Standing in Solidarity with Black Staff in the State House
On July 20, 2020 a group of Black State House staffers submitted the following statement in response to their collective experiences on Beacon Hill. Their letter and stated requests were sent to the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the Secretary of the Commonwealth and key staff for each figure.
As employees of the State House, we pledge to use our proximity to power to validate and elevate the concerns and demands raised below by Black staffers, as well as to empower communities of color to participate in the legislative process. Progress requires accountability within our house, the People's House, that shall not end on July 31st.
BEACON BLOC DEMANDS (full statement located on next page)
We are a collective of Black staffers of the Massachusetts State Legislature. As Blackness is not monolithic we do not represent or speak for every Black staffer, however, we are a conglomerate that have identified a series of weaknesses endemic to the structure and daily operations of the State House that must be addressed in order to facilitate the dismantling of white supremacy and ensure a workplace free of hostility and inequity for all current and future staffers of color. In light of the recurrent killings of unarmed Black citizens -- a direct consequence of structural racism -- Leadership of both branches have publicly stated their commitment to combating racism and listening to those most impacted by it. That commitment has yet to be realized, and as the days left in formal session continue to wind down, we question the likelihood of the Legislature sending a comprehensive bill that centers the needs of Black residents to the Governor’s desk before the July 31st end of formal session. Accordingly we believe the task before Leadership must begin within its own house, and therefore submit the following requests.
While we are not legislators sworn-in through an oath of office, our daily efforts in the Peoples’ House necessitate that we make our voices heard during this unprecedented opportunity for true political evolution. Our commitment to the struggle against interlocking circles of oppression propels our dedication to the Commonwealth and all of its citizens; we are career political operatives whose professional objectives of progress and liberation for our communities is inextricably linked to the state-empowered body we serve.
While we could recount at length the hostile moments of thinly veiled (if not overt) racism we’ve each faced we choose instead to act in line with the revolutionary activists who precede us and offer direct courses of action. In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer we “are sick and tired of being sick and tired” and advocate for the following structural changes:
I. Extend the 2019-2020 Legislative Session [ACHIEVED]
Given the two-month delay in establishing a protocol for virtual formal sessions, we urge you to extend formal sessions until October by amending the Pandemic State of Emergency Declaration Order to allow for continued work to simultaneously address racism, health inequities, and a robust safety net.
II. Central Office on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
One D&I professional is insufficient for a body of over 500 staff and personnel and as such we call for a central D&I office that serves both chambers and is further led by a D&I Director of color unanimously approved by a 9-member Hiring Committee consisting of five (5) staffers of color with no less than 3 Black staffers, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, and the H.R. Director of each legislative branch; personnel staffing this office should also include a member with expertise in mental health and racial trauma; all personnel retained for this office must have demonstrated understanding of intersectional struggles including gender, race and sexual orientation. We demand that the D&I team undertake a comprehensive audit of State House workplace practices including hiring, trainings, disciplinary protocols, and employee retention.
III. Standardized Staff On-Boarding
We call for standardized on-boarding to orient new staff to procedures and resources that should not have to be guesswork. We further urge the creation of a rotating ad-hoc onboarding committee of senior BIPOC and non-BIPOC staff throughout the legislature to assist with the creation and implementation of an on-boarding program.
IV. Mechanisms for Reporting and Addressing Racially-Motivated Aggressions
We call for the implementation of a bicameral reporting structure for instances of harassment, discrimination, and other forms of racially-motivated harm that centers those harmed. We further urge the promulgation and publishing of processes including, but not limited to, disciplinary actions, mediation, and other forms of redress to address these reports created by staffers of color in conjunction with State House leadership.
V. Suspension of Lobbying Privileges for Workplace Misconduct
We call for a review process developed by the Secretary of the Commonwealth in consultation with the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus empowered to temporarily suspend lobbyists for recurring incidents of verbal and non-verbal workplace
abuse. We understand workplace abuse to encompass all malicious acts that result in physical or psychological pain or distress of an employee.
VI. Talent Pipeline for Staff and Personnel of Color
We call for the implementation of a paid internship program and the cultivation of robust civic engagement programming models that target schools, universities, and workforce development programs to substantially increase levels of diversity. Staffers of color must be involved in the creation and implementation of these programs and adequately compensated for their time and efforts.
VII. Archival Availability of Black Historical Records
We call for an expansion of online and in-person catalogs which prioritize Black legislative efforts, landmark legal decisions, speeches, and writings. Additionally we demand the inclusion of memorials, busts and portraits that reflect the endless contributions of Black historical figures. Further, a comprehensive library of Black resources does not begin and end with the Civil War and Reconstruction but extends along the full continuum of past and present political life.
VIII. Office of Policy Equity and Independent Review of Legislation
We call for the establishment of an independent Office of Policy Equity to supplement the committee process designed to analyze all bills being debated in each branch. The Office of Policy Equity is to publicly report the extent to which each bill advances principles of racial justice and detail how the legislation in question falls short of this goal.
The Black Staffers of Beacon B.L.O.C
Building Leaders of Color
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