It’s no exaggeration to say that we might not have made it through 2020 without your support. Thank you for standing with us, especially during this unusual and unusually trying time.
This has been a year of enormous challenges and terrible loss. And yet, there are powerful signs of hope and resilience all around us, with social justice movements growing throughout the country, people coming together to support each other in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, and racial justice issues taking center stage locally and nationally. And with multiple COVID-19 vaccines gaining approval, the end of the pandemic is finally within reach.
During this extraordinary year, Katal has remained focused on organizing for equity, health, and justice. We wanted to share some of this year’s highlights with you:
- Checking in on our people: Early on in the pandemic, Katal organizers called more than 1,000 of our contacts in Connecticut and New York, talking with people about how they were doing during this hard time. Many of those calls led to conversations that subsequently shaped our new campaign work focusing on COVID-19 in jails and prisons. As a team we quickly made internal changes to keep our staff safe and reorient ourselves to the new reality. And during this holiday season, we’ve provided fresh groceries to our members and other hungry seniors in Brooklyn, and coats and other winter supplies to women in Hartford impacted by mass incarceration.
- Growing our membership base and adapting how we organize: Since COVID-19 hit, Katal has adapted our style of relational organizing to online formats while mobilizing socially distanced actions in Connecticut and New York. Although we had to close our offices, Katal staff are talking with hundreds of people every month. We’ve deepened our organizing and have expanded our membership base.
- Tackling the COVID-19 crisis in jails and prisons: We launched two campaigns—#FreeThemNowCT and #FreeThemNowNY—to demand the release of people from jails and prisons in the face of COVID-19. We organized thousands of people to take action with us online and in person (socially distanced!); testified before state legislatures; pushed the issue into the forefront of mainstream Connecticut news coverage and spurred the Lamont administration to release hundreds of people from prisons; and with our partners statewide helped secure the release of nearly 1,000 people from jails in New York. We also convened two national Zoom calls to discuss the impact of COVID-19 at the intersections of housing, health care, the drug war, mass incarceration, and more.
- Fighting to end policies that criminalize poverty and disproportionately harm Black people: In 2019 we passed groundbreaking pretrial reform legislation in New York. Those reforms took effect in January this year, cutting jail populations statewide, including a 40 percent reduction in New York City, a critical step to closing the Rikers Island jail complex. Then we defended the new bail laws against well-funded efforts to repeal them. And we addressed and joined the national reckoning about racism through our writings, our organizing, and our direct actions.
- Organizing for racial justice and decarceration: In Connecticut, where racial disparities in mass incarceration are particularly stark, we organized to demand justice for incarcerated people and their families. In New York, we built momentum for our #LessIsMoreNY Act, a bill that would impact nearly 40,000 people on parole statewide—mostly Black and Latinx people—and could lead to the release of more than 5,000 people from prisons and jails (that’s more than 15% of the overall state prison population).
- Training, coaching, and mentoring organizers and advocates: This year we expanded our flagship training program, Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity (BLOC), including our Connecticut Organizer Roundtable. In that setting, nearly two dozen community organizers—mostly women of color—met monthly through the year, via Zoom, for peer-to-peer learning, coaching, and mentoring. Three more young people completed our Organizer Apprenticeship this year. And we conducted more than 100 coaching sessions with organizers and advocates around the country.
- Building movement infrastructure in Connecticut and New York: We continued convening our popular statewide criminal justice reform calls, which bring together hundreds of people every month—including directly impacted people, community leaders, and advocates—to share information and build momentum for state-based campaigns to end mass incarceration. (If you have never joined one of these calls, join us and check them out in 2021!)
We’re proud of all that the Katal team has accomplished this year, both in our long-term work and in our rapid strategic responses to the pandemic and historic uprisings. Your support has made this possible, and we thank you! We’re heading into 2021 with momentum and big plans—including fighting to decarcerate and close prisons in Connecticut, passing parole reform and closing the Rikers Island jail complex in New York, and expanding our BLOC training program. Katal’s dedicated staff and board are focused and ready. Our amazing members are energized. We know we’ll succeed by working together, in partnership with our supporters and allies.
This February will mark Katal’s five-year anniversary, and we’re doubling down on our commitment to organizing for systemic change. Our experience teaches us that through effective community organizing, informed by an analysis of systemic racism, together we can take on critical problems like mass incarceration and the drug war to make vital, lasting change. We are grateful for your support and hope you’ll stick with us as we turn to the year ahead and beyond.
We wish you good health and a joyful new year. From the entire Katal team, thanks, again, for your support.
Lorenzo and gabriel