A new activist group plans to focus on harnessing grassroots energy to address city-level issues like housing and police-community relations. Rise Up Kingston also plans to address big-picture issues, like racism, at a local level. The group will host a launch party and fundraiser at Rough Draft Bar and Books at 82 John St. on Monday, April 16 at 6 p.m.
Rise Up Kingston is the brainchild of community organizer Callie Jayne and Cassandra Burke, an undergraduate public policy student.
Jayne came to Kingston two years ago as a paid organizer for the progressive activist group Citizen Action. Since then she has become a familiar face at community forums and regular protests outside the offices of U.S. Rep. John Faso.
She was also a main organizer of an ongoing campaign for police reform in the city. Over the course of the effort, which began last summer, Jayne filed complaints on behalf of people who felt their rights had been violated in encounters with Kingston cops. She also organized “pack the court” events and helped marshal dozens of supporters to city police commission meetings. The campaign led to a series of changes to police policy, including more routine review of use-of-force incidents by the city’s civilian police commission and the adoption of a “right to know” rule that requires police officers to provide a business card and explanation whenever a traffic stop or field interview does not lead to an arrest.
Burke began her activist career as a tenant organizer at the Rondout Gardens public housing complex and ran unsuccessfully for Common Council in last year’s Ward 8 Democratic primary. Since then, she has branched out and begun to use her public policy training to complement Jayne’s talent for identifying key issues and turning out crowds to demand change.
Most recently, Burke issued an analysis citing sections of the Kingston Police Benevolent Association labor agreement that she believes inhibit efforts to hold police accountable for their actions. The new group will blend the pair’s mix of policy chops and street-level organizing skills to create something that Jayne said has been lacking in Kingston — a grassroots, progressive activist organization with a local focus.
“We’re a hyper-local grass roots organization that seeks to engage Kingston residents about Kingston issues,” said Burke. “The more we got into things, the more we realized that we have a lot to do in Kingston.”
Jayne said that work will begin with identifying issues important to the community and underutilized mechanisms, like city boards and commissions that can effect change. Jayne said, for example, that Rise Up Kingston could use and perhaps strengthen the city’s existing Human Rights Office to take on businesses widely believed in the community to practice racial discrimination. Jayne added that the new group would focus its efforts on Kingston’s minority and low-income community who often feel disengaged from the state- and national-level issues driving a wave of progressive activism in the wake of the 2016 election, but could be roused to action by a focus on everyday concerns like housing and policing.
“In resistance movements you mainly see white people really involved and excluding the people who are most impacted,” said Jayne. “You might have 40 people protesting in front of Faso’s office on a Friday, but they already voted. We want to reach people who are not engaged.”
The effort to reach beyond the usual suspects of Kingston’s progressive scene extends to another planned focus of Rise Up Kingston, anti-racism training. Jayne, who hosts “Rise Up Radio” on Radio Kingston said that she had been inspired by callers who said they had not examined their own attitudes on race or issues like institutional racism until they heard them discussed on the show.
“I want to get to a point where a random person who’s maybe just thinking about these issues can stop in to an antiracism training because it’s free and we have pizza,” said Jayne. “It’s not about attacking white people but looking at what we need to do in the city to move forward, because we all want the same things.”
Jayne said the group had already received a single $20,000 donation as seed money. They hope to raise more at next week’s launch party. Rise Up Kingston also plans to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit to seek grants and other funding opportunities. The April 16 event will also serve as the introduction of a board of directors who will oversee policy and finances for the organization.