Arise for Social Justice Records
Arise for Social Justice is a Springfield, Massachusetts-based low-income rights organization founded by a small group of women on public assistance in 1985. It is an organization led by low-income members who believe that "we as poor people have a right to speak for ourselves, and that as we do, we learn how to build political power for ourselves." Its many and varied programs and alliances seek to educate, organize, unite, and empower low-income people to know their rights and stand up for them; to promote involvement in the political process; to promote self-esteem; to educate the community at large to its common interest in social and economic justice; and to educate low-income people to fight oppression in all its manifestations.
The founding members of Arise, Michaelann Bewsee, Cindy Montoya, Hollee Patterson, Karen Rock, Pam Scott, and Terrill Winston, were initially brought together through the Boston-based group Coalition for Basic Human Needs. Montoya and Rock, who lived in Northampton, Massachusetts, soon formed a separate group in that city. The remaining Springfield women were later joined by Terrill's sister Marsha Burnett and Darlene Nellis among others.
Though the members initially conceived of the group as a welfare rights organization "because all of us were recipients," they "soon realized that all people who live below the poverty line are suffering from discrimination, violation of rights, and threats to their survival and that the working poor and recipients were being played off against each other instead of coming together for your common survival." 1 "By the time we wrote our by-laws we had become a low-income rights organization." 2 In the mid-1990s, Arise added a significant element of "anti-oppression work" to its mission.
Initial efforts focused on injustices in the welfare system. Issues listed on the agenda for Arise's first outreach meeting in March 1985 include child support, the "Up to Poverty" campaign and "Other Issues" (including federal budget cuts, sensitivity, information network, employment training and work incentives, child care, and Pell grants). By the second meeting, the members added the issue of Medicaid access.
Arise incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1986. It hired its first director, opened its first office, and became a delegate agency of the Springfield Action Commission, a local anti-poverty agency in 1987. A six- to ten-member Board of Directors oversaw business affairs and property. Committees provided the "strategic thinking" for the organization. The small paid staff worked primarily on financial development, training, and volunteer coordination. Grants sometimes allowed for hiring staff to work on special projects.
Arise has created its own programs and worked on many projects and campaigns in coalition with other groups on a regional, state, and national level. The organization's interests and activities, while varied, are strongly interconnected, with social and economic justice at their core. In most instances Arise has combined work for specific goals, or to provide services which would directly impact its members and the residents of Springfield, while also working to change underlying systems.
At its founding, Arise joined the "Up to Poverty" Campaign, a statewide, grassroots effort led by welfare recipients to create a minimum welfare payment level for families and individuals who relied on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or General Relief (GR) for all or part of their income. The concept was to bring the amount of the grant up to the federal poverty level.
The coalition of over ninety Massachusetts organizations working on the campaign took as its motto, "A right to thrive, not barely survive." They scored an early success when two of the organizations, the Coalition for Basic Human Needs and the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, filed a lawsuit in 1985 that claimed that the low level of grants violated state law. The presiding judge agreed, and in September of 1986, the state issued a report establishing a guaranteed minimum grant. Though the group felt this minimum was still inadequate, this early victory helped launch Arise. By 1988 the Massachusetts coalition had joined with the national "Up and Out of Poverty Now" Campaign.
In 1986 Arise formed support groups called Justice for Parents and Children Under Protective Services and Children and Parent's Advocacy (CAPA) to publicize the difficulties parents confronted in dealing with the Department of Social Services (DSS). They outlined their needs for better information; improved communication; clear protocols, definitions, and policies; translators; and cultural sensitivity. The groups held demonstrations, vigils, and letter-writing and media campaigns. They worked on child custody issues, foster care and adoption issues, false accusations of child abuse, and advocated for the reorganization of DSS and an examination of its practices both in specific cases and in general.
Arise members trained as Citizen Advocates to assist individuals in navigating the legal system, health care infrastructure, and a variety of city, state, and federal offices and departments, such as Veterans Affairs, Public Welfare, Housing Authority, Social Services, and Prisons. The training emphasized knowledge of clients' rights and effective advocacy techniques. Advocates aided clients with welfare system issues, such as food stamps, Medicaid cards, and fair hearings. They also helped with housing issues, evictions and problems with landlords; and other matters, such as divorce, separation, restraining orders, and child support payments; social security; and disability. Arise-trained Citizen Advocates helped Springfield residents to write letters, fill out forms, and would accompany them on visits to various offices.
Arise also helped individuals through referrals to social service and aid agencies such as the Salvation Army, Open Pantry, Love Center, and Gray House for food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities.
Members organized a Speakers Bureau and sought opportunities to share their firsthand knowledge of living in poverty at conferences and meetings, and give testimony at legislative hearings.
Arise also facilitated support groups and workshops for parenting, empowerment, health, stress reduction, and skills building through its Self-Reliance Center (1992-), Homeless Action Center (1987-), and Myles Horton Free School (circa 1994-).
By the late 1980s Arise was also working on homelessness. Arise members served on various city committees and in coalitions working to provide more shelter beds; shelter for different populations (families, battered women); as well as a variety of services, benefits, and facilities to help the homeless find and keep permanent housing.
Arise members served on committees working to develop a Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) for Springfield in the early 1990s. The organization constantly explored a wide variety of alternatives, such as community land trusts, limited equity cooperatives, and AIDS housing. It also worked with public housing tenants to form tenant organizations through the Massachusetts Tenants Organization (MTO) and Massachusetts Union of Public Housing Tenants, and served as resources for tenants' rights. The organization advocated for a rent control initiative in Springfield in 1988-89, and to prevent the loss of "at-risk" (or expiring use) subsidized housing.
Beginning in 1992 Arise participated in a collective of non-profit organizations working to rehabilitate the Rainville Hotel at 32 Byers St. in Springfield, as a single-room occupancy (SRO) residence for single, low-income men and women. The collective consisted of Arise, Open Pantry, the Springfield Action Commission, Gandara Mental Health Center, the Housing Allowance Project, the South Middlesex Non-Profit Housing Corp., and the Community Builders. Arise later managed the building which not only provided housing, but a range of social services emphasizing self-help and mutual support. As part of this effort, Arise also established its Self-Reliance Center/Program to be a community-based economic development and homelessness support center for homeless, formerly homeless, and those at-risk of becoming homeless. The program fostered peer support, the development of organizational and leadership skills, and featured a skills exchange.
By 1993 Arise had also established a Hot Meals program for homeless families placed in motels, organized against one of Springfield's most negligent landlords, and registered more than 2,000 new voters.
Arise's involvement with the criminal justice system began when the organization agreed to employ individuals sentenced to do community service work in 1988. The membership has worked on issues related to police brutality, community policing, citizen review of police, criminal offender record information (CORI) regulations, prison conditions, mandatory minimum sentences, political prisoners, youth violence, and the death penalty.
Though access to health care is one of Arise's continuing long-term interests, the group participated especially vigorously in two events in the 1990s--debates related to President Clinton's proposed health care reform plan in 1993-94, and a Massachusetts public policy ballot referendum to establish a single-payer health care system in the state in 1994.
Other campaigns sought to increase the participation of low-income citizens on city-wide boards, and in the political process, especially through a campaign to replace the all at-large seats on City Council with a system including some ward representatives. Arise worked to defeat the Citizens for Limited Taxation ballot initiative in 1990 and participated in an especially extensive effort for voter registration and mobilization in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Beginning with the People's Quincentenary Celebration in 1992, Arise launched international Solidarity efforts including sending a delegation to Nicaragua in the fall 1996. They established close ties with the New England Central America Network (NECAN) to work on labor rights, environmental degradation, anti-imperialism and militarism, anti-apartheid advocacy.
In the late 1990s Arise joined the Economic Human Rights Campaign of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union of Philadelphia. The Campaign works "to unite the poor across color lines as the leadership base for a broad movement to abolish poverty," taking as its basis "economic human rights as named in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the rights to food, housing, health, education, communication and a living wage job." 3
Arise began work on HIV/AIDS prevention, awareness, and care in the early 1990s. By 1997 they had developed a program, written a grant, and received funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's HIV/AIDS Bureau to establish and run an HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention Program. As with other Arise activities, the Program aimed to provide direct services (such as needle exchange, condom distribution, and health care information) and education aimed at prevention, while also working on larger societal issues. The Program funded establishment of a Sex Worker Outreach Team (SWOT) to promote self-protection among women engaged in, or at risk for being pushed to engage in, sex work in Springfield. SWOT aimed to "develop and share with Arise membership and the wider community a political-economic analysis of sex work and strategies for changing the social and economic conditions which push women into street sex work." The program, under the clinical supervision of Nancy Lyman-Shaver, included monthly individual sessions and group sessions.
In its second year, the group changed its name to Women in Support of Each Other (WISE) "to make ourselves more accessible sounding to women that do not identify with the title sex worker." The group distributed condoms, bleach and water kits, and educational materials. Its long-range goals included improved working conditions for club workers and decriminalization of prostitution, teaching self-advocacy skills, and providing space and resources to help break down barriers between women.
Arise worked with the Springfield Harm Reduction Coalition (ShaRC), the Springfield Users Council and the Springfield Alliance for Needle Exchange (SANE) to attempt implementation of a legal needle exchange program in city of Springfield.
In 2010 Arise listed its key issues and campaigns as economic justice (to make sure people on public assistance get their rights), "digital divide" computer education, free school education to empower individuals, and peace with solidarity and anti-violence work to educate the community about the waging of wars abroad.
As of 2011, Arise and its co-founder Michaelann Bewsee maintain blogs at the following URLs: