by Jon Tetherly ~ Chair, Innocence Commission Task Team of the MACUCC
Saturday, April 26, was the much anticipated rally for Jobs Not Jails, promoted by Ex-Prisoners Organized for Community Advancement (EPOCA) of Worcester. The rally, which had been scheduled for 1:00 - 4:00 P.M. on the Boston Common, was truncated to 1:00 - 3:00 because rain was predicted to begin at 3:00.
I was on one of the two buses from Springfield, which were two of the four buses from Western Massachusetts. Several other cities also provided buses. A cold rain greeted us as we boarded the bus, and picked up other passengers before getting onto the Mass Pike. Our Springfield buses arrived about 1:45. A cold drizzle was stopping as we arrived, under thick clouds.
The weather caused considerable cancellations, but the crowd, somewhere between 500 and 1,000, was very diverse. Mike Rich, chair of the Restorative Justice Task Team, showed up behind me with a sign for our Innocence Commission Task Team. I walked through the crowd, and these were some of the many signs I saw: Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); Worcester NAACP; Carpenters Local 108, Springfield; Massachusetts Bail Fund; Green Party; Dorchester People for Peace; Brockton Interfaith Community; First Parish, Lexington; SEIU Local 509; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; First Parish, Brookline; Martin Walsh for Boston Mayor Campaign; First Parish UUA, Bedford; and Cambridge Friends, among others. Members of our Somerville church were there. ARISE for Social Justice was one of our main organizers in Springfield. Northampton was primarily organized by the American Friends Service Committee.
A group was there registering voters. The Green Party was present. Tee shirts and bumper stickers were for sale.
The speakers were as diverse as the crowd. We arrived to hear Vira Douangmeny Cage, a member of our Innocence Commission Task Team on the podium, speaking about the successful struggle to free her husband's nephew from a sentence of life without parole after being convicted of first degree murder, which he didn't commit. Other speakers included Blackstonian and Partakers members, Rocky Thompson, business manager of Carpenters Local 108; and Springfield organizer Donell Wright, speaking of his difficulty to find a job despite his qualifications, after having a conviction. Politicians also spoke, including Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, Representative Gloria Fox, and both Democratic Party candidates for attorney general, Maura Healey and Warren Tolman.
The effort continues. We were all urged to call our state senators and representatives on April 30th to push our issues. Included in the Jobs Not Jails agenda are two bills supported by our task teams, H.1638, the Innocence Commission bill, and S.52, the Restorative Justice bill. H.1646 would repeal mandatory minimum sentences, and H.1754 would fund 5,000 living wage jobs.
It is expected that the Jobs Not Jails rally will be an annual event and we look forward to an even larger event next year!