Participation from Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris; Governors Phil Bryant Karen Brown and Asa Hutchinson; Mayors Eric Garcetti and Keisha Lance Bottoms; Reverend Al Sharpton, Kim Kardashian West, Margaret Cho, Danny Trejo, David Arquette, and hundreds of formerly incarcerated leaders, activists, and state lawmakers nationwide.
The national bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform was on full display during the #DayOfEmpathy – one of the largest national days of action for criminal justice reform in history. On March 5th, the Day of Empathy drew thousands of participants at events in 40 states and more than 100 million impressions online.
Just two months after President Trump signed the First Step Act into law, #cut50 brought lawmakers in 40 states face-to-face with people directly impacted by the justice system to accelerate reforms from Alaska to Florida. State lawmakers hosted meetings with formerly incarcerated people, crime survivors, and constituents with loved ones who are incarcerated. In Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson sat down with Christina and David Arquette, #cut50 cofounder Jessica Jackson, and a group of formerly incarcerated and directly impacted activists. Similar meetings were hosted in other state capitols, city halls, and community centers nationwide.
The events accelerated much-needed legislation that would reduce incarceration and promote public safety. Laws that tackle conditions for incarcerated women in state prisons gained significant momentum. The Georgia House passed the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act with a unanimous 162-0 vote while Tennessee lawmakers introduced their own version of the legislation. A similar bill in Florida passed through its second committee unanimously. In Mississippi, important amendments were made in committee that improved a proposed to overhaul of that state’s prison and sentencing laws as Governor Phil Bryant participated in the Day of Empathy by submitting a video.
Celebrities, lawmakers, faith leaders, and CEOs submitted videos and messages in support of criminal justice reform and in solidarity with the millions of people currently impacted by America’s justice system. The Day reached 104 million impressions bolstered by supportive statements and videos from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kim Kardashian West, Rev. Al Sharpton, Attorney Benjamin Crump, Richard Branson, Alice Marie Johnson, Governor Phil Bryant (R-MS), Bishop TD Jakes, Danny Trejo, Governor Kate Brown (D-OR), Seth Green, Demario Davis, Fonzworth Bentley, and others. View the thousands of #DayOfEmpathy posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The national Day of Empathy was organized by #cut50, a bipartisan effort co-founded by Van Jones and Jessica Jackson. The Day of Empathy reflects #cut50’s approach to utilizing both Legislation and Humanization in order to transform the criminal justice system. Through partnerships with more than 150 grassroots groups and leaders that make up the Empathy Network, #cut50 is able to have a national impact on reform efforts.
“There’s nothing more powerful than a person with a story to tell. We can present lawmakers with all the data in the world but that mother whose son or daughter is sitting in prison right now – she can move people to take action this legislative session,” said Jessica Jackson, co-founder and national director of #cut50.
“People who have lived in our prisons and who have experienced over-prosecution, over-sentencing, over-incarceration, and stigma upon release have keen insights into how to improve the criminal justice system,” said Louis L. Reed, national organizer for #cut50. “Having spent 14 years in federal prison and then lobbying hundreds of offices on Capitol Hill to pass the First Step Act, I know that staff and lawmakers’ understanding of these issues is greatly improved by sitting down with someone who has actual lived experience.”
“There is power in removing the labels and seeing the humanity of people,” said Van Jones, Co-founder of #cut50 & CEO of the REFORM Alliance. “To help build empathy, #cut50 has partnered with storytellers, criminal justice reform advocates, and celebrities to highlight the human toll of mass incarceration. It’s time to bring everyone to the table for reform.”
“When we think about Empathy, we must remember to include incarcerated women who are still too often left out of the conversation and subjected to over incarceration, gender inequity, and the criminalization of poverty and substance abuse,” said Topeka K. Sam, Director of Dignity for Incarcerated Women at #cut50. “People buried alive in our prison system can’t wait for the perfect conditions to get freedom. They are willing to work with anyone and against anyone to change the prison system for the better. Luckily, both sides are ready to get to work.”