The nonprofit New Jersey Together had more than a thousand leaders of faith, politics and advocacy Monday night on its virtual conference.
“We’re here tonight because our state is crying out for change,” said Rev. Robert Rogers. ” This trifecta of racial inequity, criminal injustice, and structural racism has taken away more lives, hopes, dreams and futures than the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Elected representatives included Sen. Bob Menendez, State Assembly Speaker Craig Couglin and Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“Our job right now is to address honestly the systemic problems that exist in this state and to ensure that we reverse the trend,” Sweeney said.
High on the priorities list: a law to end the suspension of driver’s licenses for failure to appear or failure to pay, with fees and fines costing New Jerseysans $100 million a year.
“We’re punishing people for being poor and making them even poorer,” said Rev. Wilfred Ashley from Abundant Joy Community Church.
One organizer says the laws have a disproportionate impact on black and brown drivers, especially during the pandemic when more delivery jobs have become available.
“We do have data that was compiled over 100 million stops that showed that African American and Latinos were more likely to get stopped than white people, as well as their cars more likely to be searched. So we knew that this could actually bring about some sort of change and relief,” said organizer Boris Franklin.
New Jersey Together considers the issue low-hanging fruit. The kind that would generate broad support and create allies for organizing for other battles and victories.
“We don’t ask the wrong person. We try to ask the right person. The person that can answer. The person that can respond, so that’s why you saw people of that caliber on the call,” said Rev. Mona Fitch-Elliott from St. John’s Lutheran Church.
The organization acknowledges apathy can doom its quest, but it senses a galvanization post-George Floyd and a level of intolerance for inaction.
“All of those things have come together in this moment to create what we call the perfect storm. To be clear, as an African American, we have never stopped protesting,” said Rev. Alonzo Perry with New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
“But, finally, in large numbers white Americans are stepping up and I pray that they will stay at the table because this is long haul work. Exactly what Mona just raised, it is about building trust, building relationships, mobilizing people, money, and power and organizing them for change for the betterment of our entire community,” said Rev. Alison Miller from Morristown Unitarian Fellowship.
Why all the attention now to the centuries old nagging issues of racial and social injustice? One pastor says what happened to George Floyd and Jacob Blake has encouraged people to do the research and face the realities.
WATCH Michael Hill’s full interview with some New Jersey Together members: