After a welcome, an invocation, a declaration of purpose, a roll-call procession of representatives from 30-odd member organizations carrying identifying placards, the singing of “This Little Light of Mine,” the introduction of guests and the reading of the rules, the annual public meeting of VOICE-Buffalo got down to the issues Thursday evening.
The issues are what unites VOICE-Buffalo, a coalition of labor, community and faith-based groups, and it picks three of them to address each year.
The organization’s vice president, the Rev. James Giles, a leader of Back to Basics Ministries on Buffalo’s East Side, began by summing up last year’s victories for the crowd of about 500 in Holy Cross Catholic Church, 345 Seventh St.
They pushed for a raise in the state’s minimum wage, got support from State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, and the Legislature passed it.
They wanted funding for groups working to stop violence on Buffalo’s East Side and landed grants for Peacemakers from three local foundations.
They successfully advocated for living wages and local participation in the Harborside development.
And, Giles noted, they organized two rallies in August that helped push back State Education Commissioner John King’s plans to turn Lafayette and East high schools over to BOCES.
As for the 2013-14 issues, prospects seemed mixed.
Progress on “Public Transportation” looked good. A proposal to add two members to the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority board of directors representing the riders, one from the disability community, had support from Kennedy and Ryan.
NFTA Chairman Howard Zemsky declared, “We’re eager to work with them on the board.”
Teachers Jane Lytle and Daycia McClam introduced the issue of “Defending the Dream of Public Education” by denouncing high-stakes testing.
The goal is to get King to Buffalo for talks with VOICE Buffalo leaders early next year.
Kennedy said he would help, as did a representative from Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo. Buffalo Board of Education member Theresa Harris-Tigg said Superintendent Pamela Brown has agreed to meet with VOICE Buffalo leaders.
The third issue, “Restorative Justice,” depends on the race for Erie County sheriff.
VOICE-Buffalo proposes to take money from the county’s jail budget to establish a community-based program in an effort to keep from putting minor offenders behind bars.
“I’m looking for Sheriff Howard or a representative,” said Karima Amin of Prisoners Are People Too, who introduced the issue. “Is there an empty seat?”
Instead, there was Mary Julian, operations manager for the campaign of Howard’s Democratic challenger.
Would he support restorative justice? “Absolutely,” Julian said. “Dick Dobson is on top of that.”
Duane Diggs, president of VOICE-Buffalo, closed with a call to action.
“We’re not about discussing the problems,” he said.
“We’re about discussing the solutions and how to get things done.”