Change New York, Change America!

President Obama’s historic victory as well as the current financial crisis is creating the opening for a broad agenda for change that incorporates our worldview. In 2009, we will unite our education campaigns around our issue concerns and projects under the overall theme that we want “an economy that works for all of us.” We will include a race equity frame in our economic message and in the education campaigns around our concerns. While each campaign will always need to organize issue-specific actions, we will build PPEF by tying the issues together as part of our overall economic agenda. Our Change New York, Change America campaign will build leadership teams at the local and statewide levels that are committed to the broad agenda and that can engage our base.

Phase 1: Civic Engagement and PPEF Issues as Election Issues

carolIn 2008, PPEF conducted massive voter registration drives in areas where we wanted to continue to build in 2009. We focused on communities of color, where elected leaders were not responsive, assuming these communities would not come out to vote.  Organizers and volunteers went door to door to deliver the message: “your state and federal representatives make decisions that impact your access to health care, your child’s access to a quality education, and jobs in your community!” We registered over 17,000 new voters, and contributed to voters coming out in record numbers on November 4th, casting their votes not only for the Presidential election, but for other national and state elected offices.

Our organizing during the fall of 2008 also impacted the issues that mattered during the election of those state and federal representatives. Throughout the election season, PPEF released reports that influenced the public debate around all of our issue campaigns.

Phase 2: Holding Elected Officials Accountable to PPEF Issues and Creating an Economy That Works For All of Us

In 2009, PPEF has built off our 2008 efforts by educating newly elected leaders to consider prominently the concerns of traditionally excluded communities in New York State. We will focus our efforts in the same neighborhoods we organized in 2008 but mobilize around the need to have state and national representatives prioritize how money is raised and spent during a fiscal crisis.

New York plays an important role on the national level. As Hillary Clinton joined the Obama Administration, our 20th Congressional District Representative, Kirsten Gillibrand, stepped up to be New York’s junior U.S. Senator. PPEF understands that Gillibrand will need to be educated on the needs of the entire state to truly represent the diverse communities in New York, as opposed to her largely rural district. We will also work to educate our Congressional representatives in Western New York, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, the Southern Tier, Capital District, Hudson Valley and Long Island on the issues that affect New Yorkers, including health care and education. Senator Charles Schumer is a leader of the Senate, and a key member of the Senate Finance Committee, and thus in a unique position to influence the policy debates in Washington over a wide range of issues important to PPEF, including health care and budget and tax issues. We will push for important policy initiatives developed by our national affiliate, USAction Education Fund.

At the same time, on a state level, New York is facing an ever-growing deficit. Governor Paterson and his administration’s approach has unfortunately looked to close that gap with severe spending cuts to education, health care and human services, as well as a series of regressive taxes and fees. PPEF played a leadership role in a temporary education effort in early 2009 known as Fair Share Tax Reform (FSTR). Working with organizations like the Working Families Party, the Alliance for Quality Education, and two of New York’s most powerful unions: the health care workers union, 1199 SEIU, and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), PPEF helped to create the public will that provided the basis for a restoration of the massive cuts to education, health care and more, using federal stimulus dollars to replace cuts, and to restore a progressive income tax structure to New York by placing three new tax brackets on the wealthiest New Yorkers that would raise an additional $6 billion to cover the deficit.

Phase 3 – Local Issue Campaigns

During the 2009 leadership conference, leaders brainstormed other issues they felt PPEF should become engaged in over the next year. The list included green jobs, economic development, criminal justice and juvenile justice, transportation, and local education policies. In the second half of 2009, PPEF will move to engage our grassroots base around city and county issues and work with existing leaders, many of whom came out of our civic engagement work in 2008. Our goal is to choose at least one local issue in each of our chapters and make that issue the primary focus of candidates and the media during local elections. We will do this through earned media, door to door canvassing, outreach at public meetings and town hall meetings. Where possible, we will build a local education campaign around that issue post-November. The local chapters will choose the issue based on statewide criteria including that the issue must be deeply and widely felt, winnable, and connected to local, statewide and national issues.  We will tie the local issues into PPEF’s traditional issue agenda that includes education and health care reform- issues that already have local, state and national appeal and support among our existing and growing base of leaders.