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Category: Racial Justice

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Western Center Roundup – August 2023


Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Black August, and Black Philanthropy Month

This month, we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other giants of the civil rights movement. The march and King’s remarks that day are lodged in Americans’ collective memory as a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. Last Saturday, more than half a century later, a multiracial coalition of thousands of people gathered once again on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to demand social, racial, and economic justice and decry the people and systems that are trying to undo the progress we’ve made over the past 60 years. We recognize that all of our struggles are interconnected, and that liberation requires all of us to play a role in fighting oppression. Black August is a commemoration of the fallen freedom fighters of the Black Liberation Movement, a call for the release of political prisoners, a condemnation of the conditions in prisons, and a continued fight for Black liberation. This month is also Black Philanthropy Month, founded by Dr. Jackie Bouvier Copeland in 2011, as a global celebration and intentional campaign to elevate giving and funding equity. The theme of this year is “Love in Action,” inspired by the writings of bell hooks on love as a driver of true social change. She wrote, “But love is really more of an interactive process. It’s about what we do, not just what we feel. It’s a verb, not a noun.” Our development team continues to intentionally uplift the practice of putting love into action by applying community-centric fundraising principles in their work with the support and guidance of our philanthropy consultant, April Walker from Philanthropy for the People



New Settlement: Affirming Access to Charity Care

Earlier this month, we announced our landmark settlement in a charity care case against Santa Clara Valley Healthcare with co-counsel Consumer Law Center, Inc., addressing the county’s failure to adequately inform patients with low and no incomes of the hospital’s charity care and discount payment policies. As a result, the County has updated their notices on how patients can qualify for free and discounted payments and expanded the number of languages notices are available in. An estimated 43,000 former patients of Santa Clara Valley Healthcare have received notice of possible billing corrections and refunds. “Medical debt, particularly hospital debt, burdens many Californians and forces them to forgo medically necessary care and other life necessities. We hope this lawsuit will give thousands of Santa Clara residents some financial relief,” said Helen Tran, Senior Attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

News coverage of the settlement can be viewed in Kaiser Health News and KTVU.

 

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9/19: Pasa La Voz and Meet the Advocates – Medi-Cal Renewals

For this next Meet the Advocates, we’re excited to partner with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Their “Pasa La Voz” project aims to spread awareness and education about health, and to provide community resources to Latinx families and individuals in a culturally and community-informed manner. On Tuesday, September 19th from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM, join Western Center senior attorneys David Kane and Helen Tran and Ana Tutila, a Promotora in Orange County with the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California as they discuss the importance of Medi-Cal renewals for California’s health and racial equity goals – and the current challenges facing those renewing their coverage. Millions of Californians who depend on Medi-Cal are going through the renewal process for the first time since before the start of the pandemic. We’ll be diving into the work advocates and community-based organizations are doing to support people enrolled in Medi-Cal to keep their coverage, highlighting on-the-ground challenges enrollees are facing, and discussing the policy changes needed to improve this process.

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Weekly Checklist: It’s Time to Update Your Employee Appearance Policy

FP Weekly members receive a practical and cutting-edge checklist of issues to consider, action steps to take, and goals to accomplish to ensure you remain on the top of your game when it comes to workplace relations and employment law compliance. This week we are republishing a checklist of items to consider when revising your employee appearance policy and dress code – an especially timely topic given the news that the U.S. Senate has relaxed its traditional dress code.

Evolving Workplace Expectations and Standards

Pandemic prompted changes. Many workplaces have become more casual in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this movement. Employers and co-workers alike probably don’t mind when a cat, dog, or child occasionally makes an appearance in a Zoom call, and they accept that many employees on those calls are wearing sweatpants with their camera-ready dress shirt. Moreover, many employers that want workers to return to the office have offered a variety of incentives, including a relaxed dress code.

What does this mean for your appearance standards? These changes should motivate you to think about how to strike a balance between employee comfort and the standards of professionalism for your particular company culture and industry. Every workplace is different, but in general, you should consider the following questions:

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Will you create a general policy simply requiring employees to look professional and well-groomed? Or do you want to be more specific?

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Will you require customer-facing employees to dress more professionally or formally than those who only interact with co-workers — whether in person or on camera?

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Will you create a separate policy for Zoom meetings that may be more relaxed than your in-person appearance policy?

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Do you want to be more specific about what attire is unacceptable in the office or on Zoom? For example, are jeans and a t-shirt allowed? What about baseball caps, sleeveless shirts, or hooded sweatshirts? Just be sure to review such policies for compliance with the workplace laws discussed in more detail below.

Hairstyle equity. In addition to pandemic-related changes over the last few years, calls for social justice led many jurisdictions to pass laws combating workplace racial bias based on hairstyle. In fact, 19 states and many localities have passed a version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants based on natural or protective hairstyles. Natural hair has not been treated with chemicals that alter color or texture — such as bleach or straightener. Protective hairstyles — such as braids, locs, twists, or bantu knots — tuck the ends of the hair away to protect from sun, heat, and other damage.

Racial discrimination based on hairstyles is a part of everyday life for many Black adults, according to a study by the CROWN Coalition — which was founded by Dove, National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law and Poverty. Moreover, a 2019 Dove CROWN study found that Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home from work because of their hair and 30% more likely to be made aware of a formal workplace appearance policy than their co-workers.

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California lawmakers vote to ban mandatory evictions for arrested tenants

State lawmakers approved legislation late Wednesday that would bar mandatory evictions or exclusion for California tenants and their families based on criminal histories or brushes with law enforcement.

Assembly Bill 1418 combats local policies known as “crime-free housing” that can require landlords to evict tenants for arrests or prohibit landlords from renting to those with prior convictions. The bill would make many of these laws unenforceable, ending the practice in scores of communities.

The bill’s author, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Hawthorne), said that its passage advances the state’s racial justice efforts by stopping communities from using crime-free housing laws to exclude or push out Black and Latino renters.

“We want to make sure we keep Black and brown people in their homes and that [crime-free housing rules] are not used as an excuse for gentrification,” McKinnor said.

The bill does not affect landlords’ ability to initiate nuisance-related evictions or screen tenants based on criminal histories of their own accord.

AB 1418 was inspired by a 2020 Times investigation that highlighted the proliferation of crime-free housing policies across California, especially in communities with growing Black and Latino populations. Times reporting found that local governments have approved the policies even when crime rates were stable or falling, while the number of Black or Latino residents was increasing. The Times determined that in some areas crime-free housing rules were enforced against Black, Latino and other tenants of color in far greater numbers than their share of the population.

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US judge declines to issue TRO on government over SNAP benefits

A federal judge in Oakland decline Thursday to issue a temporary restraining order on the U.S. government to ensure that SNAP food benefits are authorized for October in case the government shuts down at the end of this month.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar heard arguments on an ex parte motion in Oakland from plaintiff’s counsel and U.S. Department of Justice attorneys. His order came hours later.

At stake “is the food security of 40 million low-income Americans, more than 10% of the country’s population,” stated Jodie Berger of the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Los Angeles, in a memorandum in support of the ex parte motion for a TRO and order to show cause regarding a preliminary injunction.

“Unless this court intervenes by Sept. 15, may – indeed, most – of these people will no receive the October Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) benefits that they rely on for their subsistence food needs,” Berger wrote.

California Steps up to Stop Big Tobacco From Maliciously Targeting Black Communities

Every year, over 45,000 Black lives are lost in the United States to tobacco-induced illnesses like lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Tobacco corporations for decades have been intentional about their predatory targeting of Black communities. Black, Indigenous, and communities of color are already denied equitable access to social, political, and economic systems which produce inequitable and preventable negative health outcomes. 

This is an industry rooted in racism, white supremacy, and nefarious capitalism. The colonialist and extractive production models used by tobacco producers had detrimental effects on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people at its origins. Today, Big Tobacco actively continues to disrupt community health initiatives meant to improve health outcomes for profit.  

In 1964, after a report by the U.S. Surgeon General about the hazardous health impacts of smoking and subsequent federal laws limiting smoking and tobacco advertising, tobacco companies shifted their marketing to target Black communities across the country. Big Tobacco had lost their biggest youth demographic, as they were banned from advertising in colleges or from handing out loose cigarettes on campus to students under 21.  

The industry thrives due to strategic co-optation of community leadership whenever it can. Tobacco industries deployed a multi-pronged effort to prey on Black communities by working with Black influencers, handing out free cigarettes through bellhops or barber shops, and funding political campaigns or supporting Black causes. Tobacco businesses have for years tried to create fake cultural affinities like the advertising campaigns for Kool Jazz Festivals with icons such as Dizzy Gillespie.  

Tobacco companies went as far as appropriating #BlackLivesMatter, Juneteenth, and used Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes in their product advertising a couple of years back. Their marketing has been a shallow and peformative public relations strategy to buy good will and actively undermine or discredit the systematic harm tobacco perpetuates. 

In 2009 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned flavored cigarettes, yet menthol cigarettes slipped by due to a split in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). A recent survey found that 85% of Black smokers preferred menthol cigarettes. Many in congressional leadership at the time received support and donations from tobacco companies.  

States like California have been taking strong steps to disrupt Big Tobacco’s assault on Black communities. This past November, Californians voted to support Proposition 31 and uphold Senate Bill 793, authored by former Senator Jerry Hill. Once SB 793, a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers, was signed into law, Big Tobacco immediately jumped into action to delay the implementation of the law by referendum. California voters saw through this self serving and dangerous ploy and voted in favor of keeping the law, with 63.42% voting to do so. In California, flavored tobacco including menthol flavors remain banned. The industry immediately shifted to introduce new cooling non-menthol tastes.  

In response, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and California Attorney General, Rob Bonta sent warning letters to RJ Reynolds and Imperial Tobacco Group Brands to stop these new products from harming Black communities.  

AATCLC Co-Chair Dr. Phillip Gardiner proclaimed that this violated the state’s law prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco, “we will not sit by as tobacco companies work to continue their assault on the health of Black people.” 

Big Tobacco is just one example of an issue at the intersection of public health and racial justice. Thankfully, lawmakers, advocates, community groups, and voters came together to call out their predatory and harmful practices. When we come together, we can stop special interests and protect the health and well-being of Californians.  

Western Center Reactions to Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action

Western Center Reactions to Supreme Court Rulings on Affirmative Action  

On June 29th, 2023, the Supreme Court announced their long-awaited rulings on race-based college admissions. In an unsurprising, yet still deeply disappointing move, the court ruled affirmative action as unconstitutional. Western Center is guided by our North Star: “we seek to eliminate poverty and advance racial and economic justice by dismantling and transforming systems so all communities in California can thrive.” To do so, we must acknowledge the painful and persistent history of racism in our nation and its continued impact on the people we serve, permeating health, housing, public benefits, and access to justice. We will continue our righteous work for equity and justice in the face of these challenges. 

Below are reactions from Western Center staff and interns on this ruling: 

“I am deeply disappointed and downright angry about the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule its prior precedent permitting race to be one of many factors used in the higher education admissions process. It is quite profound that this historic blow hit us on the same day as the release of the historic CA Reparations Task Force final report. We weep and we rejoice simultaneously! We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes! I’m grateful for all the social justice warriors making a difference every day! Keep fighting the good fight! We need you!” 

  • Crystal D. Crawford, Executive Director   

“We cannot allow six people to facilitate further backsliding and complicity in bowing to anti-Black forces. Western Center on Law and Poverty fights for equity and representation in our own workplace, and in the courts, capitol, counties, and beyond. This may set us back, but it will not stop us from finding new ways to continue pushing for that equity/representation, and reparations. For this to work, we need to stop seeing affirmative action and reparations as ‘taking’ from one group and ‘giving’ to another. Just look at what happened in California after Prop. 209, and how without affirmative action things got worse, even if institutions innovated and adapted.” 

  • David Kane, Senior Attorney  

“As an Asian American, I am disappointed and saddened by the central role that a few in my community have played to defeat the use of race conscious admissions in higher education. Many Asian Americans have benefitted and continue to benefit from the use of affirmative action, not just in education but in spaces like employment and government contracting. To deny that history is ignorant. I want to offer that today’s Supreme Court decision is not reflective of the opinions of all Asian Americans, and we will continue to stand with our fellow BIPOC students and communities to ensure there is truly equal opportunity for all.” 

  • Helen Tran, Senior Attorney  

“Refusing to acknowledge or address racism and the need for remedies to address historic discrimination under the guise of ‘colorblindness’ and ‘equal protection’ instead continues to deprive ALL students of the benefit that results by providing a way to help reverse historic discrimination by providing for a diverse student body. The decision entrenches ‘racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society…. racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored,’ wrote Justice Sotomayor in a powerful dissent.” 

  • Jodie Berger, Senior Attorney  

While the Supreme Court’s majority ruling on affirmative action today was expected, it makes it no less disappointing and painful. Our work at the Western Center shows us every day that our society needs to take affirmative steps to counter the persistency of anti-Blackness and racism, not only in education, but in housing stability and opportunity, in health care access and care, in economic and financial security, and access to justice. As Justice Jackson says in her powerful dissent, “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” I take some comfort from Justice Sotomayer’s wise words: “Notwithstanding this Court’s actions, however, society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted. Diversity is now a fundamental American value, housed in our varied and multicultural American community that only continues to grow. The pursuit of racial diversity will go on. And our pursuit of racial justice goes on.” 

  • Nisha Vyas, Senior Attorney  

“It’s ironic that on the same day that the California Reparations Task Force released a comprehensive report documenting the historical, present and ongoing discrimination faced by students in marginalized communities who seek the promise of higher education, the Supreme Court in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc v. President and Fellow of Harvard College issued a decision that espouses a “‘colorblind society.” This decision will have a profoundly negative effect on institutions of higher education to eliminate barriers of discrimination and increase opportunities for underrepresented Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions have given license to discriminate against marginalized communities. Now more than ever we must take up the social justice fight of those who came before us and stand against these repressive policies and decisions.”  

  • Sandra O. Poole, Policy Advocate 

“While grieving the recent SCOTUS decision on affirmative action I reflected on my own journey to law school. As a first-generation minority student, I am the first in my family to attend a four-year university and graduate. I am also the first in my family to go to graduate school and I am going to be the first lawyer in my family. My college education means everything to me and my family. For students like me, a college education is not just about education. It’s about breaking out of the cycle of poverty and inspiring those who may come after me. In fact, I have chosen to use my education in political science and criminal justice to uplift those voices that have been traditionally unheard. Speaking from experience, affirmative action is so much more than considering race in admissions. Affirmative action is not giving a seat away or turning down an equally qualified candidate just because they are not a minority. Affirmative action is giving minority students a chance to even be considered. Additionally, affirmative action gives non-minority students a more enriching college experience by adding different life perspectives into classroom discussion. Young people today are becoming a powerful voice in politics and in their own education. Today’s SCOTUS decision does not reflect the voices of the young people who will be affected. Instead, today’s decision reflects the recent warfare on public education. My heart goes out to the prospective students who may come after me.” 

  • Selena Sanchez, Law Clerk  

How I Went from A Street Vendor to Organizing Street Vendors: A Conversation with Ana Cruz Juarez and Miguel Lucas Tax

For decades, street vendors provided food for their communities and law enforcement and health departments across the city of Los Angeles criminalized them for doing so. These vendors were disproportionately Black and Brown, often immigrants who provided food in low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by food insecurity and food deserts. All of them operated in the informal economy, in a segregated system – upheld by outdated municipal codes and state retail food laws – that favored enforcement against and criminalization of street vendors. 

With SB 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, and SB 972, the California Retail Food Code Act, street vending has been decriminalized, and food codes have been modernized to include and welcome sidewalk food vendors into our economy. This complete one-eighty occurred because of community organizing done well. And yet, enforcement of these wins has been a challenge. Western Center recently joined as counsel in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging their unlawful and discriminatory “no vending zones.”  

A successful organizer not only engages one person and mobilizes them to take action. They also create such investment in the work that they develop new leaders who become organizers themselves and grow and lead the movement. In short, a great organizer doesn’t just bring people in at critical moments of mobilization. They facilitate those individuals’ growth as leaders in the movement and support developing their existing strengths. 

Ana Cruz Juarez and Miguel Lucas Tax are two such organizers. They actively work across Southern California, organizing street vendors from a non-profit organizing hub called the Community Power Collective (CPC). 

CPC has organized one of the most exciting policy campaigns in recent years. The LA Street Vendor Campaign began decades ago and has expanded into a massive statewide network, known as the California Street Vendor Campaign, which has numerous partners up and down the state. This growth stems from CPC’s vision to have the most impacted lead their own battles. And their hiring of Ana and Migueltwo influential leaders in the street vending community did just that. 

Ana Cruz Juarez 

When Ana Cruz Juarez began vending in Hollywood, other vendors shared their yearslong experience of harassment and inhumane treatment while working in the area. 

“If you think about it, street vendors who were selling before SB 946 lived a completely different experience from those selling after,” Ana shared.  

She was told that before vendors organized with the LA Street Vendor Campaign, many faced obstacles and feared harm from law enforcement. And with every story of harm, Ana began to visualize something bigger – an organizing program that not only spanned the city but was powerful enough to grow beyond the city’s boundaries. 

“I started to align my emotions to the emotions of others; the obstacles of others were my obstacles. What is happening to me locally as a street vendor is happening citywide, statewide, and in other states like New York. Our struggle is not just here but everywhere,” Ana said. 

Ana credits her successful organizing to understanding that movement leadership will continue to develop out of the meetings she is helping sidewalk vendors organize. She constantly uplifts other street vendors organizing and sees herself as a convener or facilitator of these spaces.  

She shares that vendors who are learning to organize themselves go from being one-time activists who attend council meetings to organizers themselves “who are building power by recruiting and educating other vendors.”  

Miguel Lucas Tax 

Like Ana, Miguel Lucas Tax went from vending to organizing other vendors. He would set up in Exposition Park, where street vendors like him were often targeted for selling hot dogs to sports fans and museum goers. “Vendors were intimidated. They felt voiceless, and they felt unheard,” he shares. 

Miguel was inspired by other street vendors he saw on YouTube defending themselves in street vending food hubs. Together with others, Miguel supported the early training of street vendors to use this tactic to stand their ground against harassment, intimidation, and unjust enforcement.  

“We learned to stand together with each of us providing security from the police. We’d say, ‘Don’t run. Stand next to your comrade; defend each other.” 

Local legal allies documented attacks on street vendors by the LAPD. This documentation would later form the basis for a lawsuit, leading to officer resignations.  

“I learned that when we organize ourselves and unite, we can win,” Miguel said. 

Organizing disrupts the power of the elite that sustains poverty and injustice. It seeks to live beyond a moment, a social media post or a spontaneous protest, and instead, aims to harnass that momentary energy to wage a planned and strategic campaign led by a collective or cadre who know the community. There is no “I” in organizing. Organizing calls on the “We” to lead. And at the heart of organizing is ordinary people. People directly impacted by the issue know they have power and can lead, if only they are given the space and time to grow as leaders of their community. They are the pulsing heart that drives movements. Without them, there is no hunger for change.  

That is who Ana and Miguel are. They collectively analyze and decipher the hidden social, political, and economic power that impacts vendors locally and across the state. They plan direct actions and recruit new street vendors daily who have never been involved in the movement. For them, the only way forward is to organize, struggle and win.  

 

Race-based hair discrimination ban heads to Michigan governor

After passing the Michigan House Thursday, June 8, the Michigan CROWN Act is headed to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

In a 100-7 vote, the House approved the legislation adding language into the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on hair texture and race-based hairstyles, like braids, dreadlocks, twists and afros. The bill passed the state Senate 35-5 last month.

Bill sponsor Sen. Sarah Anthony, D-Lansing, has long championed the issue, having previously introduced the CROWN Act as a member of the House in 2019 and 2020.

Welfare: As US tightens work rules, California considers loosening them

Just as Republicans in Congress are moving to beef up work requirements for people who receive welfare, California lawmakers are moving to do the opposite.

Included in a recent state Assembly budget proposal, and in a bill the Assembly passed on Wednesday, is a plan to remake CalWORKs, the state’s federally funded cash welfare program that requires recipients to work or search for jobs using a list of approved activities.

Under the proposed state changes, recipients would gain greater flexibility to participate in activities such as going to school, domestic violence counseling, addiction treatment or mental health care. The proposal, estimated to cost $100 million, also would lessen financial penalties if recipients violate work rules.

That would make it likely that fewer recipients would get jobs and more likely California would miss a key federal work standard, for which it could be fined.

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After Years of Advocacy in Dallas and Around Texas, the CROWN Act Becomes Law

On March 22, WFAA reporter Tashara Parker stood before eight members of the Texas House of Legislature’s State Affairs committee in Austin, her hair swinging in a long braid behind her back. She had waited almost 11 hours to speak. At the podium, she asked the legislators to imagine “walking into work carrying the weight of an identity that was not your own.” That their natural hair—be it straight or textured, braided, in locks (also known as dreadlocks), or flat-ironed—was deemed “unprofessional.”

The subject of Parker’s testimony, House Bill 567, would make such discrimination illegal.

Standing for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” or CROWN, House Bill 567 would prevent discrimination against someone based on their hairstyle or hair texture “commonly or historically associated with race.” The bill overwhelmingly passed the State House of Representatives 143-5 April 13, and in the State Senate 29-1 nearly a month later on May 12. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law over the weekend. It goes into effect on September 1.

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