A Day of Empathy Unlike Any Other
Every year, #cut50 hosts the largest national day of action for criminal justice reform — the Day of Empathy. Formerly incarcerated people, family members with loved ones behind bars, and thousands of others directly impacted by the justice system visit their state capitals, city halls and walk the halls of Congress to share how the justice system has impacted them. We believe that by bringing people who have experienced the system first-hand together with lawmakers who have the power to change it, we can accelerate momentum for criminal justice reforms nationwide.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we quickly pivoted from walking the halls and meeting with lawmakers to hosting our first completely online Day of Empathy – and one marked by new urgency to stop the pandemic rapidly spreading through America’s prisons and jails.
On March 25th, activists on the frontline of the fight joined us for an incredible day of virtual events and conversations streaming in from across the country. #cut50’s Empathy Network helped place the voices of directly impacted people front and center.
Empathy Network Organizers
Here are two examples of the conversations our nationwide network of organizers convened on the Day of Empathy:
In Michigan, our partner Josh Hoe spoke with MI Chief Justice, Mary McCormack who shared her thoughts around transforming the bail and pretrial process, as well as bringing momentum to bail, sentencing and probation reform.
In Pennsylvania, our empathy network partner Tonie Willis, was in conversation with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. The two spoke on the immediate urgency to explore alternatives to incarceration and implementing treatment based corrections, rather than punishment. Willis, who has been an outspoken advocate for our Dignity for Incarcerated Women campaign also highlighted her commitment to continuing to fight for improved conditions of confinement.
There is a lot to celebrate in the successes we shared last week. Hundreds of thousands of people heard the stories of those impacted by our broken justice system, and put souls and faces to the statistics. Despite pivoting to an online event in two week’s notice, this year’s Day of Empathy was an extraordinary success:
We garnered the attention of nearly 200 million people in total across all events.
Around 3,000 directly impacted advocates participated, including 388 formerly incarcerated people and 957 loved ones of people currently incarcerated.
19 partnering organizations from across the political spectrum joined in.
18 events across 13 states and Canada, including North Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, Virginia, Nebraska, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California, Kentucky, and New Jersey.
40 big-name celebrities and political influencers and elected officials turned out, from stars like Kim Kardashian West and Demi Lovato to advocacy icons such as Martin Luther King III.
This year’s Day of Empathy was a huge success and provided a safe space for thousands of people to come together to urge our country into action. We must not forget that there are 2.3 million human beings stuck in close quarters, in less-than-adequate conditions in the midst of the current pandemic sweeping our planet.
Fostering empathy for those suffering is a core part of our work. These scary times could bring out the worst in us – they are already producing bigotry toward Asian-Americans. Or they could bring out the best, as millions of Americans get a small taste of what it might be like to be caged and isolated, suffering from pollution-induced disease, or fleeing as a refugee, and let their empathy guide them to action.