Cambridge, MA, August 4, 2010 – – Access Strategies Fund announced today that it has funded fourteen Massachusetts organizations for a total of $165,000.  (See list below of grantees by community.) The grants, which cover a dozen communities, are aimed at helping to transform electoral structures in order to make government more responsive, accessible, and accountable to underserved communities. Access Strategies Fund, a philanthropic foundation, harnesses the collective power of underserved communities to improve their lives.

In its first ten years, Access Strategies Fund supported community groups to engage new voters and encourage people to participate in changing policies that affect their quality of life. Voter engagement soared in Boston and new and trained candidates for public office emerged to challenge the way things have traditionally been done in government.

Now these communities want to reform government and electoral systems that make it difficult for voters and ethical public officials to make innovative changes in our democracy. A new report from the Pew Foundation revealed that the American public is extremely distrustful of government. Only 11% said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the country — the lowest measure in more than two decades of Pew polling.

Said Kelly Bates, Executive Director of Access, “We knew we had to do something fundamentally different to restore community faith and participation in government. We saw an opportunity to build a larger network of community organizations and leaders that could transform government so it is more responsive and accountable.”

Through the Movement Building Fund for Electoral & Structural Reform, Access is providing two-year grants of $10,000-$15,000 and will form a network of leaders to build movements for collective action on social and economic issues.

The funded groups will build grassroots and organic centers of civic power to improve their communities. They will challenge such issues as outdated immigration policies, inequality in public education and voter suppression.  They will engage in strategies for organizing and direct action, reducing corporate influence in government, instituting same day voter registration, and increasing multi-lingual ballot access.  

John Bonifaz, Access board member who initiated the Movement Building Fund working with Access staff, said, “We are proud to fund risk taking organizations that will fight for structural changes to break government patterns of inaction and neglect in the communities that need assistance the most.”

The 14 Access Strategies Fund grants include programs in the following communities:

Roxbury — Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), ($10,000) is a membership-driven, base-building organization that defines the root causes of environmental injustice as political disempowerment and economic abandonment. ACE mobilizes their base through campaigns for transportation and green justice. ACE will engage residents in low-income communities and communities of color to create systemic change, particularly by creating strong mechanisms for community involvement in agency and governmental decision-making structures.

Roxbury — Boston Workers Alliance (BWA) ($15,000) successfully worked to pass new CORI reform legislation in the final hour of the state legislative session in July 2010.  BWA’s long-term goal is to transform local economic relations and end unemployment through cooperative business development and civic organizing campaigns.  BWA will start a process of internal education, research action and strategic planning that will ensure that residents have a voice in creating economic democracy, a new term and approach that will be developed in coming years.

Somerville– Centro Presente ($10,000) would challenge the policies that systematically marginalize, vilify and discriminate against immigrant communities.  Centro Presente’s objectives are focused on community-based movement to analyze societal and economic injustices as they pertain to immigrants.  Centro will re-launch their website, utilize media, organize campaigns and participate in visits to elected officials to influence policymakers in Somerville and in other cities in the Greater Boston area.

Boston, Chinatown– Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) ($10,000) will work within their community to launch a system reform effort calling for equal access, transparency, and accountability of city government in Boston. CPA will focus on equal access for limited English proficient voters and push for bilingual ballots to develop their community’s collective clout through increasing Chinese American voter engagement, articulating clear policy demands, and educating and organizing community members.

Boston & Chelsea– Civic Engagement Fund (managed by MassVOTE) ($25,000) supports nonprofits to engage in non-partisan voter mobilization in urban low-income and communities of color. Grantees of the fund have significantly increased voter registration, turn out, and education among under-represented communities.

Worcester– Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement (EPOCA) ($15,000) is an organization of ex-prisoners and allies that work to break down society’s institutional barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals to have a healthy, productive life. Their overall mission will focus on leadership development to combat oppression and injustices in housing, wages, and health care.   EPOCA will develop a campaign to change the systems of government and elections that disfavor the rights of prisoners and former prisoners.  EPOCA successfully worked to pass new CORI reform legislation in the final hour of the state legislative session in July 2010. 

Lawrence– Lawrence Community Works ($10,000) will build a coalition to make budget information more readily accessible and distributed to their community. They will develop multilingual educational materials and tools, create mobile workshops and forums that make the budget process transparent, and share this information throughout the city. They will create a participatory and transparent process to hold city officials accountable to the people they represent and to restore resident input in the process.

Worcester, Lynn, Holyoke, and Springfield– Neighbor to Neighbor ($15,000) will conduct an intensive series of popular education-based workshops and planning sessions to explore barriers to electoral and civic participation among their membership and to strategize to overcome these barriers through specific organizing campaigns to build statewide power.  These workshops will identify possible future campaigns such as participatory budgeting, voting reform, new structures to diversify local government, and the creation of an alternative leadership pipeline. Neighbor to Neighbor successfully worked to pass new CORI reform legislation in the final hour of the state legislative session in July 2010. 

East Boston– Neighbors United for A Better East Boston (NUBE) (no website) ($10,000) primary goal is to increase critical analysis, leadership and knowledge about government structures and racial and economic justice.  NUBE seeks to increase their influence and effectiveness at changing the local civic system. A second goal is to complete a member-led research process defining the criteria by which to hold elected officials and public institutions accountable, and turning the criteria into a racial and economic justice scorecard.

Boston– ¿Oíste? is working to expand the power of the Latino community in Massachusetts to impact structural changes and deepen civic engagement of Latinos and other people of color by creating a statewide, coordinated grassroots initiative for civic and structural change. 

Lowell– One Lowell ($10,000) will reform Lowell’s voting system by creating a campaign to change Lowell’s at-large winner take all voting system that creates structural barriers to immigrant and refugee voters, and candidates participating in city council and school committee structures.  They will carry out a campaign to transform the voting system in Lowell and develop new leaders to change the system.

Worcester– Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts ($10,000) supports, promotes, and advocates for Asians in Central Massachusetts by providing assistance in the areas of health, education, economic development, and civic engagement, while supporting a strong social and cultural life within the community. They are interested in learning more about proposals to merge local and state elections. They will also advocate for reforms to the voting process and bilingual ballots for Chinese and Vietnamese voters in Massachusetts.

Springfield– The Springfield Institute/Policy Development Inc. ($5,000) will recruit “citizen bloggers” according to 10 demographic criteria, and provide the ongoing technical and editorial training and support to allow them to tell stories no one else is telling.  These stories will be widely accessible to other Springfield residents, policy makers, researchers, the media, funders, and peers. They will also hold a candidate forum to publicize the issues raised in the blogs to public officials and candidates for office. They will train their bloggers in advocacy strategy and law, how to run for public office, power mapping, community-based technology, media skills and fundraising.

Jamaica Plain– Union of Minority Neighborhoods ($10,000) current focus is building the power of Black women, improving the social conditions of Black males, improving public education, pushing for CORI reform, reducing joblessness in Black communities, and  building bridges between immigrant and American-born people of African descent. Funding will support civic reform education and participatory structures by supporting planning to develop a state-wide Black policy agenda and a Boston Busing Truth and Reconciliation Commission to provide a mechanism for Black voices to be heard on the topics of race, education, healing and justice. UMN successfully worked to pass new CORI reform legislation in the final hour of the state legislative session in July 2010. 

For further information on Access Strategies Fund, visit our website at www.accessstrategies.org

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