(CNN) In Washington, we are seeing the re-emergence this year of a phenomenon that many Americans were afraid had gone extinct: real live no-joke bipartisanship.
Heavyweights from both parties are attending the March 26 Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform. The event is co-produced by Gingrich Productions (on the right) and by my project, #cut50 -- an initiative that aims to safely halve the number of people behind bars within 10 years.
Attorney General Eric Holder will be speaking. So will Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, will be there. So will Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Donna Brazile, a co-host of the summit.
Republican power players like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, will address the gathering by video.
So will President Obama.
Progressives like myself will rub shoulders with representatives from Koch Industries.
Everyone keeps asking me, "How is this possible?"
I have five words for you: "Liberty and justice for all."
The ever-expanding incarceration industry has begun to violate some of the deepest and most sacred principles of BOTH major political parties.
Therefore, conservatives, libertarians and liberals have their own objective interests in reform -- and their own values-based incentives to make real changes.
For example, the right takes very seriously the concept of "liberty." Conservatives and libertarians want to defend the rights of every individual to pursue his or her dreams. They favor limited government. They hate massive, failed, bloated government bureaucracies that suck up more and more money and get more and more power, no matter how badly they perform.
In America today, we have 5% of the world's population -- but we have nearly 25% of the world's incarcerated people. Nearly 1 in 100 American adults is behind bars. One out of every four people locked up anywhere in the world is caged in America's prisons and jails.
And most people come out more damaged, more hopeless and less able to thrive than when they went in. (So much for "corrections"!)
That's the opposite of limited government -- and liberty.
On the other hand, progressives like me care passionately about the "justice for all" part -- including racial justice and social justice. We are incensed by a system that locks up the poor and racial minorities in numbers that are massive -- and massively disproportionate. We oppose a system that forever tars people as "felons," deemed permanently unfit for employment or the right to vote, possibly because of one mistake, early in life.
When any system violates the principles of both "liberty" AND "justice," Americans of all stripes should stand together to change it.
That is exactly what is starting to happen. This year, we are seeing the birth of an honest-to-goodness "Liberty and Justice for All" coalition.
Still struggling to believe me? I was on "Anderson Cooper 360" on Monday night to discuss the movement for criminal justice reform.
Here is a quote:
"A lot of kids I grew up with, grammar school, middle school, high school, were in prison. They were the poor kids and they had drug addictions. They had drug problems, they didn't have any money, they got caught, and they got caught in the poverty cycle, and they are at the bottom of society and they can't get out of it. ... People with drug problems, people who have mental illnesses, they probably shouldn't be in the criminal justice system. And people who make mistakes, let's not write them off forever, let's give them a chance to reintegrate and reenter society."
There is just one catch: I'm not the one who said that. That is a direct quote from Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries.
On practically every other issue, the Koch brothers and I are still fierce opponents. I doubt if we will ever agree on tax policy, campaign finance reform, environmental rules or the Keystone Pipeline, to name a few. But on criminal justice reform, it's different.
Mark speaks eloquently about the way the criminal justice system violates the Bill of Rights and criminalizes behaviors that should not result in prison terms.
And he is not alone, on the right.
Fiscal conservatives decry the money wasted on a system that is too expensive and produces poor results. That's one reason that red-state governors, like Georgia's Nathan Deal, have acted boldly. Leaders with roots on the religious right, including summit co-host Pat Nolan, insist on the Christian value of redemption and second chances for those behind bars.
Our values may not always be identical, but they can find common expression in fixing this broken prison system. Progressives and conservatives don't have to trust each other -- or even like each other -- to vote together on this issue.
Usually, "bipartisanship" is just another word for cheap, political gamesmanship. It is too often invoked by one side, simply to gain advantage and to cloak a more narrow set of interests.
But on criminal justice reform, something different is happening. Criminal justice reform is the one place where many Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians actually agree -- and are willing to work together to get something done.
Over the last 30 years, both parties helped lead us down the path to mass incarceration. It will take both political parties to reverse course.
Perhaps the March 26 Bipartisan Summit will represent the first major bend in the road back toward sanity.
How do we rev up the technology engine -- so that the Motor City, Detroit, and others like it, can make a strong economic comeback? How can youth leverage technology to solve some of the biggest issues confronting them?
On March 27-28, nearly 100 middle-school students from the greater Detroit area converged at the Ford Research and Engagement Center for a two-day hackathon that explored these questions.
Students came up with innovative tech solutions to educational issues including:
A virtual report card that can be accessed by students and parents, so they can have a real-time read on student performance
An online resource for students who miss class
A literacy app that pops up the definition and background of an unknown word a student is reading
An app that connects music to mathematics.
The hackathon was co-hosted by #YesWeCode and the Ford STEAM Lab and powered by the Level Playing Field Institute. Thanks to the Ford Motor Co. Fund, each participating school walked away with an award -- with the winning school taking home a $15,000 cash prize!
Our Detroit hackathon highlights what #YesWeCode does best:
Communicate: The hackathon saw extensive national coverage, with MSNBC doing a special “Growing Hope in Detroit” documentary. MSNBC commentator, Joy Reid, was on site at the hackathon, to train kids on delivering compelling pitch presentations and to cover the event.
- Hip-hop artist and Detroit native, Big Sean, gave a personal message to the students via Skype while on his concert tour in Japan. He shared his thoughts on how technology has impacted the music industry.
- Hashtags #growinghope and #yeswecode were tweeted hundreds of times over the weekend, reaching millions of users.
- Convene: #YesWeCode worked with Ford STEAM Lab and the Level Playing Field Institute to pull together a diverse cross-section of stakeholders committed to connecting youth to opportunities in technology. This includes the Mayor and Chief Technology Officer of Detroit, leaders from the Detroit Public Schools, technology companies, and partner coding education groups.
- Catalyze: The hackathon gave participating youth an immersive experience designed to expose and excite them about technology. More than developing new technology, our hackathons aim to inspire students with confidence and a new outlook on what’s possible for their lives
Thank you to the students, adult mentors, technologists, sponsors, and #YesWeCode supporters who all made this hackathon a success! For more information, check out our Facebook page or check out our Hackathon Storify.
And check out our first national commercial on msnbc:
The Dream Corps team attended its first-ever SXSW Interactive in Austin!
It was five days of non-stop learning, inspiration and meaningful discussions about diversity in tech and criminal justice reform, thanks to engaging panels featuring our own Van Jones and Shaka Senghor.
- Shaka joined a panel of ex-prisoners and advocates for a powerful conversation on the need for criminal justice reform.
- Van and Maxine Williams, Facebook's Global Director of Diversity, took the stage to talk about #YesWeCode's mission and what Facebook is doing to increase diversity in its workplace.
- Van also shared the main stage with civil rights hero, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., to discuss pathways for inclusion in tech -- including what the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and #YesWeCode are doing to make change in Silicon Valley.
Check out highlights of our trip on storify.
Speaking at South by Southwest, the veteran activist said that opening the doors to the tech industry for people of color is the first step.
Fresh off the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., the Rev. Jesse Jackson brought his message of going “beyond the bridge” to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
Jackson said that while the 1965 march was a major moment in the struggle to get blacks the right to vote, the new challenge will be opening up access to technology and Silicon Valley.
“Voting has its place, but the fastest-growing industry, I believe, is high tech, so we need to get in there,” he said. “We must make access to technology and this new machinery a crusade for everybody, not just a campaign for the few.”
Jackson has been instrumental in convincing major technology companies to release their diversity figures, which have shown that on average, just 2 percent of their workforce is black.
When #YesWeCode founder Van Jones, who moderated the conversation with Jackson, asked how many in the SXSW audience knew that the veteran activist has been pivotal in making this happen, very few people raised their hands.
How Jackson went about getting companies to cooperate illustrated a new way of taking protest from the pavement to the boardroom, he explained.
“The magic is going from a protester to a shareholder,” said Jackson, whose organization the Rainbow PUSH Coalition bought shares in tech companies to push for change from the inside.
“Ours was a social-justice agenda to change the conditions,” he said. “The argument that we made was not so much of a negative one but of a value-added argument.”
And Jackson hasn’t just been giving speeches; he’s getting action, Jones said. Just last week, Apple became the third tech company this year to announce a donation of funds to help increase the number of women and people of color in the tech industry. Apple is committing $50 million to the cause.
In January, Intel announced a gift of $300 million, and in February Google donated $775,000 to Code2040, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women and minorities find tech jobs.
Jackson pointed out that blacks can be just innovative as whites and have been demonstrating this since the beginning of time.
“We can turn garbage into energy,” Jackson said. “Everyone has a place if you make room for them.”
He also wants to start an “underground railroad,” from Oakland to San Francisco, with the idea being to provide more inner-city black youths access to Silicon Valley.
Jackson said, however, that members of the black community have to do their part in forging their destiny in the tech world. “I don’t think we are doing as [well] right now as we should because people tend to be what they see,” Jackson said. “They don’t see it; they don’t want to be it.”
Technology must be taught in school, talked about at home and popularized through music, Jackson declared.
“It’s not just about being locked out; it’s about charging to open the door,” Jackson said, adding that it’s about not only opening the door but also being able to go through when it does open. 1 million-worker shortfall (pdf) in the tech industry. (Some, however, dispute that number.)
“If you start telling African-American and Latino and Native American grandmamas alone that their grandkids can make $70,000 a year if they work hard and study well for just six months, you’re not going to have a problem in terms of people wanting to be part of this,” Jones said.
He and Jackson are also pushing for big tech companies to start recruiting from HBCUs, not just from the usual feeder schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford.
Students from historically black colleges are just as qualified and should not be overlooked, Jackson said, adding, “Whenever the playing field is equal, we can make it.”
Julie Walker is a New York-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.
Ford STEAM Lab and #YesWeCode bring Silicon Valley to Detroit, empowering students to “hack” education reform
- Ford STEAM Lab, a Ford Motor Company Fund program, to host a hackathon for 100 middle school students to learn software coding skills, develop solutions to education reform
- Ford is collaborating with California-based #YesWeCode and Level Playing Field Institute, and two Detroit organizations, Sisters Code and Grand Circus, a tech training company
- Event features a high profile panel of judges including Stephen Henderson/Detroit Free Press; Van Jones/#YesWeCode; and Skype appearance by Detroit native and rapper Big Sean
- The hackathon will be held March 27-28 at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Detroit. MSNBC will broadcast live from the hackathon on Friday, March 27
DETROIT, March 11, 2015 –Ford STEAM Lab, an educational program from the Ford Motor Company Fund, is bringing the power of Silicon Valley to Detroit with an innovative two-day hackathon to help middle school students improve their education while exploring high-tech careers.
The 100 students from five Detroit-area middle schools will learn the basics of software coding as they create and “hack” an application that will help them learn better. Their projects will be judged by a high profile panel of judges as they compete for bragging rights and more than $30,000 in scholarships and awards.
“Student voice and authentic inclusion is important to students succeeding in education," said Shawn Wilson, manager, Multicultural Community Engagement, Ford Motor Company Fund.
“Ford's goal is to not only empower students to take control of their educational future, but also discover a potential career pathway in Michigan’s growing technology sector.”
Ford STEAM Lab is collaborating with:
- #YesWeCode, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers.
- Level Playing Field Institute, an educational organization based in Oakland, Calif., committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
- Sisters Code, a Detroit organization dedicated to helping women succeed in STEM-related fields.
- Grand Circus, a company based in Detroit that provides training and other skills necessary to work in technology companies.
- National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, a national organization that works on strategies to increase the graduation rate in America's schools.
"In the new century, technology is central to middle class jobs and income. We are proud to work with partners like Ford and the Level Playing Field Institute, to support 21st Century opportunities to students in Detroit,” said Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder.
The hackathon will be held March 27-28 at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center at 2826 Bagley St., Detroit, 48216.
MSNBC will broadcast live from the hackathon on Friday, March 27. More details on the program will be announced at a later date.
After learning coding skills on the first day, students will present their app ideas to a panel of judges on the second day. The panel will include Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press and co-host of Detroit Today on WDET; and Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder, and environmental and civil rights advocate.
At the conclusion of the event, students will hear via Skype about two very different success stories. Detroit native and singer/songwriter Big Sean will speak to the importance of technology in music and how it changed the music industry.
Ford STEAM Lab was launched in October 2014 to spark high potential, low opportunity student passion for technology entrepreneurship and careers in traditional STEM fields, as well as automotive design and vehicle technology. STEAM Lab adds an arts component to help students learn how to use creativity and innovation in problem solving and collaboration.
Ford Motor Company Fund invests more than $8 million a year in scholarships and other education initiatives. In addition to the Ford STEAM Lab, Ford Fund educational programs include Ford Blue Oval Scholars, Ford Next Generation Learning, Ford College Community Challenge and Ford Driving Dreams Tour.