Monthly Archives: November 2014

Felonies are now harder to commit in California thanks to Prop 47

California is leading the way to incarcerating fewer people and preventing the “felony” label by increasing the amount of money involved in a crime to be classified as a felony.

Here’s the update from our partner EPOCA- Ex-Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, and a notice of their Dec. 6 meeting.


Before our next gathering on December 6, we wanted to share with you some good news and inspiration: You’ve probably already heard about California voters’ dramatic approval of Proposition 47 this month, but you may not know some important facts about it:

  1. What it Does:  Proposition 47 requires a misdemeanor sentence rather than a felony sentence for theft under $950 and for certain low-level drug offenses.  This new law also requires the state of California to track the resulting savings from reduced incarceration, and channels those funds into three important services: truancy prevention; victims’ services; and treatment for mental illness and addiction.  For more details click here

How Proposition 47 Happened:  Not surprisingly, it took very difficult organizing work, done by a lot of people.  This included leadership from PICO California, which is a powerful network of faith-based community organizations and a sister of our own Massachusetts Communities Action Network.  It would also not have happened without strong leadership from our sisters and brothers in the Labor Movement.

What it Means for Us in Massachusetts:  Many of us have been following the work in California for some time and have seen it as a model for what we can do here.  The Jobs Not Jails research team has been hard at work crafting legislation using Prop 47 as a framework, Our legislation will be based on the needs we face in Massachusetts, as expressed by the many active participants in Jobs Not Jails.

For nearly two years, Jobs Not Jails has involved a melding of two grand strategies: movement-building and legislative campaigning.  There is a natural tension between these two historic approaches to organizing, with differences in objectives, targets and tactics.  They are even based somewhat on different analyses of power.  We have many things to work out together in coming months, starting with our collective vision and mission.  This will allow us to look deeply at the different strategies before us and chart our course together.  This work will not be easy nor quick, but it will be sure to be inspiring and transformative for all of us involved.
I hope you will join us for the next Jobs Not Jails gathering:

Saturday, December 6
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Freedom House
5 Crawford Street
Dorchester, MA 02121

***Please note that, to honor and welcome all who attend Jewish services on Saturday mornings, future Jobs Not Jails gatherings will be held later in the day.***

Marriage equality: an example of successful grassroots activism

EMIT’s goal is to motivate constituents to form long-term relationships with their state senators and representatives to influence them to support criminal justice reform in Massachusetts.

An example of a landmark, first-in-the-country achievement, of the success of personal connection with lawmakers is the Marriage Equality campaign, which survived a challenge by the Legislature, even after the Supreme Judicial Court had approved same-sex marriage.

This perspective piece in the Sunday Boston Globe Magazine, details how Richard Ross, D-Wrentham, was influenced by constituents to change his stand.

The change-of-heart about same-sex marriage that changed everything

As more and more states embrace marriage equality, a look back at one personal struggle.

By Marc Solomon

In June 2007, the Massachusetts Legislature would be voting for one last time on a constitutional amendment that would take away marriage for gay couples. Marriage equality advocates needed nine lawmakers to change their votes to defeat it, and in the weeks prior to the vote, we were pulling out every stop.

One of the two Republican lawmakers on our target list was a representative named Richard Ross. He was the only lawmaker in the Legislature who’d voted our way and then reversed and voted against us. His wife was extremely religious — a Southern Baptist who’d gone to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University — so voting our way had created difficulties in his domestic life. But Ross made it a practice to seek out different opinions and draw his own conclusions, even if that meant bucking his party or discovering new information that might lead him to change his mind.
Ross owned a funeral home in Wrentham, one of the more Republican parts of the state. In January, he’d gone over to the Parish of St. Mary, the Catholic church across the street, to meet with the local branch of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization, and talk about the issue. “Now that they’re getting married,” Ross asked the group, “what’s changed?” Nobody could point to anything concrete. The best they could do was to argue about where this was all going and make what to Ross were outrageous claims about polygamy and bestiality.

Our MassEquality organizer made sure that Ross would have access to opposing views and arranged for same-sex couples and families from the district to meet with him. He was especially moved by a veterinarian and her wife from Medfield, as well as a lesbian couple and their children living in Plainville who had invited Ross over to their home. He also met some kids with gay parents who attended King Philip Regional Middle School with his own children.

At home, he’d share his experiences and his thought processes with his family, particularly his wife and his high school-age daughter: “This is a much deeper issue than I’ve had any idea about. I’m having trouble reconciling this in my mind.” His wife couldn’t believe it. “How can you do this as a Christian?” she’d ask, as he thought out loud about voting against the amendment. The arguments raged around the dinner table.

View Graphic
A timeline of same-sex marriage in the US
Since the Supreme Court issued its decisions on the DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 in June 2013, several states’ constitutional bans on same-sex marriage have been struck down.

On June 12, two days out from the vote, Ross could still feel some wrestling going on inside, but he’d settled on his position. He knew being consistent with his last vote was a comfortable place to be for many reasons. He headed to the State House for some meetings, including a get-together with Patrick Guerriero, a gay former Republican state representative who had been meeting with legislators.

This afternoon was Guerriero’s final meeting with Ross to try to get him over whatever obstacles stood in the way of voting against the amendment. Guerriero listened carefully to Ross and recognized he was still conflicted about the issue. “I have watched you go through this process and be so thoughtful,” Guerriero told him. “I know where you need to end up, and not for us, but for you.”

But Ross seemed to have his mind made up. After a good amount of additional back and forth, Guerriero still didn’t see the path to getting Ross to a no vote. As he got up to leave, he inquired about the kind of clients Ross served in his funeral home business.

The question triggered something deep inside Ross. He remembered the summer day in 1976 just a few weeks before his father passed away from heart disease. Ross, who’d been studying at American University to become a diplomat, dropped out and came home to help his father with the funeral business. Soon, Ross would be taking over, and his father wanted to impart some advice.

“I want to tell you certain things about people, son, that will make your life a whole lot easier,” Ross’s father said. “Folks from all walks of life are going to ring that doorbell. Do yourself a favor. When you open that door, don’t look them up and down and judge them by what you think you see. You look them in the eye and you find one thing about their character or their makeup that you like about them, and you build a relationship around that. And I promise you this: Nobody will ever leave your life as an adversary.”

Ross started to sob uncontrollably at the memory. Guerriero asked what was wrong. “I can’t believe I’m about to treat people in one day job differently than I treat them in another day job,” he responded.

Ross packed up his belongings and headed back to Wrentham to reflect. He entered the parlor room of his funeral home, where portraits of his parents hung prominently. In good times and in dark times, he found their presence comforting. It felt as if the image of his dad lifted right off the canvas and he was still standing right there.

After awhile, Ross turned and looked at the portrait of his three children on the wall behind him. As he sat and reflected, it became clear that he needed to vote against the amendment, no matter what, even if it cost him his job, which he thought it would. He knew he’d be letting down some of his constituents, those who had entrusted him to carry their message. They’d feel betrayed. But he knew what he needed to do.

On the morning of the vote, Ross continued to feel, at his very core, that his parents were with him. As he grappled with his decision, what came to mind was a quote from Hamlet that his mother loved: “To thine own self be true.”

Senate President Therese Murray gaveled the joint session of the Legislature to order.

To prevail, backers of the amendment needed a total of 50 votes between the two houses. The Senate voted first — the tally there was 5 yes, 34 no. Next was the House. Of the 160 House members, we needed to hold the opponents below 45 yes votes.

When it was his turn, Ross voted no. He felt as if his was the deciding vote and knew he was doing the right thing. He was also sure that this would mark the end of his career. (It didn’t; he was elected to the state Senate, then reelected earlier this month.)

Outside the chamber, we watched carefully as the board filled quickly: 40 yes, 117 no. We’d won! Murray immediately announced the final, combined vote: 45 to 151, in the negative. “The amendment fails,” she said.

More coverage of same-sex marriage
A timeline of same-sex marriage in the US
A state-by-state look at gay marriage bans
Editorial: Supreme Court should make gay marriage a national right
Celebrating 10 years of gay marriage in Mass.
Ideas: America, the religious?
For many same-sex couples, equality comes at cost
Radically normal: A view from the front lines of a same-sex marriage
Marc Solomon, former executive director of MassEquality, is national campaign director of Freedom to Marry. This essay was adapted from his new book “Winning Marriage.” Send comments to

Join us Nov. 15 in Northboro with Sen. Jamie Eldridge

Ending Mass Incarceration, part of "The New Jim Crow" in Massachusetts, is part of criminal justice reform, led by State Sen. Stan Rosenburg, D Amherst. We must work together in Mass. to reform our criminal justice system and end the systematic incarceration of black, brown, poor, mentally ill and addicted people.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, is a progressive senator who constantly advocates for the underprivileged, to protect the environment and for civil liberty.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, and Rebecca Miller, aide to Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, will preview upcoming legislation for the 2015 legislative session and give inside information on how to connect with and influence our state legislators.

The meeting gets rolling at 10:45 am with registration and coffee. The program starts promptly at 11 am and ends at 1 pm. Light refreshments served. Free. Handicapped accessible. Plenty of parking. If you need a lift from public transit – Green Line to MetroWest Transit, please contact susan . tordella at g mail . com.

Register here:

Bring friends who are outraged by the injustice of mass incarceration. Please share this notice with your networks.

We are building an ecumenical

statewide grassroots network to influence state legislators to pass a series of bills to return justice for all to Massachusetts, from revising pre-trial services to ending mandatory minimum sentencing.

Join a chorus of statewide advocacy groups working on this issue. We are stronger with many voices singing together loudly in many harmonies.