A month ago, the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice, and Public Understanding hosted a conference called “Invigorating Democracy” tied to our celebration of Harry Boyte – the winner of the Ambassador of Peace award. The weekend was a flurry of people and ideas about how to bring public work back into focus. There were contrasting opinions about the importance of a national focus versus international, how religion should be brought in, and who the targeted population was.
When choosing break out sessions, I picked different ones than my colleagues so each speaker would have a student worker making sure all the technology went smoothly. In the second break out, I didn’t expect to hear much new information, especially when I heard the second speaker was out sick. I was meeting with David Liners from WISDOM (a grassroots organization bringing together congregations across Wisconsin to act on social injustices).
Halfway through the conversation, we switched tracks to talk about a very specific problem happening in Wisconsin’s Congress. Little did I know, this conversation would stay in the forefront of my mind for perhaps the next month. David shared about SB 54 – a law that if it passes in the Senate, the DOC would have to recommend a return to custody for all individuals currently on extended supervision (the new parole) if they are accused of a new crime. Not convicted – accused. Additionally, because this would add so many new prisoners to our Wisconsin prisons, the Assembly set aside $350 million for a new prison.
Through my work with Corrections, I have a pretty broad understanding of how the system works. I know especially that punitive practices, increasing sentence length, and prison in general do not deter people from crime. So lawmakers who claim that locking people up without a trial first will keep our communities safer are just ignoring the facts.
I spent the last week bringing this information to the St. Norbert community. I held three information sessions, communicated with WISDOM and JOSHUA (the Green Bay branch) via email and in person interviews, and distributed leaflets and posters. I had people emailing me that I had never met before, and staff who had personal connections to this issue came to the info sessions to learn but also share their own stories.
I reflected on the impact that these information sessions had on the community but also on me. Suddenly, I was able to see people positively react to information I brought them. I watched them get angry, excited, frustrated, and engaged. Coming from a position that was based around a lot of event planning, simply synthesizing information and organizing around an issue is invigorating. People are seeking out information, and rather than usher them inside an auditorium – I’m inviting them into a conversation about something that could actually make a difference.
It’s pretty amazing.
Today, I’ve been joined by students and staff at St. Norbert College and together we’ve made over 125 phone calls. We’re hoping to call the state senators 500 times by tomorrow afternoon. If you have any questions about how you can get involved, please let me know.