Let Freedom Ring: Nonprofits React To Court Ruling

By Tracy Dingmann

The decision handed down yesterday by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver affirmed what most people already knew about nonprofits – that the advocacy in which they engage is a vital part of the important services they provide to their communities, as well as to society at large. (You can read a copy of the ruling here.)

When Secretary of State Mary Herrera, at the direction of Attorney General Gary King, ordered the SouthWest Organizing Project and New Mexico Youth Organized (a project of the Center for Civic Policy) to register as political committees back in 2008, the groups sued to assert their First Amendment rights. The case was never just about those two groups – it was always about the ability of all nonprofits to advocate for the rights of those they serve.

The state is already on the hook for more than $70,000 in attorney’s fees, plus untold more for the time state employees have spent on the case.  That doesn’t count the money spent – fees on the part of the attorneys for the nonprofits and times spent by state workers – appealing it at the 10th Circuit for the past eleven months.

In the wake of yesterday’s decision by the higher court, Clearly New Mexico asked nonprofit leaders in New Mexico and nationwide to share their feelings about what it means for the continued good works of all nonprofits.

Here’s what they said:

Larry Ottinger, president of the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest:

“Nonprofits are our nation’s best vehicles for broad civic engagement. The 10th Circuit’s decision in this important case means that nonprofit voices will not be silenced through unconstitutional acts intended to intimidate ordinary people from getting involved in public decisions that affect their lives. With the economic crisis and political polarization, nonprofit advocacy with and for those who need it most is more important than ever.”

Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy:

“There is mounting evidence that when nonprofits engage in advocacy and community organizing, it brings clear benefits to communities. This decision affirms the important role of nonprofits in the civic life of our nation, and I hope it encourages organizations to be bold in their advocacy on behalf of those with the least wealth, opportunity and power. The decision also sends a clear message to grantmakers that it is perfectly appropriate to invest in nonprofits engaged in advocacy.”

Joan Lamunyon Sanford, director of the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

“Requiring non-profit organizations to register as political committees would have required us to list all of our members and supporters. As an organization that advocates for reproductive justice in an atmosphere of increasing violence and intimidation, our members would have had to choose between their personal safety or supporting women’s reproductive justice.”

Hank Hughes, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness:

“This decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirms the legality of the important educational role that nonprofit organizations play in our democracy. This decision is important because it means nonprofit organizations can exercise free speech about their issues even when the information they have to share is not complimentary about people in power. And it means that nonprofits can tell it like it is without fear of being punished or closed down by people in the government who don’t like their message.”

Ron White, executive director of the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers:

“The 10th Circuit Court has provided, what I believe can genuinely be thought of as, a sane prescription for what the lower court described as a “politically infirm” action. Foundations, community groups, and nonprofits can now all breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that raising our voices on behalf of the environment or the marginalized or the need for support services for constituencies dear to our missions, is well within our rights. We should all be pleased that the right for nonprofits to engage in limited nonpartisan advocacy, which is guaranteed under our charter, has been sensibly affirmed with this ruling.”

Realizing Our Potential: Clean Energy Town Hall

greenJobSolarPanel

I was lucky to have been involved in organizing last Saturday’s Clean Energy and the Economy Town Hall.  It gave me the opportunity to work with great organizations like Sierra Club, Conservation Voters NM, Greenpeace, NM Interfaith Power and Light, National Wildlife Federation and a few others.

A major goal of the town hall was to engage a wide range of elected officials (city councilors, legislators, and county commissioners) with the community around the subject of building a new economy in New Mexico centered on clean energy.

Since my group, New Mexico Youth Organized, has been working on a green jobs initiative since last year, I held a workshop at the town hall entitled, “The Potential for Green Jobs in NM.”  This subject seemed to resonate throughout the town hall, so I want to share some of my info in the hope that it may prove helpful to others working on similar initiatives.

Green Jobs in New Mexico

I define green jobs as “family supporting, career-track jobs that directly contribute to preserving or enhancing environmental quality.”  Many may not know that New Mexico is poised to be a leader in green jobs training. Not only do we have the great wind training programs at Mesalands Community College, but San Juan College already has a working solar panel installation program as well.  Other local community colleges (College of Santa Fe, CNM, UNM) are expanding their curriculum to include green job training programs.

Continue reading

VIDEO: Youth play vital role at the Roundhouse

It’s the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session I want to recognize the important role young people played in helping to shape public policy and educate our representatives on youth issues. During the week of March 2nd young people from across the state visited the Capitol for New Mexico Children’s Cabinet Days. I was lucky to catch some of these young leaders and interview them.

They spoke about the need for green jobs and renewable energy, teen pregnancy prevention and stopping bills that would cut youth programs among many other issues. I was impressed by their level of commitment and how organized they are. It was also clear that there is great respect from the youth for Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Claire Dudley for their work to make NM Cabinet Days a success.

Check out the video here:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAfWU_uHOeE&hl=en&fs=1]

It has also been exciting to see the fruits of their labor with the passage of the first Green Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 318 on 3/20/09. Democracy for New Mexico blogged about this important measure.

The passage of SB 318 is a huge success for groups like New Mexico Youth Organized, Green For All, Conservation Voters NM, New Energy Economy, the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council and 1Sky.

Big up’s to our young leaders!

Green Jobs on the Hill: NMYO organizer speaks before Congress

Here at Clearly New Mexico, we’re incredibly proud to announce that one of our own was chosen to testify today before the United States Congress in Washington, D.C.

Juan Reynosa, NMYO Field Organizer

Juan Reynosa, NMYO Field Organizer

Juan Reynosa, a field organizer for New Mexico Youth Organized and a native of Hobbs, N.M., spoke about green jobs legislation in New Mexico this afternoon before the House Committee on Global Warming. Reynosa, who with NMYO is working to help promote green jobs legislation at the local and federal level, was chosen to testify before Congress by Powershift 09, a nationwide annual collaboration of organizations and new young leaders who intend to hold their leaders accountable to the need and urgency for federal climate action.

Last Friday, as part of Powershift 09, Reynosa was picked to introduce acclaimed organizer and Green For All founder Van Jones to a crowd of thousands of Powershift members at their annual meeting in D.C. In his appearance today before Congress, Reynosa drew upon his experiences growing up in the midst of extensive oil and gas production in Southeastern New Mexico. He spoke about his conviction that for both economic and environmental reasons, America must embrace green jobs, green businesses, carbon caps and a national clean energy corps.

“I was born and raised in Hobbs, where my father has been working in the same oil field for the past 30 years without hardly any advancement in his job and has been forced to move to keep his job because of the decline of oil production in the area,” Reynosa said before his testimony. “My family, and all of America, is ready for a new energy economy, because it will create new jobs, boost our economy, and help us move from dirty, energy industries into cleaner and more sustainable, energy industries.”

Keep an eye out for a report from Reynosa later on Clearly New Mexico about his appearance on the Hill. You can also read more about Reynosa here in a profile that appeared last summer in The Nation magazine.

My RootsCampDC

So, I was in DC for the first time at Trinity College to attend an event called Rootscamp. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, basically, it’s a large scale conference based on the open space model of social networking and self organizing. There aren’t any pre-set agendas, but only a wall for everyone to advertise room sessions they would like to facilitate and people are allowed to wander in and out of sessions as they so choose. It sounds interesting doesn’t it? Well…it definitely is. Continue reading

Trick or Vote – Friday Oct. 31

On October 31st, members of New Mexico Youth Organized will hit the Burque streets for a massive nonpartisan Get Out the Vote drive called “Trick or Vote.” The costumed force of about 200 young people will meet at Lower Johnson Field on the UNM campus at 5pm and fan out in neighborhoods across the city on Halloween to remind people to vote on November 4th.

Check this out to learn more.

Ali Says: Check out the NMYO VIDEO!

I am continually amazed by the talent around me and the energy that fuels the youth movement of today. As a “not so young person anymore,” I am excited that folks like Cyrus Gould and the crew at NMYo are shaking things up in New Mexico and providing a space for young people to engage and make a difference.

Cyrus blogged about the NMPowered Retreat this past weekend and the talented group of people who were brought together. Well he has taken the cool footage he shot from the weekend and produced a short video. check it out here:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpU3F075gdI&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&feature=player_embedded&fs=1]