By now we’re all tired of the word unprecedented: We’ve been dealing with a pandemic for more than two years. It can be hard to see and feel progress when hardship and personal loss surround us. Still, we are grateful that a stable foundation of community support fosters resilience, hope, and health. Building this base is the bedrock of Katal’s work.
Thanks to your support and partnership, we made tremendous strides in 2021—securing transformative legislative wins, expanding our organization’s base, and training hundreds of new leaders. Some of our highlights from 2021:
- We delivered a big win for racial justice and decarceration! With our partners and allies, we won a major victory, passing the #LessIsMoreNY Act and getting New York Governor Kathy Hochul to sign it into law. Less Is More is the most significant parole reform measure that has passed nationwide. This groundbreaking law will restrict the use of incarceration for noncriminal technical violations of parole and will responsibly reduce jail and prison populations while improving public safety. On the day Hochul signed the bill, nearly 200 people were released from Rikers Island after being detained for such violations. Hundreds more have since been released from jails and prisons throughout the state. We are now hard at work to protect and implement the law.
- We pushed the Connecticut governor and legislature to close two prisons. We launched our #CutShutInvest campaign statewide, and with our partners and allies succeeded at getting elected officials to announce the closure of three prisons, two of which were shut in 2021: the state’s only supermax, Northern Correctional Institution, in Somers; and the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, in Montville.
- We built leadership and organizing capacity in Connecticut, New York, and beyond. This year we trained hundreds of new leaders through our Building Leadership and Organizing Capacity (BLOC) program and relaunched its seven-week training. We provided more than 100 coaching sessions to organizers and expanded our Connecticut BLOC Organizer Roundtable, where new and experienced organizers come together with facilitators for peer-to-peer development, coaching, and training, and for discussions about the mechanics and practice of community organizing. The roundtables are opportunities for organizers to gather, learn, and grow together; in Connecticut participants have met monthly since 2017, led by veteran Black organizers. Dozens and dozens of people statewide—mostly women of color—have participated in the monthly roundtables. These meetings are not issue-specific; they include organizers working on housing and immigration policy, education reform and LGBTQI rights, criminal justice reform, harm reduction, universal health care, and more.
- We expanded our own leadership and organizing capacity. Kenyatta Muzzanni was promoted to director of organizing and Yonah Zeitz was promoted to senior manager of advocacy and communications. Both played key leadership roles in our #LessIsMoreNY and #CutShutInvest campaigns. We also brought on new organizers in Connecticut and New York, and expanded capacity in our BLOC program.
- We strengthened movement infrastructure. We continued our popular statewide criminal justice reform calls in Connecticut and New York. These events bring together hundreds of people every month—including those who are directly impacted, community leaders, and advocates—to share information and build momentum for state-based campaigns to end mass incarceration. If you’ve never participated in one of these calls, please have a look at the schedule and join us in Connecticut or in New York.
- We organized against racism in Connecticut, including in the state’s response to COVID-19. Building on the work we started a year earlier through our #FreeThemNowCT campaign, legislation that we supported passed in June 2021, declaring racism a public health crisis and creating a commission to develop a strategic plan. Katal was appointed to this commission, and we look forward to its work this year.
- We continued our work to close the jails on Rikers Island. With our partners, we co-convened a forum of Manhattan DA candidates to learn about their positions on decarceration, including parole and sentencing reform. (One of those candidates, Alvin Bragg, is the borough’s new district attorney; he released a memo this month that reflects many of the reform measures addressed at that event.) We participated in rallies and actions throughout the year; we also organized a rally at New York City Hall and multiple protests at Rikers Island, including one to disrupt a press conference by the pro-jail union that represents the state’s parole officers.
- We turned five! Despite the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, we celebrated our fifth anniversary with a Zoom dialogue series that focused on equity, health, and justice broadly; and on veteran Black community organizers fighting for those very issues.
It’s been one hell of a year—again. Thank you for standing with us through this tumultuous time. We wish you a healthy new year and we look forward to continuing our work together for equity, health, and justice.
Lorenzo Jones & gabriel sayegh