Bishop Dwayne Royster
POWER family, 2021 was a rough year. In moments when we thought perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic and the deep issues of racism and racial violence were going to be addressed, we were disappointed in the virulent return of both. The pandemic dragged (and continues to drag) on, once again forcing us all to spend more time in our bubbles, alter our plans, mourn more dead. The threats to our democracy have continued, with Pennsylvania legislators moving to gerrymander our judicial system and make it more difficult for people, especially in Black and brown communities, to vote. Our schools are still not fully funded, despite a state budget surplus. Gun violence spiked, the number of people struggling with housing, utilities, and food increased. The police violence against communities of color still continues.
I continue to believe, though, in the collective power of our communities.
An insurrection, continued political division, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges of 2021 were in many ways a continuation of what we saw in 2020. Although last year’s elections weren’t as high-profile as the previous year’s, the fight for democracy continued in school board and commissioners and council meetings, across Pennsylvania and across the nation.
POWER organizers were there to educate, train, and support our communities as they grappled with issues and elections that would directly impact their day to day lives.
The education and care of their children, as many parents and guardians were forced to return to in-person work (if they ever left) while staffing shortages forced schools to make difficult decisions to balance health and safety with academic and social needs. Money flooding school board elections in favor of candidates opposing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, as well as COVID precautions in our public schools. Spikes in gun violence. Dwindling federal support to counter the negative economic impact of the pandemic. Utility rate hikes and shutoffs.
We added five new member congregations this year, and 70 people joined our brand-new individual membership program! They are locking arms and growing our collective power across the state. As we celebrate our wins and learn from our losses, we’re grateful for the on-the-ground work of our community leaders and the support from our funders and donors. Lay and ordained faith leaders organized their faith communities and neighbors, visited elected officials, called, texted, emailed, wrote, protested, and sat in. Supporters made sure they had the resources they needed.
Read on for more detail about our 2021 local and statewide work, and our hopes and plans for 2022!
Following our huge 2020 victory establishing Philadelphia’s Citizens Police Oversight Commission (CPOC) to increase police accountability, POWER leaders have been front and center in the work to organize and staff the commission. Live Free Co-Director
Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler served on the CPOC selection committee, which created the selection process and reviewed CPOC candidates, and the Live Free team publicized the application process and hosted Q&A sessions. Hundreds of applications were received, and the panel’s selections have been submitted to City Council for its vote of approval. In October, the importance and urgency of police accountability was spotlighted as we marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Walter Wallace at a vigil hosted by the Unitarian Society of Germantown, attended by more than 100 people, including Philadelphia City Councilmember Derek Green and PA Representative Chris Raab.
In response to the ongoing gun violence problem in Philadelphia neighborhoods and in cities across the state, exacerbated by COVID, POWER’s Live Free team launched its “barbershop conversations” listening campaign in October, led by Live Free Co-Chair Elder Melanie DuBouse, to gather stories and input from Philadelphia communities. We’re simultaneously working to convene a coalition of organizations from various neighborhoods to identify and implement practices best suited to each neighborhood to decrease and prevent gun violence, with the goal of developing a process that can be replicated statewide.
To help educate and organize members of our communities around dismantling our cash bail and mass incarceration systems, our team created a resource guide, and is busy planning events and actions for the coming year. In partnership with Juntos and New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, we continued to fight to close down detention centers, keep ICE out of our public schools, and gain access for immigrants to drivers’ licenses. We began working, too, with members of Philadelphia City Council and PA legislators to discuss the possible reform of PA Act 111 of 1968, to bring more transparency and accountability to the arbitration process between municipalities and police and firefighter unions.
POWER has come a long way in 10 years! From our roots organizing Philadelphians on a shoestring budget, we now manage a $2 million+ budget, with more than 30 full time staff and a growing presence across the state. In 2021 we welcomed Rev. Matthew Arlyck, Casey Butcher, Keon Gerow, Jana Korn, and Ethan Stein to our organizing team and Individual Giving Specialist TaWanda Stallworth, MDiv, to our development team, as well as Intern Myles Browne, and Climate Justice Fellow Jamir Hubbard. We built countless relationships and partnerships, and ended the year in the black.
We are ever grateful to our supporters: the private foundations and individual donors that believe in the collective power of our communities to build a better society, and in POWER’s work to organize it. You have helped us build this community, and you help us sustain and grow it. Thank you for your trust and investment. We look forward to continuing to steward your contributions for the next ten years and beyond.
On Inauguration Day 2021, on the heels of a contentious election and an insurrection, POWER called our people together with “Prayers for Our Nation,” an online multi-faith service of hope, healing, and prayer. Throughout the year, we continued to organize our communities to pray, learn, plan, and act in solidarity with each other, across lines of race, class, faith tradition, and location.
In the spring, we worked together publicly in the streets and in virtual spaces. For three weeks of the summer, we rested, caring for ourselves and our families, restoring our energy, sharing our joy with each other in one of the best possible uses of social media. We came together again in the fall to launch our year-long 10th anniversary celebration and fight for our democracy, our communities, our families.
Now, we begin a new year in that same solidarity and hope. To everything, there truly is a season.