Things of Note

Racism is a Local Public Health Crisis

As an organization working for social justice for all in our city, Solidarity Lowell feels called to write in support of the Lowell Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consortium and its letter to the city.

It is good to see the City Council taking the Consortium’s letter seriously enough for there to be several motions before the Council this week to address racism in the city. Some of the motions may be mutually exclusive; none of them address all of the Consortium’s concerns.

The Consortium has stated that “Racism is a local public health crisis.” Stating a problem is the first step to addressing it. As various authorities have written, it IS a HEALTH crisis. Dealing with racism throughout life is stressful and contributes to chronic health problems in communities of color, including a form of PTSD. Racism is directly causing deaths by the way some situations involving people of color are handled, or not handled. Racism has been demonstrated to be contributing to the established susceptibility of people of color to the novel coronavirus.

The Council clearly cares about the people of color in this city. It is spending a considerable part of this week’s meeting on the issue of racism, but being a good ally means listening. When people of color express a need, allies must amplify their words, not change them. The Consortium used the words “Racism is a local public health crisis”. The Council needs to use those words in its response. We consider anything else to be disrespectful. We thank the Mayor for recognizing that.

The first Consortium ask of the city is to “Articulate and communicate the City of Lowell’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, its objectives, and its strategies to reach these goals.” The mayor’s proposal for a Task Force is a good start to this. Good management practice also requires setting specific measurable goals. Without specific measurable goals, it is virtually impossible to discern steps to achieve progress. We are glad to see that the Mayor expects the Task Force to recommend ways in which success can be measured.

The second Consortium ask is “Protocols for Data Equity and Integrity”. This is necessary in order to be able to measure where we are and to measure our progress in moving toward our goals. There are examples from other cities available. We need to admit that there is a need for this and commit to including it in our data handling. We believe it is important for the proposed Task Force to make recommendations on this as soon as possible.

The third ask is “Bi-Annual Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Training for all City Employees including City Council and School Committee”. City Manager Donoghue said (at the June 9th CC meeting) that “all City employees receive diversity training”, but according to the Consortium’s letter, “an informal survey of past and current City employees suggests that not all City staff receive this training.” We know from our own work as a majority-white organization that work on anti-racism involves a commitment to ongoing education, not once and done. It is not the responsibility of people of color to educate the rest of us as situations arise. THAT is a source of exhausting stress. It is better to prevent the situation from arising at all by educating people to see what is hard to see without help. This is especially true if anti-racism work is new to them, as it is to so many of us because of the nature of our world. Funding and content will have to be worked out by the city, meaning the community and not just the government, but the commitment to do it has to come first.

The fourth ask is “an independent Civilian Advisory Committee to monitor and address police misconduct and join Massachusetts lawmakers in creating steps towards change.” We join the Consortium in applauding Superintendent Richardson’s announcement of a Citizens Advisory Committee. We agree that such a Committee needs to have some independence. Members of the committee need to be acceptable to the community and need to feel free to speak their truths. We also agree that the Council needs to join other Massachusetts lawmakers in seeking ways to change our approaches to community security. By being part of the process, the Council will better understand all the ramifications of various measures and be better able to address them in our community. Being in an environment where new ideas are discussed and innovation can happen is always beneficial.

The fifth ask is to “Reallocate resources and establish an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to promote and advance racial equity in the solicitation of vendors and recruitment and retention of personnel and Board and Committee members.” We know that funding new measures is an issue as our city has less resources than others doing this work. The City Council clearly recognizes the same thing, since the motions include creating funds to receive grants from outside sources. But reallocation of whatever city resources can be reallocated is a concrete demonstration of commitment to the process, one the community really needs to hear.

As to the creation of an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, there are two competing motions before the Council this week, one to create a Mayor’s task force and another to create a Commission. We like that the Mayor’s proposal specifically mentions including community input and specifies a person of color who resides in Lowell as chair, task forces are usually ad hoc temporary organizations. The Task Force is a good organization for making recommendations to fulfill the various community needs expressed by the Consortium and not yet addressed by the City Council’s motions. The nature and operation of racism in our society makes the need to address it long-term. We would like to see the creation of a permanent organization that is charged with helping the city live up to its commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by helping the city establish best practices and by addressing violations of those best practices. We hope the Task Force will do that.

We recognize that it is a serious step to make commitments like these and that it is important not to make promises that cannot be kept. But we believe this point in time requires a commitment to take some concrete steps rather than falling back on the same reasons we always use to not act. Instead of letting funding issues stop us, we need to figure out how to make positive change happen. It starts with a commitment to making concrete changes.

–Solidarity Lowell Coordinating Committee

Posted by Marissa in Local Justice, Things of Note

Got Questions on the Lowell Voter Lawsuit?

You may have heard something about the lawsuit being filed against the City of Lowell’s all at-large local voting system for City Council and School Committee. You might be wondering, why a lawsuit? And how is an all citywide at-large local government discriminatory? You can download this PDF, which answers a lot of these questions.

As a long time observer of city politics, I know that running an at-large campaign citywide is daunting, very difficult, and expensive. It’s prohibitive for many, especially people who come from different backgrounds such as immigrant communities. The outcome of many decades of an at-large system speak for themselves; with few exceptions, the city is largely represented by white, mostly male electeds residing in very specific areas of the city.

Download the PDF below to get more answers!

10 Things to Know about At-Large Voting in Lowell and the Voting Rights Lawsuit

For more info you can read the Ropes & Gray announcement on their website, as well as the text of the lawsuit (translations in Spanish and Khmer).

–Lynne

Posted by Lynne in Local Justice, Things of Note, Voting