Community Renewal Society’s (CRS) Platform for Renewal directs our policy and organizing work. The issues are identified through a broad listening campaign in congregations and communities and then approved at the CRS Annual Membership Assembly. On October 5, 2013, the following Platform for Renewal 2013-2014 was adopted:
Fair Tax for Education Funding Reform
Illinois provides less support for public education than nearly any other state in the nation, despite being the fifth largest economy. Consequently, our schools are over-reliant on local property taxes, which create vast inequities between wealthy and low-income communities. As a part of the A Better Illinois Coalition, our campaign for education reform is calling for a fair tax, including a graduated income tax to adequately fund education and other vital services without putting additional burdens on those least able to afford it.
Affordable and Livable Housing
Our neighborhoods lack the infrastructure to create new affordable housing resources. At the same time, too many communities are overrun with foreclosed and abandoned properties, which become havens for criminal activity. As a member of the Sweet Home Chicago Coalition, our campaign is seeking to ensure that the recently created Cook County Land Bank is used to create affordable housing neighborhood spaces and that the City of Chicago fully participates in this process.
FORCE: Job Opportunities for Ex-Offenders
FORCE (Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality) is an initiative of CRS led by people with records, their families, and faith allies. FORCE is working to expand employment opportunities for people with records by calling on employers to join the partnership recently created between Walgreens and job training agencies, as well as by calling on the legislature to act on the recommendations of the Inventorying Employment Restrictions Taskforce. Additionally, FORCE proposes a campaign to reduce prison debt, created by continuing to charge people for payments including child support even while they are incarcerated. Finally, FORCE proposes that CRS oppose any new legislation to expand mandatory minimums or enhance Illinois’ already harsh sentencing policies, since sentencing enhancements fail to reduce crime, while creating longer sentences, greater disruption of families, and costing our state millions of dollars.
The Reclaim Campaign: Reducing Violence Through Peace Hubs
Our youth and communities are too often plagued by violence. Restorative Justice Peace Hubs work to build relationships, repair harm, and reduce trauma and violence by putting community residents at the center of addressing conflict in their communities. We are calling on Cook County to fund these hubs in local churches and organizations by diverting funds from punitive systems. To do this, we are advocating for a reduction of the population of Cook County jail by removing people accused of non-violent offenses and expediting cases which are not going to result in a conviction. One third of each dollar saved should then be put into a fund for community-based Restorative Justice, one third should be spent on community- based mental health and substance abuse treatment, and one-third should be used to meet other County needs.
Jobs and Unemployment
Communities on Chicago’s South and West side include some of the highest rates of long-term unemployment in the entire United States. The lack of jobs and adequate training and job readiness services traps entire communities in a cycle of poverty, leading to depression, addiction, and criminal behavior. Our Issue Team is working to build campaigns to address this crucial issue. First we call on the city, county, and state to create a jobs plan to bring businesses and employment opportunities to the low-income minority communities with the highest rates of unemployment in our region. Second, we call for the creation and expansion of programs addressing the needs of the long-term unemployed, so that they are prepared to fill the created jobs. Finally, we call for protection from employment discrimination for the long-term unemployed.
The Process for Creating the CRS Platform for Renewal
Every summer CRS member congregations, led by Faith in Action teams, composed of leaders in each CRS church, conduct listening campaigns to identify the issues most directly affecting their communities. Leaders share their findings with the Strategy Team, a group of key leaders elected by the membership, which collaborates with staff to analyze identified problems and commission Issue Teams to explore related campaign opportunities. The lssue Teams cut (shape) their identified problems into specific, winnable, and meaningful issue campaigns. Issue Teams report their recommendations back to the Strategy Team which then crafts the Platform for Renewal. Member congregations vote to approve the Platform at the Annual Membership Assembly in the fall.