By Terrah Baker
When I first heard of the Arkansas Citizens First Congress I was taken aback with … relief. An organization that solves that age-old problem of bringing like-minded grassroots organizations together to actually make a difference? No way! But it is true.
The ACFC takes the issues that matter to their grassroots-member organizations — more than 50 across the state — and brings them to the Legislature in order to make real, legal change.
The first time I heard Bill Kopsky, ACFC director, speak at Fayetteville activist Joyce Hale’s house during a fundraiser last month, he was talking about a mayor — a black man — in southern Arkansas who had been arrested and put in jail, on what they thought were bogus charges, by a white sheriff and judge.
Kopsky and the group of about 10 ACFC members from Little Rock had just returned from watching the mayor be released after a long battle with the judge, who agreed to release him with no explanation as to the change of ruling (probably with the hopes that it would go away).
“We’re still facing the reality of discrimination throughout the state and country. This is a reality for many people, and we are working to change that,” Kopsky said.
But they don’t just deal with racism, they deal with injustice as a whole, and they do it by bringing together advocates of all ages, positions and interests.
By meeting with their grassroots organizers, they set out priorities, discuss strategies and work through the challenges they will face in the upcoming legislative sessions. Some of these advocates spoke on their issue of choice at the ACFC caucus Nov. 13 at the Omni Center in Fayetteville.
Sarah Marsh, newly elected Ward 1 Fayetteville City Council member, spoke about the Equal Rights Amendment and how it’s important to “make the ERA relevant to a new generation.” Allison Carter talked about the death penalty in Arkansas and her goal of educating people on why reasoning such as “the death penalty costs less” is actually false.
Representatives of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center discussed The Dream Act, and how wage theft is robbing Arkansas families of thousands of hard-earned dollars. In the other room, environmental advocates discussed the possibility of a new energy bill and the importance of educating on the dangers and destruction of “fracking.”
None of the goals of these individuals are exactly the same, but they have one similarity. In the end, they know being a part of this organization will gain them the support they need.
Frankly, ACFC’s vision statement says it all.
“The Arkansas Citizens First Congress envisions a united community working together on many interconnected issues to ensure fairness and expand opportunities in a policy-making process where the voices of all Arkansans are heard.”
Their vision may be in many ways idealistic, but their methods are structured, calculated and affect real change. Hale, who is also a member of the ACFC, explained five priorities are selected for the following two legislative sessions because they are recognized as requiring more work to achieve passage.
“Five additional short-term topics are selected that are possible to pass in one session,” she said.
And they offer Arkansas citizens opportunities to get involved. For instance, what kind of difference could advocates across the state from more than 50 grassroots organizations and you make with a chance to lobby Congress, even for just one day?
That’s one of the opportunities the ACFC is offering. They believe the 2013 legislative session can change the way our state works for the better, and you can help right many wrongs taking place. After seeing several of their meetings and researching their accomplishments, I trust their judgment and believe in their mission.
Meetings of the ACFC are held throughout the year, and this legislative session, their priorities are lined out and advocates have hit the ground running. You could be one of them, even if just for a day. Visit citizensfirst.org/get-involved to learn more.