtag #RethinkingCommunities.

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Collaborative Democracy in Action: The Summer of Rethinking Communities

May 8, 2014Alan Smith

Students across the country are asking how their colleges and universities shape the communities around them.

Students across the country are asking how their colleges and universities shape the communities around them.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Rethinking Communities initiative is entering a new phase. In January, students began their research, asking difficult questions that drew on the work of the Democracy Collaborative and others. Their purpose: to examine whether their schools are acting as a good anchor institutions, defined here as institutions that are anchored to a particular location by their mission, invested capital, or relationships, and therefore have a stake in improving the welfare of their communities.

As the spring semester wraps up and the data comes in, we’re learning the scope of what we can achieve with this initiative, and we're ready to bring more schools to the table. Watch the video below for an overview of the work our students are doing to jumpstart national change at the local level, and why we think it’s so important:

Nearly 30 chapters signed up for the research phase, and many are close to completing or have already completed their research. The next step will be building a series of local projects designed to improve the economic development, civic infrastructure, and public health and environment of their communities. 

As these projects come together, we're starting to get a sense of where students can be the most effective in rethinking communities. A few early milestones:

  • The George Washington University chapter has proposed a plan to shift money from the university's cash on hand into a local community development financial institution, as a way to empower and invest in businesses that operate in and around low-income neighborhoods.
  • The Amherst College chapter has shone a light on the need for an office of sustainability at Amherst. The college is now in the process of planning for such an addition.
  • The University of Richmond chapter is working with city of Richmond and local elected officials to redesign “The Richmond Promise,” an existing agreement between the university and the city, to reflect best practices and better connect the school’s resources to the community.

The final phase of this initiative will be to take the data we’ve collected from all of these institutions to build a certification system based on a series of local economic development metrics, which will allow us to measure the impact of anchor institutions relative to their peers.

It’s an exciting time to be part of Rethinking Communities. School’s out, but the work is just getting started.

Alan Smith is the Roosevelt Institute's Associate Director of Networked Initiatives.

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Turning Students' Vision Into Reality: Roosevelt's Campus Network at 10

May 6, 2014Tarsi Dunlop

As the nation's largest student policy organization approaches its 10th anniversary, an alumna and former staffer reflects on how it has evolved and what lies ahead.

As the nation's largest student policy organization approaches its 10th anniversary, an alumna and former staffer reflects on how it has evolved and what lies ahead.

It was September 2005, a few weeks into my first year at Middlebury College, and I was visiting tables at the student activities fair. I had already signed up for several clubs when I heard someone say something, rather loudly, about getting my ideas published and in front of policymakers. I got the pitch: it was the nation’s first ever student-run think tank, then called the Roosevelt Institution, and it was committed to getting student ideas into the policy process. I had no idea how that 10-minute conversation would shape the next 10 years of my life. The organization that would become the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network was still in its infancy; I showed up to the first general interest meeting and was promptly given a chapter leadership role. In the months to follow, I learned how to run meetings, facilitate research, and write policy recommendations. I knew I had found something bigger than myself, or even my school.

The Campus Network turns 10 years old in December 2014. This past weekend, a group of former Roosevelt students gathered for the first of many meetings in New York City to talk about the 10th anniversary celebration, which will set the stage for a longer-term effort to re-engage former members around shared aspects of our incredible story. As we sat together and learned about the more recent Campus Network initiatives, we were, frankly, proud and impressed.

The evolution of the Campus Network is evident in the ambition and scope of the work students are doing. Over the years, the Campus Network has spread to more than 125 campuses, including 13 community colleges. The Summer Academy program, which allows students to develop policy proposals while working alongside government, think tanks, and non-profits, started in Washington, D.C. in 2008; it now operates in four cities and receives a growing number of applications. We used to publish eight or nine student-generated ideas a year in the Roosevelt Review; now the organization publishes 60 a year in the 10 Ideas journal series. And though the organization has changed names and headquarters, it has remained student-run and student-driven. 

The mentality of the students has evolved along with the work. They realized their ideas had more relevance and potential when designed for and implemented in their local communities. They began to think about how to put their ideas into action themselves, in collaboration with the important stakeholders, instead of simply pitching them to elected leaders. And at the same time, they expressed a desire for a national narrative to connect their work across the country. This led to the creation of Think 2040, an initiative designed to identify students' values and how they relate to their generation's policy goals. Conversations were held and data was compiled at campuses across the country, which led to a series of documents that established a clear vision for a Millennial-driven future: the Blueprint for Millennial America, the Budget for Millennial America, and Government By and For Millennial America. The Campus Network is now taking this model to the local level through initiatives like Rethinking Communities and NextGen Illinois.

As the alumni gathered to learn about the state of the Campus Network and where the organization is heading, we were all reminded of particular moments and events that resonated with us. We all identified with different parts of the story: which publications did we write for, which Hyde Park summit did we attend, did we apply to the Summer Academy? We are still fundamentally connected to this journey and invested in this idea space, and we share certain values because we were shaped by this experience. We recognize that we all embraced the same mission and pitch: that young people and their ideas matter, that those ideas can be put to work now, and that students don’t have to wait until they’re in positions of power to make an impact.

In the coming years, the Campus Network wants to reconnect with alumni, support them in their work, and offer them a greater array of opportunities to stay up to date and engaged with the network moving forward. We want to encourage more intentional connections between alumni and current students, offer professional development for former members, recognize contributions from students and chapters over the last 10 years, create alumni profiles and features, and foster connections at the local level. Above all, we want to create a space that reflects the needs and interests of the broader Roosevelt community. In celebrating such growth and success at the organization’s 10th anniversary, we can also look ahead to its 25th. What do we want for Roosevelt then?

We are excited to reach out and build something great for all generations of Roosevelt members. Every success on every level made us what we are today. If you're interested in staying in touch, let us know! And if you’re not a current or former Campus Network member but are interested in our work, stay tuned: there’s much more to come.

Tarsi Dunlop is the former Director of Operations for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. She currently works at an education nonprofit in Alexandria.

Photos: Campus Network alumni gather in New York City for a 10th anniversary celebration; the author with Roosevelt Institute VP of Networks and Campus Network National Director Taylor Jo Isenberg.

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How Can We Grade Universities on Their Local Economic Impact?

Apr 18, 2014

Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith and NYU student Eugenia Kim explain the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities Initiative and how universities can promote local development. 

Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith and NYU student Eugenia Kim explain the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities Initiative and how universities can promote local development. 

Click here to read more about Rethinking Communities.

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Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Apr 16, 2014Taylor Jo Isenberg

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's annual 10 Ideas series collects the top student policy proposals from across the country. This year's journals are now available online; read them here.

December 2014 will mark 10 years since a group of college students united behind a new model for engaging young people in the political process, a model that became the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network. Deeply grounded in the belief that young people have more to offer than just showing up on Election Day, the Campus Network has continued to evolve and grow from its visionary beginning into the nation’s largest student policy organization, with a membership capable of shifting dialogue and effecting policy at the local, state, and national levels.

We believe that in the context of a stagnant public discourse and increasing disillusionment with a political system incapable of tackling our complex collective challenges, it is more important than ever to invest in a generation of leaders committed to active problem-solving and concrete change in the public sphere. As the Campus Network expands to more than 120 chapters in 38 states, we serve as a vehicle for fresh ideas, exciting talent, and real progress.

You will find our commitment to bold experimentation on display in the 2014 edition of the Campus Network’s 10 Ideas journals, collecting our members’ best policy proposals on issues including economic development, defense and diplomacy, energy and the environment, health care, education, and equal justice. From reforming western water rights to supporting green infrastructure, students are envisioning and acting on better solutions.

The variety and scope of the ideas in these journals are indicative of our network’s larger impact. In the past year, we’ve leveraged the effectiveness of our model to work with and inform dozens of other organizations on how to engage Millennials on critical issues, ranging from campaign finance to inequality to climate change. We’ve elevated a fresh, Millennial-driven vision for government in an otherwise stale public debate, and launched an initiative that taps into our generation’s unfettered thinking and ambition to reimagine the role of citizens in shaping fairer and more equitable local economies. Our members have continued to substantively engage in local processes to shape and shift the policy outcomes that directly impact their communities, from introducing new mapping systems to improve health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods to consulting local governments on flood prevention.

These ideas are just the starting place, because ideas are only powerful when acted upon. Yet this work is occurring in a dramatically shifting political and social context. The ways citizens engage their government, participate locally, and advocate for their communities are changing every day. As a vibrant, evolving network driven by our active members nationwide, we believe there is immense potential to capture these innovations and ensure better and more progressive ideas take hold. We believe that:

  • Millennials are turning away from traditional institutions and are looking to build new ones as vehicles for social change. We believe there is an opportunity to channel this reform-mindedness into building a healthier, more inclusive system that’s responsive to citizen engagement and evidence-based solutions.  
  • To jump-start political engagement and combat disillusionment, the focus needs to be on pragmatic problem-solving and intersectional thinking across key issues. For example, we can no longer tackle economic mobility separately from climate change.
  • There is immense potential (and need) for scalable policy innovation at the local and state levels, and much of the most effective and important policy change in the coming decade will be local.
  • With the shift from top-down institutions to networked approaches and collective problem-solving, it is more important than ever before to invest in the development of informed, engaged community leaders capable of driving engagement and action on ideas.

As you engage with the ideas, ambitions, and goals in these journals, I encourage you to dig in and explore how our country’s future leaders are taking the initiative to create the change they know we desperately need. You won’t be disappointed. 

Taylor Jo Isenberg is the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks.

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Daily Digest - April 16: The Ideas Generation

Apr 16, 2014Tim Price

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

That '70s Show, Starring Ted Cruz (New Republic)

Despite conservatives' tendency to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, today's economic challenges are the opposite of those the U.S. faced in the 1970s, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

That '70s Show, Starring Ted Cruz (New Republic)

Despite conservatives' tendency to compare Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter, today's economic challenges are the opposite of those the U.S. faced in the 1970s, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

When Tax Refunds Aren't Just a Bonus, But a Lifeline (ThinkProgress)

Twenty-eight million low-income families depend on the Earned Income Tax Credit to make ends meet, writes Bryce Covert, but not all poor parents qualify for it, and tax preparers' fees can hurt those who do.

In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class (NYT)

A new analysis finds 90 U.S. cities where the median rent excluding utilities is more than 30 percent of the median gross income, writes Shaila Dewan, and it's putting the squeeze on renters and the recovery.

The Sad, Slow Death of America's Retail Workforce (The Atlantic)

The retail sector's sales and jobs numbers are up, writes Derek Thompson, but as business becomes more efficient and moves online, the workforce is increasingly concentrated in low-paying superstore jobs.

3 big things to look for in Yellen's first monetary policy speech (WaPo)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is likely to discuss labor market strength, inflation expectations, and the need for financial regulation in today's address to the Economic Club of New York, reports Ylan Q. Mui.

New on Next New Deal

Millennials Are Shifting the Public Debate with the Power of Their Ideas

Taylor Jo Isenberg, the Roosevelt Institute's Vice President of Networks, introduces the Campus Network's 2014 10 Ideas journals, collecting top student policy proposals on economic development, health care, education, equal justice, energy and the environment, and defense and diplomacy.

The Pay's the Thing: How America's CEOs Are Getting Rich Off Taxpayers

Roosevelt Institute Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg explains why we must close the CEO performance pay tax loophole in order to curb the rise of income inequality in the U.S.

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A Millennial’s Case for Fixing Social Security

Apr 11, 2014Brian Lamberta

Instead of giving up of Social Security, Millennials should push an easy fix for the so-called funding crisis: lifting the earnings cap.

Instead of giving up of Social Security, Millennials should push an easy fix for the so-called funding crisis: lifting the earnings cap.

As a public policy student, I’m used to hearing lively debates and diverse perspectives from my professors, fellows students, and course materials. There is one issue on which they consistently agree: apparently, Social Security cannot work for my generation. Polling data confirms this sentiment. Between half and three-quarters of Millennials do not expect Social Security to exist when we retire. Despite all of the rhetoric and doubts, I know that Social Security can work for Millennials – but it’s crucial that we fix the program.

I learned the importance of Social Security during my summer internship at The Alliance for Retired Americans, which was part of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Summer Academy program. I learned that Social Security is the primary source of income for most seniors. The internship also taught me all about the program and its current issues, inside and out.

To give some background, Social Security is the widest reaching public benefit program in the United States. Starting at age 62, almost all Americans are eligible to receive monthly checks based on the amount they or their spouse paid into the program during their working years, with the benefit amount increasing for those who delay taking payments. The benefits of Social Security for retirement must be earned – 12.4% of nearly everyone’s yearly income below an annually adjusted cap is taxed to fund the program. For 2014, the cap is set at $117,000. Any income above $117,000 is completely ignored, so a person earning $1,000,000 will pay a 2.2% tax rate in 2014 and person earning five-figures will pay a 12.4% rate. To put it another way, a millionaire finishes paying her Social Security taxes by mid-February (at the latest) while the average American pays those taxes all year long.

Currently, there is a funding gap, which is often overstated as a “crisis.” Based on the Social Security Administration’s own predictions, only about three-quarters of benefits can be paid after 2033. Poor planning regarding the retirement of the Baby Boomers did not cause this gap. In preparation for the retirement of the Baby Boomers, we amended Social Security during the 1970s and 1980s; their retirement is almost entirely funded. This lapse (“the crisis”) is directly linked to the unintended consequences of reforming the taxable earnings cap in the 1970s.

Since 1975, Congress has linked annual cap increases to the average growth in wages. Post-World War II wage growth has consistently favored higher earners, who already had total incomes above the cap. This led to two disturbing trends, the first of which is shown in this chart, taken directly from the Social Security Administration’s website:

 

 

As seen here, the cap used to reduce taxes for many more Americans, but since the 1970s it's leveled out from reducing taxes for the top 15% to helping just the top 6%, establishing its status as a tool for the mega-rich to avoid paying taxes. Since the wealthiest Americans have benefitted most from wage growth in recent years, the amount of income that is untaxable for Social Security purposes has increased from 10% to 17% since 1975. In essence, the funding gap is a result of an antiquated and poorly calculated tax break that allows the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying their fair share.  

Social Security can remain in perpetuity if we scrap the cap. Historically, regular adjustments have been applied to program to ensure its continued solvency, and this obvious change should be no different.

Millennials: I urge you look more deeply into this issue and better understand the facts as the debate continues. Most of the money that our grandparents use to pay their bills comes from Social Security, so simply letting the program crumble would have disastrous effects. As a generation, we are far less likely to have union-backed pensions and extra money for savings. Fixing Social Security could be more necessary for our generation’s retirement stability than any before us.

Brian Lamberta is an urban studies and public policy student at the CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College and currently serves as the Northeast Regional Communications Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Daily Digest - April 11: Do Universities Make the Grade on Local Impact?

Apr 11, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

What's the Deal: How Can We Grade Universities On Their Local Economic Impact? (YouTube)

Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith and NYU student Eugenia Kim explain the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities Initiative and how universities can promote local development.

Click here to receive the Daily Digest via email.

What's the Deal: How Can We Grade Universities On Their Local Economic Impact? (YouTube)

Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives Alan Smith and NYU student Eugenia Kim explain the Campus Network's Rethinking Communities Initiative and how universities can promote local development.

Don't Be Fooled: The Fed's New Rule Lets Banks Off Easy (TNR)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal says that increased leverage ratio requirements aren't the end-all solution to Too Big To Fail, even though they are a strong regulatory tool.

Does Christianity Really Prefer Charity to Government Welfare? (The Week)

Elizabeth Stoker agrees with Mike Konczal: the social safety net allows private charities to function better. She also argues for the safety net from a Christian perspective.

  • Roosevelt Take: Stoker's piece responds to Mike's recent essay on "the voluntarism fantasy" in Democracy Journal.

Missing Ingredient on Minimum Wage: A Motivated G.O.P. (NYT)

The last three minimum wage increases have involved a president working with a congressional leader from the other party. John Harwood says President Obama seems unlikely to find such a partner.

Yes, Being a Woman Makes You Poorer (TAP)

Monica Potts lays out the complexities of the wage gap, and emphasizes that blaming the gap on women's choices ignores the realities of those choices. Wage gap deniers seem to suggest that gender discrimination doesn't exist.

The Safety Net Catches the Middle Class More Than the Poor (WaPo)

Safety net spending has increased since the 1990s, but not for those in deep poverty, writes Catherine Rampell. Paul Ryan's budget proposal takes the idea of supporting the "deserving" over the most needy even further.

MAP: In 31 States, Daycare Is More Expensive Than College (MoJo)

Erika Eichelberger looks at a comparison of the cost of in-state college tuition and infant daycare from Child Care Aware America. The growing cost of childcare may help explain a recent increase in stay-at-home mothers.

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Higher Education Financing Needs a Better Deal Than This

Mar 31, 2014Raul Gardea

Bipartisan budget proposals seek to address the debt-burden on students, yet merely underscore the need for a drastic overhaul of post-secondary education financing.

Bipartisan budget proposals seek to address the debt-burden on students, yet merely underscore the need for a drastic overhaul of post-secondary education financing.

The White House’s latest proposal for easing student-debt is a noble but ultimately bankrupt effort, which misses the forest for the trees. The plan includes an expansion of income-based repayment (IBR), makes the American Opportunity Tax Credit permanent past the current 2017 cut off, and places a cap on loan forgiveness for public sector workers. Yet like most college affordability proposals that have come out of Washington, the current plan offers Band-Aid “reforms” that fail to cut to the heart of the structural problems in how we finance higher education. Instead of trying to fix the debt, the conversation should center on solving why students should need to take out such massive debt in the first place, a discussion few in Washington are eager to have.

A common critique of debt forgiveness is that such policies encourage students to take on a heavier financial burden and leads to schools hiking tuition to compensate. On paper, tuition deferral methods like IBR coupled with loan forgiveness are sound. This method shifts the costs from the individual to the taxpayer, as they should if we still value higher education as a public good. Currently, students who demonstrate need can enroll in “Public Sector Loan Forgiveness” (PSLF) which is an IBR plan that forgives debt after ten years of public sector or non-profit employment. The new proposal lifts the needs-based eligibility requirement to allow larger numbers of individuals to sign up, but places a $57,500 cap on forgiveness for public sector workers and requires payments for twenty-five years instead of ten for any amount over that.

Yet despite the White House’s claim that the proposal provides a “safeguard against raising tuition at high-cost institutions,” there is little reason to believe that will be the case. If the school has already been paid, and taxpayers will foot the bill in twenty-five years as the proposal stipulates, what incentive would there be for colleges to keep tuition low? Since schools have nothing at stake, it is likely that they will continue to increase tuition without regard for what happens to graduates. Students who may have considered serving their communities by pursuing careers as, say, public interest lawyers, relying on the promise of loan forgiveness after ten years are now having the rug pulled out from under them.  A quarter-century of indebtedness is simply absurd to imagine.

Republicans have also weighed in on higher education spending through their tax code reform proposals. They include repealing or consolidating various credits into a permanent American Opportunity Tax Credit, taxing PSLF, and repealing several tax breaks for students, among several other proposals. While this legislation will likely go nowhere as it is, several of these items could linger for a while and undoubtedly worm their way into more digestible, passable bills.

All this back and forth about restoring the promise of higher education hides the urgent need for a massive overhaul of the way the U.S. finances post-secondary education, something that Washington seems unwilling to do. Thinking back to the hopefulness of 2009 now seems like a lifetime ago. That year appeared to signal a turning point in history: a return to a strong, activist, solutions-oriented federal government. The 111th Congress was the most productive Congress in a generation. Certain sectors of the economy appear to be correcting course, with health care costs dropping and financial markets rising again. Yet the cost of a college education, an issue that President Obama is supposedly obsessed with, has continued to increase during this tenure. As his presidency winds down, it’s easy to feel like the window for passing any kind of comprehensive reform has shut. A large segment of our generation is chronically underemployed.  Students continue getting fleeced as the federal government hands out mortgages and lends to banks at lower interest rates. 41% of student loan holders are behind on their payments. Sen. Elizabeth Warren says government should not profit off the backs of students. As one of the few consistent voices advocating for this issue, she must get lonely.

Just as income inequality has become part of the national dialogue through grassroots efforts, reeling in higher education costs is something that requires broader strokes. Local efforts like the Kalamazoo Promise or San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College must be commended for expanding college access to students who might otherwise be shut out. But these programs assume higher education will remain exorbitantly expensive. Rather than trapping students in a debtor’s prison for twenty-five years, policymakers should be deep-diving into an audit of bloated university president and administrative pay, intercollegiate athletic subsidies, and educational outcomes per tuition dollar, among other things. During election years, the Obama White House tends to revisit its college affordability agenda, and this time is no different. But even without re-election to worry about, we have yet to see this administration truly go big on this issue. As campaign season heats up, access to an affordable higher education should be a bigger part of the conversation and indeed, must be a part of any serious policy agenda.

Raul Gardea is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Senior Fellow for Education.

 

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Prevention Over Punishment: The Push to Reduce Gun Violence in Chicago

Mar 4, 2014Janaè BonsuJohnaè Strong

Chicago should seek new methods of violence prevention that strengthen neighborhoods and focus on healing, because these methods are more effective and more cost-effective.

Chicago should seek new methods of violence prevention that strengthen neighborhoods and focus on healing, because these methods are more effective and more cost-effective.

It’s no secret that gun violence has long been a major problem in Chicago. An astronomical number of lives have been lost, the social fabric of communities has been compromised, and as a result, both morgues and prisons have continued to fill up. That gun violence is a problem is something on which everyone – liberals and conservatives alike – can agree. The grounds get muddy, however, in identifying and implementing an effective solution.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration have been pushing for a more “tough on crime” strategy to reduce gun violence in Chicago, with mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal gun possession. The original proposed Senate Bill 1342 (now House Bill 5672) included a minimum sentence of one to three years for any person caught with an illegal weapon. ‘Gang affiliation’ – which is determined at the discretion of a judge – would lead to an escalated minimum. In addition, there are currently five new bills (HB 3770 - 3774) that have been introduced by Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D) to the Illinois General Assembly that may very well have been drafted and introduced with good intentions to deter gun violence and other crime, and keep those who engage in it off of the street. However, components of the House package are unduly punitive. For example, HB 3770 raises the Unlawful Use of a Weapon (UUW) charge to an Aggravated UUW for an individual who has committed a forcible felony as a juvenile. Thus, instead of facing a misdemeanor charge with up to one year of jail time, a defendant faces a class 4 felony that carries a sentence of up to three years of prison time, plus a fine of up to $25,000, because of a crime committed in their youth. Taken together, HB 5672 and similar legislation pose a mirrored threat that will disproportionately affect communities of color and further depress local and state budgets by funneling much needed resources into the city jails and state prisons.

A substantial body of research shows that mandatory minimums have little to no effect on crime, which even its proponents seem to accept: they expect these laws to reduce arrest rates for violent crime by only 0.6%. Aside from that, more incarceration could produce more problems than it actually solves. Many Chicago communities of color grapple with high unemployment and neighborhood instability. More incarceration would further exacerbate these issues at a steep price. In Illinois, if mandatory minimum legislation such as HB 5672 does pass, it will likely cost Illinois close to $2 billion over 10 years, and add to an overcrowded prison system. And more money for “corrections” leaves less for interventions that actually work.

In Chicago, community members and activist organizations that are no longer willing to watch the silent war against minority communities are contesting these bills through direct action campaigns and policy advocacy. These organizations include, but are not limited to the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), Community Renewal Society, and Project Nia. Mirroring the progressive direction of the Obama Administration and other politicians including Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) by moving away from mandatory minimums, these organizations are advocating for funds allocated to subtractive policies to instead be used for empirically based preventative solutions to violence in Chicago communities. Two major initiatives in the works to prevent violence are 1) the expansion of youth employment in communities especially affected by violence as a preventive measure and 2) the implementation of restorative justice peace hubs as an alternative to incarceration.

BYP100 and Project Nia are working towards proposing a youth jobs bill that may look similar to the National Youth Administration (part of the Works Progress Administration during the New Deal). The bill will focus on scaling up existing employment and training programs that have been proven effective such as One Summer Chicago Plus as well as dropout and violence prevention programs such as Becoming A Man (BAM). The bill will push for the reallocation of resources to help communities most impacted by violence implement various proven and promising employment and mentoring interventions across the entire state of Illinois. These programs reduce gun violence and strengthen communities economically and socially.

In addition to the push for youth employment, Community Renewal Society is currently spearheading the Reclaim Campaign, an initiative that urges the Cook County justice system to fund community based restorative justice hubs and mental health and drug rehabilitation programs through money saved from the release of Cook County nonviolent detainees. The campaign advocates alleviating jail overcrowding and reversing the trend of warehousing individuals who pose little threat to public safety by relying more on release with personal recognizance and electronic monitoring. Less bodies in the jails can free up dollars to fund the peace hubs, which are proposed to act as a coordinating referral center in the community where offenders, victims of crime, family members, and other impacted residents can appropriately handle conflict without further violence. The restorative justice approach offers a promising alternative to retributive justice that we have seen fail us for decades.

These solutions outline a need for economically just measures and attention to community healing and restoration over imprisonment. Most importantly, these solutions begin by looking within the community and empower people to change the policies governing their homes and neighborhoods, which is the best way to achieve real social change.

Janaè Bonsu is a Lead Coordinator for the Chicago City Network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline and a Master’s student at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.

Johnaè Strong is a Master’s student in the University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) and Lead Facilitator of the Chicago City Network of Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline. 

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