YW Boston Advocacy Committee completes first two years with great successes

Horizontal 2019 Advocacy Committee

Two years ago, YW Boston launched its first Advocacy Committee to formalize the organization’s advocacy initiatives. Sixteen volunteers and staff members joined the committee in February 2017 and together formulated YW Boston’s policy agenda for the state legislative session. The Advocacy Committee supports YW Boston’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women by identifying public policy issues, raising public awareness and facilitating action in order to bring about policy change that prioritizes equity.

In the past two years, YW Boston has engaged in important building blocks of advocacy work. We joined a number of existing city and statewide coalitions; hosted phonebanks and signature drives; created voter education materials; secured state funding; and built stronger relationships with our legislators. Keep reading to learn more about the legislative victories we supported and how to apply to join our Advocacy Committee!

Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline

As the committee began to wrestle with the most prominent issues the City of Boston faces, it recognized that students of color, in Boston and beyond, experience higher discipline, suspension and expulsion rates than their white counterparts, often for similar, minor misbehavior. The result is the school to prison pipeline: the system of funneling youth of color out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. While advocates for ending the school to prison pipeline often focus on boys of color, the committee realized that few groups were paying attention specifically to girls of color. Girls of color, in particular, are underprotected, over-policed, and left out of the existing data and policy decisions. To read more about this system, read committee member Beya Jimenez’s blog post “Boston is Failing our Black and Brown Girls”.

The committee joined existing efforts to end the school to prison pipeline. This includes Ayanna Pressley’s “Project Focus: Girls of Color,” the City Councilwoman’s initiative to craft policy recommendations to make Boston public schools more safe and supportive for girls of color. YW Boston continues to work with the BPS administration and local groups to ensure the implementation of the policy recommendations as Ayanna Pressley transitions to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Additionally, YW Boston joined the coalition of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, whose mission is to “advocate, convene, conduct research, and educate the public on important juvenile justice issues.” As a part of the coalition, YW Boston advocated for criminal justice reform at the Massachusetts state level. In March of 2018, the House and Senate negotiated a overhaul criminal justice reform bill, subsequently signed into law by Governor Baker. The new law creates opportunities to expunge juvenile and criminal records for offenses charged before age 21, creates parent-child privilege, prohibits indiscriminate shackling of children, prohibits the use of room confinement as retaliation, harassment or  punishment for youth, and much more. YW Boston is proud to have worked to pass this sweeping reform alongside Citizens for Juvenile Justice. We do recognize that this is just the beginning, with many more reforms to come, including greater data transparency of incarceration rates for youth by race and gender and developing ways for Massachusetts to better serve and rehabilitate youth within the criminal justice system.

Paid Family and Medical Leave

The YW Boston Advocacy Committee also found it crucial to be involved in fighting for Paid Family and Medical Leave. At the time, there were policies at the federal and state level that allowed individuals to take a job-protected leave, most frequently unpaid. Individuals were often forced to choose between having to care for their own or their family member’s health or well-being and their paycheck. This disproportionately affected women, who are often the sole or primary caretaker — especially low-income women and women of color who often have fewer economic resources than high-income and white women. Learn more on our blog post, “An Intersectional Lens On Paid Family And Medical Leave”.

In 2017, YW Boston joined Raise Up Massachusetts, a grassroots coalition of community organizations, religious groups, and labor unions committed to building an economy that works for all of us. Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) and the Fight for a $15 Minimum Wage were Raise Up Massachusetts’ two focus areas, and YW Boston joined the working group for PFML. The Advocacy Committee met with lawmakers to advocate specifically for the intersectional reasons to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave. In case it did not pass through the state house, Raise Up Massachusetts created a ballot initiative for the people of Massachusetts to vote on. YW Boston hosted five drives to gather signatures and raise awareness for paid leave.

On June 28th, Governor Charlie Baker signed a new paid family and medical leave bill into law in Massachusetts. Paid leave was one part of the larger bill, the “Grand Bargain,” which will also raise the minimum wage to $15/hour over the next five years. By holding rallies, collecting signatures, leading negotiations with the business community, and more, Raise Up MA successfully told the legislature that the people of Massachusetts demand paid leave.  In an attempt to keep the bill off of the ballot, the legislature took a large step forward to support Massachusetts workers. The passed bill will allow works to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave per year; up to 20 weeks of paid medical leave for the worker’s own serious health condition per year; and up to 26 weeks of paid family leave per year to care for a family member who is a covered service member.

The YW Boston Advocacy Committee is thankful for their partnership with Raise Up Massachusetts and to the hard work of volunteers who made paid leave a reality for Massachusetts residents.

Yes on 3 for Transgender Rights

YW Boston is one of the first organizations to have signed on to support Freedom for All Massachusetts, a broad-based bipartisan coalition with “the goal of updating Massachusetts’ longstanding civil rights laws to include nondiscrimination protections for transgender people in public places such as restaurants, hotels, and hospitals.” In 2016 they were successful in working with the Massachusetts legislature to pass a bill fully protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places under the law. However, opponents of the bill sought to nullify it in 2018 with a referendum ballot question. YW Boston again supported Freedom For All Massachusetts in defending transgender rights with their “Yes on 3” ballot campaign. A “Yes” vote would keep the current law as it is and protect transgender people by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity in places of public accommodation. Learn more about the ballot initiative on our blog post “Get the Facts: Vote Yes on 3 November 6th”.

Leading up to the November election, the YW Boston Advocacy Committee got the word out about the ballot question, asking voters to vote Yes on 3. The committee hosted three phone banks with committee members, YW Boston staff, and volunteers. The organization also hosted the “Not in Our Name” rally, at which sexual assault survivors, advocates, and organizations struck down the myth that protections for transgender people would put women and girls at risk. In fact, there has been no increase in safety concerns since the law was signed two years ago.

On November 6th, Massachusetts whole-heartedly rejected the opposition’s attempts to end protections for transgender people. Over 67% of voters voted Yes on 3, confirming the state’s commitment to respect and safety for all people. The YW Boston Advocacy Committee is proud to have stood with Raise Up Massachusetts and Yes on 3.

Looking Ahead

The YW community has supported and advocated for many historic legislative and grassroots victories that advance equity in Boston and the Commonwealth. However, we know that systemic injustices persist. Women and girls of color in Boston, whose lives are impacted by the overlapping structures of racism and sexism, are often disproportionately harmed by poor public policy. Despite the gains women of color have made in many arenas of public and private life, the numbers remain stark. The wage gap still exists; women of color are far underrepresented in corporate, governmental and non-profit leadership roles; and women and girls of color are disproportionately impacted by gendered violence, harsh school discipline and interactions with juvenile justice systems.

We must keep fighting. We will keep fighting.

Five of the founding members of the Advocacy Committee are completing their two-year term in early 2019. As a number of these founding members step off of the committee, we are looking for new members to join our 2019-2021 session. If you are interested in working with the YW Boston Advocacy Committee or know someone who would be, please find our application below.

Apply today!

We place a high value on creating a committee that is diverse across identities and experiences. People of color, especially women of color, are strongly encouraged to apply. Policy experience is preferred, not required. Applications close January 4, 2019.

If you have questions about YW Boston’s advocacy work or about the application, reach out to Morgan Cowie-Haskell, Program and Policy Associate, at mcowie-haskell@ywboston.org.