FRRC Advocacy Day 2022

The 2022 Florida Legislative Session

Photo Credit: The Workmans/Tallahassee, Florida/FRRC Advocacy Day 2022

What a day! On February 16, 2022, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) brought hundreds of leaders to the state capitol in Tallahassee, Florida for Advocacy Day 2022.

The leaders, many of whom are returning citizens or directly-impacted by the criminal justice system, joined supporters and members of our movement for a day dedicated to sharing the FRRC vision for a better Florida. A vision in which public safety is improved, jobs are created, and lives are changed by eliminating barriers to reentry that exist for far too many people.

Advocacy Day provides an opportunity for returning citizens and other directly impacted individuals, such as those who were affected by the conviction or incarceration of a family member, to meet with their lawmakers and advocate for policies that will improve the community.

This year’s theme was a passionate and bold declaration of what the organization stands for. “Our Vote! Our Voice! Our Vision!” was the cry of the hundreds of people that descended on the capitol campus to let their voices be heard.

Leading up to Advocacy Day, FRRC Deputy Director Neil Volz laid out this mission:

“The FRRC is heading towards Tallahassee with one simple message: it’s our vote, it’s our voice, and it’s our vision.

This is the year when we trumpet our vision: a vision that is built on the belief that our work will help create a better society for everyone in Florida. A vision that says when we break down barriers to employment or housing or democracy for returning citizens, everyone in our community benefits.

It’s a big vision, and one we are excited to bring to Tallahassee during this year’s legislative session.”

Members of this coalition came from across the state to advocate for policies that improve all of our communities by breaking down barriers to employment, housing, democracy and changing the narrative of people impacted by the criminal justice system…

Desmond Meade, Executive Director of FRRC, began Advocacy Day with a call for that narrative change. He shouted, “Returning citizens deserve the same chances as everybody else — because we’re human beings like everybody else!”

During the press conference on the steps of the Old Historic Capitol, Meade spoke with fervor:

“We’ve heard the old adage, ‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.’ And no matter how great a weight we may want to carry, that chain can only bear as much weight as the weakest link can stand. So we’re saying we want a better Florida. We have a vision for a better Florida. And that vision starts with empowering returning citizens.”

Photo Credit: The Workmans/Tallahassee, Florida/FRRC Advocacy Day 2022

Cheers of agreement erupted from the crowd of supporters who held up signs that read “Our Vote,” others with “Our Voice,” and still others with “Our Vision.” When we strengthen our most weakened link — people impacted by the criminal justice system — the whole chain gets stronger and everyone benefits.

The FRRC’s vision for 2022 strengthens the most weakened link by addressing critical issues in four primary areas: jobs, housing, democracy, and narrative change. Participants in Advocacy Day went to Tallahassee to champion these issues.

In over 90 separate meetings with legislators from Miami-Dade County in South Florida to Orange County in Central Florida, nearly 300 everyday citizens took to the halls of Florida’s capitol buildings to seek out their legislators and do the people’s business of talking policy with the officials who promised to represent them and their interests.

Those meetings included returning citizens and directly-impacted family members who told their stories. Many returning citizens shared heartfelt stories of being denied housing despite applying many times. Other people recounted being locked out of democracy, experiencing unfair biases in employment, not getting the job despite being the most qualified candidate, and the need for the narrative being told about returning citizens to change. Stories like these and more were told to legislators as the member-leaders advocated for bills sponsored or supported by the FRRC.

Photo Credit: The Workmans/Tallahassee, Florida/FRRC Advocacy Day 2022

These bills included Senate Bill 1548, which would remove barriers to occupational licensing for people with criminal records. Another bill would reduce liability for landlords that rent to returning citizens. This bill would reduce the overregulation of the housing market and give more families access to housing. SB 1862 on Background Screening states that if a business or organization uses prison labor, that entity shouldn’t discriminate against the very people whose labor it used while those individuals were incarcerated once they are applying for a job upon reentering the community.

On Advocacy Day, hundreds of returning citizens and directly-impacted individuals planted the seeds for these changes and the broader vision of FRRC.

As members of the coalition boarded their buses to leave the capitol, there was a palpable sense of duty, readiness, and willingness to move our vote, our voice, and our vision forward.

You can see it with your mind’s eye. Some weary member-leader, who’s been walking the capitol all day long, who’s had four meetings with four different legislators, and who rallied on the steps with people of like mind, leans back in their seat on one of those buses, softly singing to themselves…

Left the house this morning. Bells were ringing and filled the air. I was wearing the cross of my calling. On wheels of fire, I come rolling down here.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up, lay your hands in mine.

Come on up for the rising. Come on up for the rising tonight.”

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The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is committed to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions

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Chasman Barnes

Chasman Barnes

Chasman is a Policy Professional, Advocate for Returning Citizens in Criminal and Social Justice Reform, TEDx Speaker, and sought after Communicator.

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