We Are Kentuckians rally lifts up a vision for Kentucky

KFTC Chairperson Dana Beasley Brown opened the first We Are Kentuckians rally in Frankfort by sharing a vision of healthy communities, good jobs, the best health care, fairness, racial justice and a healthy environment across Kentucky.

“Our collective voice is so important in this political landscape – the voice of real people. We’re churning our dreams – you and me – with people all over our commonwealth. And we have the solutions that can make them a reality,” Beasley Brown told the crowd of 200 gathered in the capitol rotunda on January 5, the first day of the 2016 General Assembly.

In addition to KFTC, local and statewide community organizations, local labor groups, health care advocates, fairness groups and others participated in the rally to begin the 2016 legislative session with a vision of what Kentucky can be and what real Kentuckians want for our state.

“We are in challenging times, YES. But many of us have been in challenging times before,” said Beasley Brown. “That's not new to us, and that’s why we do this work together. I know that when I join my voice with your voice, the legislators have no choice but to listen.”

The day began with a meet-and-greet with legislators, including senators Morgan McGarvey and Gerald Neal and Representative Kelly Flood. Then the crowd gathered in the capitol rotunda to share a vision and lift up priorities for the session.

Several KFTC members spoke during the rally, alongside allies from other organizations, about minimum wage, racial justice, voting rights and the need to improve the quality of life for all Kentuckians.

“We are a state built with incredible power,” said Pam Newman, a KFTC member from Louisville. Newman said 2016 is the year when “we can build our potential and use our potential.”

She encouraged those gathered to envision a Kentucky where black lives matter, where immigrants are respected, and where the land and water are protected. “We collectively have the right to organize, to strategize and to revolutionize.”

Mantell Stevens, a KFTC member from Lexington who lost his right to vote because of a felony conviction 16 years ago, told the crowd, “I believe that every Kentuckian should have the right to vote. Period. Because every Kentuckian shares the responsibility of making our commonwealth better.”

“Our vision statement is a strong tool,” said Serena Owen of Elsmere. The vision statement guides KFTC’s work but can also hold elected leaders accountable, Owen said.

KFTC member Meta Mendel-Reyes, who also represented Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), told the crowd that achieving racial justice would take white people working together – and taking action together.

Member Jesus Gonzalez – along with his daughter, Bella – spoke about the impact of a minimum wage increase on low-wage workers. “I don’t care who’s in that office. I don’t care who’s our governor. We still expect our lawmakers and our politicians to stand for the people of Kentucky,” Gonzalez said.

Chris Hartman of the Fairness Campaign told the crowd, “Friends, the time for fairness is now, and the ones who will win it are you.”

Rebecca Peek of SEIU/NCFO 32BJ (Service Employees International Union, National Conference of Firemen and Oilers) focused on the right of workers to organize – a right that is threatened by “right to work” legislation. “One of the best ways to ensure a better future for all of Kentucky is to stand up for the right of workers to bargain with their employers,” Peek said.

KFTC members who attended the event said they came to send a message to the governor and legislators.

“I think today is very important because it is a new era for Kentucky with the new Governor Bevin coming in,” said Rosanne Fitts Klarer, a KFTC member from Scott County. “I feel like he needs to hear from the progressive part of Kentucky that we expect things to not slide backwards and we are holding him to account. That’s why I’m here.”

Paul Schwartz of Fort Thomas said, “It’s important for the representatives to understand the needs of the people and what the people want and not just to hear from the constituents that maybe are the big campaign contributors or the big businesses. They represent the people; they don’t represent those people.”

Here’s some media coverage of the day: