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"Forward Together - Not One Step Back"

     A 14 hour bus trip is a long enough to learn a few things. The first was the call and response that is the center piece of The Poor People’s March on Washington. Here it is -

“Forward together” and the reply is “Not One Step Back”. It seems so simple. And it is. But it is also the bedrock of the Third Reconstruction of America. The Moral Reconstruction of America.

      The first Reconstruction, right after the Civil War, failed because violence and racism was too popular for many institutions, businesses and people. The Second Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, failed because too many people were willing to hurt their own future, their own families, their own country rather than let other people have freedom and some political power. We’ve seen it in the Senate hearings, in the current Texas RNC platform that calls for secession, in the fact that in the 1960’s small towns all over the South filled in their city pools rather than integrate. So this time we’re taking everyone forward. Our allies and our enemies.

“Forward Together” “Not One Step Back”

     That means we can’t leave anyone behind. If that means that Baptist ministers have to join the campaign for trans rights; that’s what has to happen and on June 18th, it did happen. It means that if union organizers are with a bunch of artists and a paper mâché tank, they are together. It means that disabilities have to be taken into account, that age and accidents have to be provided for.

“Forward Together” “Not Step Back”

     Was the event perfect? No. Were there problems? Oh, yeah. Whenever you have thousands of people, you have problems. But they are an organization that anticipated those problems. It began on the buses, with gift cards to cover meals on the road and even gas to get to the bus. Because they assumed they were attracting poor people.  At the event, there were moveable ramps so that wheelchair users didn’t have to go down a block to go up a curb. Cooling areas for the elderly or overheated. There was glorious chaos. There were problems finding food. Some groups fed their own people first. The sandwiches were cheese or BBQ and some people missed the old hand made turkey or peanut butter. New Mexico had free vegan tacos that could blister a Wisconsin tongue. Ice cream trucks circled the outside. Free food attracts random homeless people. That’s Ok. They too are going forward.

“Forward Together” “Not One Step Back”

     There were speeches by Rev. William Barber II, Yolanda King, music, dancing and representatives from all 50 states talking about their own personal issues in poverty, incarceration, homelessness, lack of healthcare, being gay, being trans, being undocumented, chronically ill. Some of which we missed because our bus got lost. It’s OK. Progress is messy.

     It was fun, trading signs, flags, and pins. Seeing heroes in real life and sneaking off to an ice-cream truck. Trying to meet up with people when cell phones are dead, buses being late. Cleaning up behind us because sanitation workers are people too. Will there be sacrifices in this movement? Yeah, like being last in line for pizza, having sore feet for days, wearing a mask on a 14 hour bus trip. Freedom is worth the cost.

“Forward together” “Not one step back”

     I’ve seen the future IF If --we all come together. A future where there is plenty for all because money isn’t wasted on war and hate. Where we can find food and shelter for all. Where healthcare is a right and no dies by violence.

“Forward Together” “Not One Step Back”

     Remember this when someone says that “those people’s” rights can wait or don’t matter. That can’t be true. Whether Texans or trans we need to go-

“Forward Together” “Not One Step Back”

ESTHER member Joyce Frohn and her daughter Elizabeth attended the "Poor People's March on Washington DC" this past month.

ESTHER Transit Task Force has New Leaders

After many years of remarkable leadership, Connie Kanitz has decided to resign from her leadership of the Transportation Task Force. We are very grateful for the many years that Connie dedicated to leading this group and fighting for accessible public transportation in the Fox Valley and around the state. She has been a tireless and respected leader on issues regarding public transportation.

We are happy to announce that two people have stepped up to lead the group in Connie’s absence. Susan Garcia-Franz is a Public Health Strategist with the Winnebago County Public Health Department as well as a long-time member of the task force. We are so pleased that she has decided to co-facilitate the task force along with Adam Belcorelli. Adam is an associate planner with the East Central Regional Planning Commission and brings extensive experience to the group in building transportation equity and accessibility in the Fox Valley. We are pleased that these talented and experienced individuals have stepped into this role as task force leaders.

One of the issues that we currently are exploring comes from a project currently in place in Portland, Oregon. There is a program there where incarcerated individuals are able to earn their CDL license while in prison. Once they are released they are hired by the regional transit system to work as bus drivers. This serves two purposes. It provides bus drivers to system that is desperately lacking drivers and it provides a good job to a returning citizen who is in need of a well-paying job to get back on their feet. The Fox Valley has very similar issues to Portland. Join us as we explore whether a program like this could happen in the Fox Valley.

We have changed when are task force currently meets. We now meet the first Tuesday of every month at 10 am via zoom. Please contact us at office@esther-foxvalley.org to receive the zoom link.

Challenges of Finding Affordable Housing

The apartment with the bathroom sink in the hallway and the refrigerator in the living room was the final straw. My Dad said, "The rent and deposit are equal to a down payment on a house and the mortgage payments will be cheaper, too." And so we went looking for a house under $40,000.

My husband and I were both young and strong. We had experience with demolition, hard work and we had a friend who was a house inspector. We should have had an easy time.

There was the one with a basement wall on crutches. The one less than five feet from the railroad tracks. The one where a heavy smoker had left the walls brown and sticky.

We persisted. The realtor said, "This one has a note that the garage needs to be knocked down." We got there before the realtor. We said, “We can get that down in minutes."

She sighed, "That's the house."

At the next one I said, "How did that motorcycle get on a second floor balcony?"

Her reply? "The police were supposed to evict them."

When we found one that only needed a new roof and furnace, we thought it was perfect. A one and half bedroom house with five rooms. And when we talked to the neighbors we found that it had been rented to a family of six and the landlord kicked them out because he wanted to sell.

The three of us would be living there now except for the house that came up for auction when I was pregnant, which we grabbed while we could.

Joyce Frohn

Member of the Oshkosh ESTHER Task Force

Healing the Land

On Friday, July 16, I along with other ESTHER members went to Marinette in support of the Coalition to Save the Menominee River. This event was inspiring and allowed me to hear the stories of those who are working diligently to protect the river.

The extractive industry is a threat to wildlife, the surrounding environment, and Native communities. The extractive industry brings violence to Native communities and exacerbates the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Being at this event, I heard from people who are working specifically on this issue and how I can get more involved. This is my biggest passion, and it felt reaffirming hearing from people who care just as much as I do.

If we are looking for ways to better protect the environment, we need to listen to Indigenous communities such as the Menominee. Indigenous communities have been protecting and healing the land for many years. Their relationship with the land provides the best template for how we can move forward and heal the land and ourselves.

It was such an honor to witness a water blessing done by five generations of Menominee women. They mentioned how in their community, women are the water protectors. Women have a sacred connection with the water as the womb holds life-giving water. That relationship with the water is so beautiful and is just one of the many reasons why the Menominee River needs to be protected.

Kayla Nessmann

ESTHER Communications Coordinator

One Special ESTHER Leader

This year the ESTHER board nominated Steve Hirby for the Celebrating Volunteers Janet Berry Award.  While another worthy volunteer was selected, ESTHER would like to recognize Steve for everything he has done and continues to do for our organization. Steve’s dedication and his expertise in not only fundraising but also data management have been instrumental in our ability to thrive as an organization. Steve is a visionary and an organizing member of the board.  He has a standing position on the board and the executive team not just as a representative of his faith community or a task force but because he is … Steve.

As part of the nomination process, we asked people from three other organizations to write letters of support and their response was immediate and positive. Pastor Steve Savides (First Congregational United Church of Christ) wrote about there being no one more “beloved or respected” than Steve in the church, Pastor Jane Anderson wrote about ways Steve has been instrumental in helping the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ re-envision itself and position itself for the future, and Maren Peterson, Executive Director of NAMI, wrote about ways Steve has been a “lifeline of hope” for hundreds of individuals and families in the Fox Valley.  All spoke to his kindness, open mindedness, patience and keen intelligence.

Steve exemplifies the spirit of the Janet Berry Award. He truly is “A volunteer who has made great strides in his efforts to impact positive change in the Fox Valley, by creating, working for, and donating to a local community organization, and [his] efforts through time, resources, and influence – have been paramount to the success not only of [ESTHER] but also in building a just community.” We were very proud to nominate Steve Hirby for the Janet Berry Award.

Community and ESTHER Connections

Contributed by Kathy Weinhold

When I initially joined Esther it was at the recommendation of someone who attended my church. My initial interest was in the prison justice reform group, and I eventually became aware of the Oshkosh ESTHER group. As I live in Oshkosh, I decided to check it out, and I’m so glad I did!

At the first Oshkosh ESTHER group meeting I attended I was warmly welcomed. Compared to the large prison reform group, this smaller-sized group appealed to me. Each person in the group was able to share their ideas, comments and concerns all along the way in the process of working through issues.  At subsequent meetings I found it’s always that way.  The folks recognize that everyone brings something different to the table.  We all know it’s often who you know, and among them they have great connections.  Everyone’s input is greatly encouraged.

ESTHER Applauds Governor’s Budget for Prison Reform

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Contributed by Bill Van Lopik.

On February 14, Governor Evers released his proposed state budget for the next two years. This biennium budget actually contains significant funding increases for prison reform programs that ESTHER and WISDOM have been fighting for over the years. We know that the Joint Finance Committee can amend the budget and make changes, but we are pleased with what we see so far. We also know that on average across the nation that 85% of what a governor proposes actually stays in the budget.

What we are pleased about:

  • An expansion of the Earned Release Program, which allows inmates early release from prison when they complete assigned programming. This could potentially allow 900-1000 individuals to be released early.
  • An increase in funding of almost $8 million in the Transitional Jobs Program over the next 2 years. This program provides employment opportunities for recently released individuals so they can begin developing their employment portfolio and integrate back into the community.
  • An increase from $7 million to $15 million to fund Treatment and Diversion programs to help keep people out of jails and prisons and have them enrolled in community-based treatment programs.
  • An expansion of ATR (Alternatives to Revocations) programs that are designed to not send people back to prison (a revocation) without committing a new crime. Another way of “decarcerating” our prison system.

Madison Action Day

Madison Action Day is coming up on April 15 and will be the perfect time to let your legislators know that we want the funding for these programs to remain in the state budget.

 

The Fragility of Democracy

This post was written by ESTHER organizer Bill Van Lopik and ESTHER president Gary Crevier.

On Wednesday afternoon, 1/6/21, we watched with shock and sadness the unfolding events from our nation’s Capital, events that reflected the fragile nature of our democracy. We saw before us how unchecked lawlessness resulted in death and destruction. The members of ESTHER decry these events. While our elected officials were attempting to carry out the will of the people expressed in the Presidential election, they found themselves needing to flee and hide, fearing for their lives. They were afraid not only of the lawless mob banging on the doors outside of their chambers, but also of the noise within, the clamor of false claims that the votes cast in the election by the people were fraudulent.

Hours later, returning to work as the Capitol was being cleared, our representatives certified the results of the 2020 election. The coup was thwarted. American democracy prevailed in the face of perhaps its most serious threat since the Civil War.

In the aftermath, we are left with many questions, as well as a strengthened sense of the importance of ESTHER’s work.

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