The Maine Equal Justice Partners Circle brings low income people together into powerful collective action and statewide leadership through four advocacy trainings. So far the Partners have completed two sessions.
At the first session, Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) board members Claire Hersom and Shanna Cox led explorations of change, the power of personal stories, and the value of a shared vision for the future.
Claire led the group to write about change in our own lives. Writing prompts included: “I carry this thing called courage”, “I keep my people’s strength inside me” and “If the world stops singing, I sing.” Claire printed a chapbook with this writing, and the Partners received copies of “Equal Justice Partners Circle: Voices of Courage” at the second session. Claire’s exercise laid the foundation for sharing our stories in decision-making forums.
Shanna led the Partners in a collective visioning process that brought us 20 years into the future. Collective visioning has been used across many different cultures for generations. It helps us identify far reaching change we’d like to see in our communities. We used a method inspired by Linda Stout’s model. We began with a longer term vision and then worked backwards to set short term goals and strategies for change.
Our vision for Maine in 20 years included access to living wages and meaningful work “where our people don’t have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet”; access to health care; safe and decent places to live; good food; and public transportation. We didn’t stop there. We added equity in schools; communities where everyone is welcome and has the opportunity to thrive; criminal justice and prison reform and, most of all, communities where people lived with a feeling of safety, security and economic opportunity.
In our second session we focused on power, advocacy and organizing. The Partners talked about how to build the strength to achieve our long term vision. MEJP’s Kate Brennan explored what advocacy means, and the Partners defined advocacy as a way to address community problems. Kate used great popular education resources developed by CASA de Maryland (http://wearecasa.org/)to help the Partners identify steps we can follow to take effective action together, including a power map to plan advocacy campaigns.
MEJP’s Karen Wyman helped us incorporate a human rights framework in our advocacy efforts. Understanding the connections between issues will strengthen the Partners’ ability to work together across differences, better understand each other's stories, and identify solutions to community problems that leave no one behind. Members of the group – all people with low income - shared stories of their experiences of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. This made it clear that we don't all experience economic injustice in the same way. This is a key to unlocking our power to make things better for everyone.
Recent policy changes have created more need for those unable to access economic security. The current Administration claims they are helping people “move from poverty to prosperity”, but too many people in Maine are living the opposite. The Partners pointed to more suffering, deeper poverty, and higher levels of stress and instability in their communities. During the first two sessions, the Partners agreed they are ready to start laying a different path forward.
Click here to see our Equal Justice Partners Circle photo album from our second session.