By Rebecca Bryant
The Arkansas Citizen’s First Congress (ACFC) is a coalition of organizations working for progressive change –- primarily by lobbying the Arkansas legislature. Assisting ACFC in this effort is their tandem organization, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, which monitors all bills in the Arkansas legislature and retains full-time lobbyists on staff.
In 2017, UUFF began supporting the Arkansas Citizen’s First Congress as one of the Justice Team’s picks for ‘Share the Plate’. In 2018, we persuaded the board to let us use that money to purchase a membership with ACFC, rather than simply making a donation. That membership gave us the privilege of sending delegates to the organization’s Congress of members that takes place every two years.
Four delegates (Shermon Brown, Maren Chism, Karl Brown, Rebecca Bryant) attended the 2018 Congress which took place from June 8-10 in Little Rock. On Friday evening, following dinner at the Sheraton Midtown, we heard presentations from member groups, describing why they do their work. Speakers included Alyce Love from the Desha County Social Justice Alliance, Ginny Massullo from the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, and Furonda Brasfield with Decarcerate.
For the rest of the weekend, our mission was to identify five short term goals that would become the focus of lobbying through the next legislative session. Justice Team members spread out through the four caucuses; Civil Rights, Economic Justice, Environment, and Education, taking part in their deliberations.
By the end of the weekend, the Congress had passed five resolutions: 1. Support fair residential landlord-tenant laws (tenants have little protection at present); 2. Support a juvenile diversion program (i.e. try to keep minors out of the prison pipeline); 3. Upgrade Arkansas’s voter registration system (championed by the League of Women Voters); 4. Deter wage theft; and, 5. Support equity in professional licensure (In Arkansas, for a variety of professions, licenses cannot be issued to noncitizens).
I’ve known about the Citizen’s First Congress and Arkansas Public Policy Panel for decades. But, this was my first immersion in their process. Meeting others that are also engaged in the fight for justice and hearing their stories and ambitions was inspiring. Adding the small voice of UUFF to that of nearly 60 other organizations makes us a chorus with a chance of being heard.