Sending greetings from my hometown, Buffalo, where we are in the final throes of a big fight. As many of you know, my family has lived and organized here for generations.
Our Sheriff Office is the largest in New York State and the 14th largest in the nation. Erie County jails are deadly – 32 people have died in the jail system under the watch of Right-wing Sheriff Tim Howard. An investigation of the jail conditions by the New York State Department of Corrections found the treatment of people incarcerated there “grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.” The current Sheriff Tim Howard has aligned himself with the far-Right, including white supremacist groups and Trump.
In 2017, the last time Sheriff Howard was up for election, the SURJ chapter here in Buffalo knocked the doors of thousands of white voters to move them to vote him out (I’m pictured above working on that race). And despite massive odds, through direct action, phone banking, and door knocking we closed Howard’s margin of victory to just 3,300 votes. And then we didn’t let up. In 2018, we fought and won cuts to the Sheriff’s budget. Alongside our partners, we fought Sheriff Howard to release people from the county jails when COVID-19 hit.
And this year, we’re going to elect Kim Beaty, a Black Democrat, to win the race. A win will open up more space for frontline communities to keep winning transformative demands in our county – including reducing the number of people incarcerated, improving conditions and saving lives, and closing a county jail.
While my introduction to these white supremacists groups and to the conditions in the holding center have come through my organizing for the dignity and lives of others, I know that my own dignity and life are also at stake. These groups that Sheriff Howard has aligned with and who give him and the GOP political power are also deeply homophobic. As a queer woman, I know that as white supremacist and white nationalist groups groups continue to become more accepted and mainstream, my dignity and the lives of people I love are also under attack.
I also know that the Sheriff’s office is sucking up resources in the place I love and call home. All around me, I see places in my community that need investment – I’ve had loved ones not get a hospital bed for days after they needed one, there are nurses fighting for a fair wage in the midst of the pandemic, the county is scraping by to provide COVID relief – and meanwhile the Sheriff’s budget gets more and more money every year. I want to live in a world where everyone has what they need to thrive – quality public education, healthcare, and so much more. That can’t exist while we keep throwing millions and millions of dollars into the Sheriff’s office, here and around the country.
Locally and nationally, we’ve been hard at work to win this race. Our national members have joined the SURJ Buffalo team to phone bank voters weekly. Every Sunday for months we’ve hit the doors talking to white voters in the suburbs to ensure they show up alongside voters of color this election to support change. As of today, we’ve knocked 3,938 doors, called 43,352 voters, and texted 29,264 more.
We’ve got big plans to engage thousands more voters in the next week. Can you join us?
- Phone bank voters on Saturday, October 30th at 12:00 EST
- Phone bank voter on Sunday, October 31st at 12:00 EST
- Make a split gift to SURJ and BLRR to help us cross the finish line and keep up the fight after election day.
Let’s get this done!
Erin Heaney | SURJ National Director