Ever been in a room with veteran organizers? I mean folks with years of experience on a single issue. If you have, then you know what I mean when I say there is a palpable difference between people who “work” on an issue and people who’ve been “called” to an issue. When I was in law school I had a professor who described it as the difference between a vocation and an occupation—and it’s stuck with me ever since. Today, I was reminded of this not-so-subtle difference.
I was in the room with a range of leaders who have been working diligently for years on the issue of Prison Phone Calls. Paul Wright from Prison Legal News, Annette Dickerson from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Kay Perry from CURE and attorneys from the law firms that filed the (now) famous Wright Petition. We were in D.C. to discuss the ‘business of Prison Phone Rates’ at a meeting hosted by the Prison Phone Rates Collaborative—a collaborative comprised of Civil Rights, Media Reform and Media Justice Organizations.
Over the course of one-day we came together to:
- Share lessons learned
- Build Relationships
- Strengthen our collective knowledge, and
- Develop our strategy
Through short presentations, small group and break-out conversations we begin to get a sense of what the battle for Prison Phone Justice has looked like from the late 1990’s until today. What’s clear is that the work has been long and hard, and the opponents have been formidable. And while there have been several key victories—support has come late, and most often not at all. This is especially true when it comes to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) —an agency that has refused to move on the Wright Petition since 2003—who has the ability to set a cap on long-distance rates.
Given this, it was particularly powerful to host FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and her Wireline Legal Advisor Angela Kronenberg for the final portion of our meeting. Both listened intently as Kay Perry from CURE shared how it felt to wait nearly nine years for the FCC to take up the Wright Petition. Nick Szuberla played recorded messages from families across the country who shared the impacts that the high costs of calls had on their lives. And, Deborah Golden of the DC Prisoners’ Project reminded them that Martha Wright (of the Wright Petition) is alive today, still waiting for the FCC to act, while she has to choose between buying her meds and calling her Grandson. This isn’t just a “campaign” Annette Dickerson reminded us, “these stories are real peoples’ lives.”
Commissioner Clyburn and Angela Kronenberg pledged their support. Promising to do what they could to move the issue forward at the FCC. And, they also asked for our help—“put your stories in the docket,”they said. “Give us the evidence we need to make the case.” At the Center for Media Justice we’ll be doing just that. In fact, together with our partners in the PhoneJustice.org campaign we want to collect and submit 1000 stories of impacted individuals and families to the FCC docket 96-128 by June.
We can’t do it alone, we need your help. Join our campaign, help us collect these stories and work with us as we unroll our state-based strategy. The FCC asked for pressure, and we’re about to give it to them!