Advancing Opportunity for All Arkansans
The Panel helps coordinate the Arkansas Citizens First Congress, a multi-issue lobbying organization that campaigns for good policies on education, equitable economic development, the environment, civil rights, government and election reform, public health and agriculture.
In 2015, the CFC made an extraordinary effort to engage and mobilize members throughout Arkansas. Legislators and the Governor had to abandon legislation to turn our public schools over to private companies thanks to thousands who rallied around the state. The CFC joined the Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign and a diverse group of education advocates, parents and teachers to point out that privatizing public schools doesn’t work.
Improving Education for Every Child
The Panel is a core partner of the Good to Great initiative, an effort to improve the quality of early childhood education and expand access to it in Arkansas. The initiative focuses on the cities of Marvell and Prescott. Panel members surveyed the communities on the current state of education, and are organizing parent groups to work alongside education advocates. The lessons learned in these places will be used to improve early childhood education across the state.
Holding Elected Officials Accountable
The Gould Citizens Advisory Council (GCAC) faced many challenges including a city council that tried to ban them from meeting within city limits. They organized and worked with allies to remove city council members who were holding office illegally. They supported a slate of candidates committed to financial and governmental accountability who won in a landslide. With a united community, they continue to hold their elected leaders accountable for their commitments to the city.
Uniting Communities through Racial Healing
In Huttig, after the election of the city’s first black mayor in 2008, the city became racially polarized. The mayor received threats, the council meetings were totally dysfunctional, and it seemed impossible for the city to move forward. Our leaders and organizers went door-to-door asking residents how they wanted to address these issues. Eventually, black and white leaders in the community came together to start building relationships and working towards easing racial tensions. At a Holiday Party in 2012, a white businesswoman who had been one of the mayor’s most vocal opponents shared an embrace with him and announced her commitment to working with him to make the city better.
The Citizens First Congress has been instrumental in a wide range of legislative victories, including the establishment of a state agriculture department to protect family farms, the formation of a Global Warming Commission, early voting legislation and the landmark increase in pre-k funding.
Arkansans again flooded the Capitol to fight discrimination during the final week of the session. HB1228 opened the doors to discrimination against any Arkansan for any reason on the false premise of religious freedom. Thousands of Arkansans, representing every county signed a CFC petition telling the Governor hate and discrimination are not Arkansas values. African-American and Latino community groups joined religious, GLBT and civil liberty organizations to lead the campaign. At the 11th hour the Governor, who had encouraged the bill, retreated and asked for changes. They passed a better, but still unnecessary, bill that simply mirrors existing Federal law.
Protecting Arkansas Water Quality
In 2013 the Panel contracted a law firm after the legislature passed an act that lowered Arkansas’ water quality standards. Because Act 954 so clearly violated the Clean Water Act, our lawyer pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to review the new law and intervene. The EPA responded swiftly with a letter to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, rebuking the law and suspending Arkansas’ ability to issue water permits without EPA approval. Before the year was out, the Act was overturned in a Special Legislative Session.
The Citizens First Congress environmental members fought hard to prevent initial passage of the law. Then, they helped raise money to pay the $5,000 legal fee that enabled the quick response.
Engaging and Informing Voters
In Monticello, residents recently held some of the first political forums that the community had ever seen. Candidates for local, county, and state office engaged with audiences and answered questions about how they would improve the community if elected. The forums were hugely successful, averaging over 50 in attendance, with one forum drawing over 100 people. Residents were more informed and engaged and they turned out to vote in record numbers.