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In Mid-Missouri, Marginalized Voices are Pushing for Change

With Election Day less than a month away, coalition building is underway in Columbia. Mid-Missouri residents are collaborating across a network of social and racial justice groups to advocate for change. For People’s Defense President Roy Lovelady, these conversations are a step in the right direction but not enough. 

“People are more concerned, and they're now listening to the Black and brown people and people of color,” Lovelady said. “But I can’t say that I have seen change happening.”

Mid-Missourians are working together to push for reform on multiple issues impacting the community: Columbia Police Department’s chokehold policy, Amendment 3 and the quality of education. 

The Chokehold

The chokehold, a tight grip around the neck that prevents breathing, became a common topic after the police killing of George Floyd in May by the Minneapolis Police Department. Since then, 32 of 65 police departments that serve at least 392,000 people respectively nationwide have tightened restrictions on neck restraints. One of the main focuses for groups like People’s Defense is banning CPD use of the chokehold completely. 

“I want it to go,” Lovelady said. “Some people are okay with the policy exactly the way it is;, some people feel like the policy has a loophole, and they're okay with it … and that is to me wrong.”

Chokeholds “are prohibited except where the officer reasonably believes there is an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to him/herself or a third party and this action is the only reasonable means at the time to stop the threat,” according to the CPD policy

This policy makes the chokehold prohibited in most circumstances, but not banned completely.Similar to People’s Defense, policy changes in policing is one concern that CoMo for Progress has as well. Co-leader Rachel Shaw says that CoMo for Progress is working with other groups in Columbia to tackle these issues together. 

“We need to make sure that Black people aren't getting killed,” Shaw said. “If we don't have cohesion among different groups then we're all going to just keep fighting in our same quarters.

Amendment 3

In November 2018, 62% of Missourians voted to pass Amendment 1. Alternatively titled “Clean Missouri,” Amendment 1 created a new redistricting process while taking power away from lobbyists. Clean Missouri meant that a nonpartisan demographer would redraw and redistrict the state of Missouri instead of a bipartisan group selected by the Governor.

“That was a huge improvement,” Shaw said. “It doesn't matter what party is in charge, if you have someone who is assigning a group of people, we have seen over the years how Missouri has changed.”However, there is a new amendment on the ballot for the upcoming election: Amendment 3. Amendment 3, dubbed by many as “Dirty Missouri,” if passed, will reverse many of the outcomes of Clean Missouri. Amendment 3 specifically states that, if implemented, redistricting criteria will be modified and reordered, according to the 2020 Ballot Measures.

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions,” the measure read. 
Shaw says spreading awareness on Amendment 3 is one of top priorities of CoMo for Progress.“We've just really tried to push information out about that and work with other groups to make sure that people understand that, if you are voting for this, you are undoing what you had done previously, which was passed by 60% of the state,” Shaw said.

Education

During the past few months, education has also faced new challenges. Before students went back to school, Columbia School Board member David Seamon was receiving about 100 emails a day with questions and concerns from families. 

Many of the concerns were related to COVID-19 guidelines and policies. Although Columbia Public Schools is receiving funding from the state during the pandemic, Seamon says there is more to be done.“The county was able to purchase 700 hotspots for CPS through the Cares Act Fund but that's still not enough to help everyone,” Seamon said. “A lot of single-parent households and households where both parents have to work—they are impacted right now. And surprisingly, they are the most silent.”

Advocating for marginalized voices in education is one of the reasons English teacher Nicole Clemens takes to the streets with her daughter, Ashlyn, with People’s Defense multiple times a week.

“The longer I teach the more important it is to me to make sure that the voices that aren’t always heard in school are supported and this is a very public way I can do that so that my students can see me,” Clemens said. As for what education needs from this upcoming election, Seamon said funding is most important.

“Schools should be the best place on Earth. They should be palaces. We should be sending our kids to these places that everybody on the planet wants to go to,” Seamon said. “Number one is you have to have funding. We can't do things, like hotspots for students in a pandemic that keeps them from class, without money, unfortunately.” 

 Big Picture With a month left before elections, groups in mid-Missouri are increasingly active in making their voices heard. From protests to letter writing campaigns to town halls, residents are working to engage with elected officials and effect change.

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