Board of Directors

Steve Shaff

Stephen Shaff is a community and political organizer, social entrepreneur, and the founder of Community-Vision Partners (C-VP), a community and social solutions Benefit LLC whose mission is to initiate, facilitate and agitate for the Common Good. A significant project of C-VP has been the establishment and development of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council (CSBC), a business-led educational and advocacy organization whose mission is to promote and expand sustainable business viability, awareness, and impact within the Chesapeake region (MD, DC and VA). Shaff’s background represents an unusually broad but interrelated series of accomplishments along with a multi-sector network of relationships and contacts. His areas of expertise include inner-city Washington, DC Affordable Housing & Real Estate Development; Community Development and Activism; Green & New Economy Advocacy; Civic & Political Advocacy Leadership and other national movement initiatives.

Steve Shaff

Secretary - People Demanding Action
Executive Director Community Vision Partners

Executive Director

Alex Lawson is the executive director of Social Security Works, the convening member of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition— a coalition made up of over 300 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans. Lawson was the first employee of Social Security Works, when he served as the communications director, and has built the organization alongside the founding co-directors into a recognized leader on social insurance. Mr. Lawson is a member of the National Academy of Social Insurance. Mr. Lawson is also the co-owner of We Act Radio an AM radio station and media production company whose studio is located in the historic Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, DC. We Act Radio is a mission driven business that is dedicated to raising up the stories and voices of those historically excluded from the media. We Act Radio is also an innovator in the use of online and social media as well as video livestreaming to cover breaking news and events. Most recently, producing video livestreaming from Ferguson, MO as the #FergusonLive project sponsored by Color of Change.

Alex Lawson

Treasurer - People Demanding Action
Social Security Works
Washington, DC

Rev. Rodney Sadler

Dr. Sadler's work in the community includes terms as a board member of the N.C. Council of Churches, Siegel Avenue Partners, and Mecklenburg Ministries, and currently he serves on the boards of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Loaves and Fishes, the Hispanic Summer Program, and the Charlotte Chapter of the NAACP. His activism includes work with the Community for Creative Non-Violence in D.C., Durham C.A.N., H.E.L.P. Charlotte, and he has worked organizing clergy with and developing theological resources for the Forward Together/Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina. Rev. Sadler is the managing editor of the African American Devotional Bible, associate editor of the Africana Bible, and the author of Can a Cushite Change His Skin? An Examination of Race, Ethnicity, and Othering in the Hebrew Bible. He has published articles in Interpretation, Ex Audito, Christian Century, the Criswell Theological Review, and the Journal of the Society of Biblical Literature and has essays and entries in True to Our Native Land, the New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, the Westminster Dictionary of Church History, Light against Darkness, and several other publications. Among his research interests are the intersection of race and Scripture, the impact of our images of Jesus for the perpetuation of racial thought in America, the development of African American biblical interpretation in slave narratives, the enactment of justice in society based on biblical imperatives, and the intersection of religion and politics.

Rev. Rodney Sadler

Co - Chair - People Demanding Action
North Carolina Forward Together/Moral Monday Movem
Radio Host: Politics of Faith - Wednesday @ 11 am

Executive Director and Executive Producer PDA Radio

Andrea Miller is the Executive Director of People Demanding Action, a multi-issue advocacy group. Andrea is both an organizer as well as a digital advocacy expert. She has appeared on the Thom Hartmann show, hosts the Progressive Round Table and is Executive Producer or PDAction Radio. As an IT professional she is also responsible for PDAction's digital strategy and customizes advocacy tools for small to medium size organizations through the Progressive Support Project. She is the former Co-Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America, was the Democratic Nominee in 2008 for House of Representatives in the Virginia 4th District. Running on a Medicare for All and clean energy platform, Andrea was endorsed by PDA, California Nurses and The Sierra Club. Prior to running for office, Andrea was a part of Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s presidential campaign, first as Statewide Coordinator for Virginia and subsequently as Regional Coordinator. From 2006 until leading the VA Kucinich camppaign Andrea was’s Regional Coordinator for Central, Southwest and Hampton Roads areas of Virginia and West Virginia.

Andrea Miller

Board Member and Executive Director
Spotsylvania, VA

President and Executive Director

Since September 2013, Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus has served as the President of Progressive Congress. Dr. Lemus served as Senior Advisor to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and was Director of the Office of Public Engagement from July 2009 until August 2013. Prior to her appointment, she was the first woman to hold the position of Executive Director at the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) from 2007-2009, and the first woman to chair the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) from 2008-2009. During her tenure at LCLAA, she helped co-found the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change (NLCCC) and was a Commissioner for the Commission to Engage African-Americans on Climate Change (CEAAC). She served 3-year terms on the advisory boards of both the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) from 2005-2008 and the United States Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) from 2006-2009. In January 2013, she was confirmed by the DC Council to sit on the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. From 2000-2007, she served as Director of Policy and Legislation at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) where she launched the LULAC Democracy Initiative - a national Hispanic civic participation campaign and founded Latinos for a Secure Retirement - a national campaign to preserve the Social Security safety net. Dr. Lemus was adjunct professor of international relations and border policy at the University of Memphis, San Diego State University, and the University of San Diego; as well as a Guest Scholar at the University of California, San Diego – Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies. Dr. Lemus has appeared in both English and Spanish language media outlets, including CNN, CNN en Español, C-SPAN, MSNBC, NBC's Hardball, Fox's Neil Cavuto, Univision and NBC-Telemundo among others. She received her doctorate in International Relations from the University of Miami in 1998.

Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus

Co - Chair - People Demanding Action
President and Executive Director
Progressive Congress

Team Leader and Climate Action Radio Host

Russell Greene has been focused on the climate crisis since 1988. He leads the Progressive Democrats of America Stop Global Warming and Environmental Issue Organizing Team, is Advisory Board Chair for iMatter, Kids vs. Global Warming, vice-chair legislation for the California Democratic Party Environmental Caucus and has been an executive in the restaurant industry for over 30 years, with a current focus on the impact of sustainability in business.

Russell Greene

President, People Demanding Action

President & CEO

Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, is a minister, community activist and one of the most influential people in Hip Hop political life. He works tirelessly to encourage the Hip Hop generation to utilize its political and social voice.

 A national leader and pacemaker within the green movement, Rev Yearwood has been successfully bridging the gap between communities of color and environmental issue advocacy for the past decade. With a diverse set of celebrity allies, Rev Yearwood raises awareness and action in communities that are often overlooked by traditional environmental campaigns. Rev Yearwood’s innovative climate and clean energy work has garnered the Hip Hop Caucus support from several environmental leaders including former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, National Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone deemed Rev Yearwood one of our country’s “New Green Heroes” and Huffington Post named him one of the top ten change makers in the green movement. He was also named one of the 100 most powerful African Americans by Ebony Magazine in 2010, and was also named to the Source Magazine’s Power 30, Utne Magazine’s 50 Visionaries changing the world, and the Root 100 Young Achievers and Pacesetters. Rev Yearwood is a national leader in engaging young people in electoral activism. He leads the national Respect My Vote! campaign and coalition ( In the 2012 Elections, numerous celebrity partners have joined the campaign to reach their fan bases, including Respect My Vote! spokesperson 2 Chainz. The Hip Hop Caucus registered and mobilized tens of thousands of young voters to the polls in 2012. In 2008, the Hip Hop Caucus set a world record of registering the most voters in one day: 32,000 people across 16 U.S. cities. This effort was part of the Hip Hop Caucus’ 2008 “Respect My Vote!” campaign with celebrity spokespeople T.I., Keyshia Cole and many other recording artists, athletes, and entertainers. Rev Yearwood entered the world of Hip Hop Politics when he served as the Political and Grassroots Director of Russell Simmons’ Hip Hop Summit Action Network in 2003 and 2004. In 2004 he also was a key architect and implementer of three other voter turnout operations – P. Diddy’s Citizen Change organization which created the “Vote Or Die!” campaign; Jay Z’s “Voice Your Choice” campaign; and, “Hip Hop Voices”, a project at the AFL-CIO. It was in 2004 that he founded the Hip Hop Caucus to bring the power of the Hip Hop Community to Washington, DC. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Rev Yearwood established the award winning Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign where he led a coalition of national and grassroots organizations to advocate for the rights of Katrina survivors. The coalition successfully stopped early rounds of illegal evictions of Katrina survivors from temporary housing, held accountable police and government entities to the injustices committed during the emergency response efforts, supported the United Nations “right to return” policies for internally displaced persons, promoted comprehensive federal recovery legislation, and campaigned against increased violence resulting from lack of schools and jobs in the years after Katrina. Rev Yearwood is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer. In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq he began speaking out against such an invasion. He has since remained a vocal activist in opposition to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007 he organized a national pro-peace tour, “Make Hip Hop Not War”, which engaged urban communities in discussions and rallies about our country’s wars abroad and parallels to the structural and physical violence poor urban communities endure here at home. Rev Yearwood is a proud graduate of Howard University School of Divinity and the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), both Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He served as student body president at both institutions. As a student at UDC, he organized massive student protests and sit-ins, shutting down the school for ten days straight, and achieved victory against budget cutbacks. After graduating from UDC he served as the Director of Student Life at a time when the city was attempting to relocate the school, under his leadership the city was forced to rescind its effort to marginalize and move the campus. Rev Yearwood went on to teach at the Center for Social Justice at Georgetown University, before entering the world of Hip Hop politics with Russell Simmons and civil rights activist, Dr. Benjamin Chavis. He has been featured in such media outlets as CNN, MSNBC, BET, Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Nation, MTV,, The Source Magazine, Ebony and Jet, Al Jazeera, BBC, C-Span, and Hardball with Chris Mathews and featured in the Washington Post, The New York Times and VIBE magazine. He was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. The first in his family to be born in the United States, his parents, aunts, and uncles, are from Trinidad and Tobago. Rev Yearwood currently lives in Washington, DC with his two sons, who are his biggest inspiration to making this world a better place.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood

Board Member
President and CEO
Hip Hop Caucus

Board Member

Marc Carr’s passion for social justice and entrepreneurship has led him to work on civil rights campaigns in the Deep South and organize community forums in the U.S. and West Africa. His professional experience includes heading the sales division of a major international corporation in West Africa, consulting for the United Nations Foundation, and working as a Social Media Analyst for McKinsey & Co. Marc is the Founder of Social Solutions, an organization devoted to crowd-sourcing tech solutions to solve intractable social problems. Social Solutions produces a monthly event series, the Capitol Innovation Forum, and the yearly Social Innovation Festival, along with a podcast series, the Capitol Justice Podcast. Social Solutions also spearheads the Capitol Justice Lab, an initiative to reduce the incarceration rate in the nation’s capital by half in five years. Marc is expecting his Master’s Degree in Social Enterprise in 2016 from the American University School of International Service.

Marc Carr

Board Member
Social Solutions
Washington, DC

Board Member

Lise received her Doctorate in Medicine in 1982 from the University of Paris. After interning at hospitals in Paris and Lome, Togo, she completed her residency in psychiatry at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Board certified in both general and forensic psychiatry, Lise worked as a staff psychiatrist in public mental health centers in Alexandria and Fairfax, Virginia. For more than twenty years Lise has maintained a private practice in psychiatry. An Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University and an active member of the Medical Society of the District of Columbia, she has worked to educate the public on mental health issues through writing in professional journals, the press and other media outlets. A frequent guest on local and national radio and television, Lise has addressed a range of issues on violence, trauma, and mental illness. Through Physicians for Human Rights, she conducts evaluations of victims of torture seeking asylum in this country and advocates on their behalf. She has served as a consultant to the CIA where she developed psychological assessments of world leaders. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti Lise provided mental health services to those traumatized by the events. In 2005, concerned about the direction the country was taking -- and believing that a background in science and human behavior would strengthen the political process -- she ran for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland. In September, 2006, she was chosen as one of the first fifty persons to be trained in Nashville by Al Gore to educate the public about global warming. Lise is an expert on climate change and public health, with a particular interest in the psychological impacts of climate change. She frequently writes and speaks about these issues. In collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation and with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation she organized a conference held in March 2009 on the mental health and psychological impacts of climate change. Lise is on the board of The Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard School of Public Health, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the International Transformational Resilience Coalition.

Dr. Lise Van Susteren

Board Member
Moral Action on Climate
Sunday, 29 November 2015 00:00

Racism and Mass Incarceration in the US Heartland: Historical Roots of the New Jim Crow

Written by James Kilgore | Truthout
Racism and Mass Incarceration in the US Heartland: Historical Roots of the New Jim Crow (Photo: Thomas Hawk)

If asked what state has the highest incarceration rate of Black people, most people would likely cite Mississippi, Alabama or perhaps Louisiana. They would be about 1,000 miles too far south.

According to labor analysts John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn, the answer is Wisconsin. Moreover, neighboring Iowa has the country's highest ratio of Black-to-white incarceration. Illinois, from available statistics, has the greatest disparity between Black people in the general population (15 percent) and Black people in the state prison population (58 percent). In fact, according to Sentencing Project calculations, all of the key Midwestern states - Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin - show a higher ratio of Black-to-white incarceration than Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana or Mississippi. Across the region, Black people are incarcerated up to 13 times the rate of white people and three to five times the rate of those identified as Hispanic.

No single factor seems to explain this intensely punitive anti-Black thread in the Midwestern criminal legal system. Rather, racially skewed outcomes result from a unique set of historical forces and structural changes in the regional political economy coupled with specifics of criminal legal and policing practices.

Historical Forces: Sundown Towns

While segregation in the South is a well-known part of US history, the Midwest had its own version of Jim Crow: sundown towns. A sundown town operated under one basic rule of thumb: No Black people were allowed inside the city limits once the sun went down. Jim Loewen has researched sundown towns for decades. While his mapping project reveals that these segregated spaces existed all over the country, they particularly proliferated in the Midwest. His investigations unearthed more than 300 likely sundown towns in Illinois, over 200 in Indiana and over a hundred in Wisconsin and Ohio. By contrast, Loewen told Truthout, he could only confirm three in Mississippi. These urban exclusion zones in the Midwest spread extensively from 1890 to 1940, though many endured past World War II. Residents of one such town, Anna, Illinois, claimed the town name was an acronym that stood for "Ain't No N****** Allowed."

In many towns, the imposition of a sundown regime required the removal of existing Black populations, a process Loewen refers to as "ethnic cleansing." Major white segregationist riots aimed at removing Black residents occurred in medium-sized cities such as Akron, Ohio; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Springfield, Illinois. However, in these places the sizable Black population and focused resistance stymied white efforts to achieve a complete racial purge. By contrast, numerous small Illinois towns with few Black residents - such as Alton, Auburn, Thayer, Buffalo, Girard, Pawnee and Taylorville - as well as Evansville, Indiana, did wholly expel their Black residents. These expulsions were often enacted through brutal violence and threats made by white supremacist mobs. Decatur, Indiana, instituted segregation after forming an "Anti-Negro Society" at the turn of the 20th century. A Ku Klux Klan rally that attracted nearly 10,000 to West Frankfort, Illinois, in 1923 put the stamp on that town's sundown status. In 1931, a lynching in Maryville, Missouri, sparked the flight of the town's entire Black population. Black people in several neighboring towns also fled. Meanwhile, some 25 towns in Illinois and about 19 in Indiana passed ordinances banning Black presence after sunset, calling on local police and the white citizenry to enforce these edicts.

While sundown towns were proliferating in the rural Midwest, big cities followed suit by creating sundown suburbs. Wilmette, an upmarket North Shore suburb of Chicago, requested residents to fire all Black domestic workers who did not have housing on their employer's premises, arguing that their presence as pedestrians in the area contributed to a fall in "real estate values." The white majority in Edina, now one of the wealthiest suburbs in Minneapolis, chose to drive out Black residents in the 1930s to fully establish an elite space. Remnants of this exclusion policy remained until the 1970s. Ironically or perhaps predictably, in recent decades, many rural sundown towns have become the sites of newly built prisons housing hundreds of thousands of Black people. The legacy of the racist sundown system lives on in the prison yards of Vandalia, Illinois; Henryville, Indiana; and Oakwood, Ohio.


While sundown towns laid the ideological groundwork for racialized mass incarceration, the deindustrialization of inner cities created an urban geography that facilitated the capture of bodies for the prison industrial complex. University of Illinois African American studies scholar Lou Turner told Truthout that deindustrialization came in two waves. The first began in the late 1960s in response to urban Black rebellions in places like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago. The second phase of relocating production heated up in the late 1970s as part of global economic restructuring, which sent manufacturing to low-wage countries overseas. The disappearance of factories robbed Black workers of some of the few well-paying, secure employment opportunities available.

The scale of this deindustrialization process in Midwestern cities is staggering. While the decline of Detroit's auto industry is well known, the entire region endured a similar process. Between 1961 and 2001, the city of Milwaukee lost 69 percent of its manufacturing positions. Overall, seven counties in southeastern Wisconsin saw a loss of 83,000 positions. Chicago suffered a similar fate, with a 29 percent decrease in manufacturing employment in the 1970s. From 1969 to 1989, Cleveland's manufacturing sector workforce declined by 40 percent. According to labor analyst Robert Bruno, even smaller industrial sites like a one-time steel production center in Youngstown, Ohio, felt the brunt of restructuring. Steel plant shutdowns in the late 1970s precipitated the loss of 40,000 jobs and 400 satellite businesses in Youngstown.

The absence of manufacturing jobs also contributed to white flight from the inner cities. In the 1970s, Wayne County (Detroit) lost 26.6 percent of its white population with Cleveland (20.1 percent) and Chicago's Cook County (15.5 percent) experiencing similar outward migration.

Not surprisingly, the spatial result was increasingly segregated cities. In a 2014 survey, five of the 10 most racially segregated cities in the United States were located in the Midwest: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and St. Louis. This segregation has converted economically barren Black communities into ideal targets for high-tech, militarized policing. Detroit was the first to go down this path with the formation of the STRESS (Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets) unit in 1970. While STRESS was abandoned after four years and 20 civilian deaths at the hands of police, the spirit of militarized policing lived on, influencing law enforcement methods throughout the region as the war on drugs heated up.

The War on Drugs and Million-Dollar Blocks

The war on drugs in the 1980s and 1990s transformed inner-city Black communities in the region. Black men in Milwaukee County went from having four times as many annual admissions for drug-related offenses as white men in the early 1990s, to 11 to 12 times as many by 2005. Two-thirds of those incarcerated came from just six zip codes in inner-city Milwaukee.

Chicago's West and South Side, once home to substantial manufacturing production and the fabled stockyards, became ground zero for massive offensives by an increasingly militarized police department. A 2011 study revealed 851 "million-dollar blocks" in Chicago. A million-dollar block is one where the criminal legal system spends more than $1 million per year incarcerating its residents. The vast majority of these blocks had an overwhelmingly Black population. The authors of the study, Daniel Cooper and Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, captured the essence of the process: "[W]e are not simply punishing people for the crimes they commit. We are also punishing them for the places where they live, the schools that failed them and the employers that rejected them. And, without question, we are punishing them for the darkness of their skin."

Alan Mills, executive director of Uptown People's Law Center in Chicago, told Truthout that in Illinois the lack of Black leaders in positions of political power made "it politically cost-free to call for 'tough-on-crime' measures - as long as the police concentrate enforcement in poor Black communities." He argues this created a "perfect feedback loop. We arrest people in poor Black communities; these arrests destabilize the communities, leading to more violence. We then send more police into those communities, increase arrests even further thus further destabilizing the community." His description likely would apply to many other Midwestern cities as well.

Moreover, the feedback loop continues even after people are released from prison. In Illinois, 60 percent of those on parole in 2014 were Black. Forty-eight percent of those on parole will return to prison within three years. In Wisconsin, according to Nino Rodriguez, a member of Ex-Prisoners Organizing (EXPO), the state's parole system sends Black people back to prison at 26 times the rate of white people. EXPO's Mark Rice asserts that in the past 15 years about half of all Black people entering prison had not been convicted of new crimes. They were incarcerated for violating rules of parole such as missing a meeting with a parole officer or failing to report a change of address. The system disproportionately recycles Black bodies from the street all the way to the prison gate.

Conclusion: More Than Reform

Ultimately, anti-Black racism in the Midwest reaches deep into the history and political economy of the region. The racial disparities in the Midwestern criminal legal system reveal a complex underpinning that requires changes beyond what can be achieved via a moderate package of changing sentencing laws and reforming police practices. While such innovations may ease the situation and cut back on prison populations, without a profound restructuring of the regional economy coupled with an aggressive attack on white supremacy, in the worst-case scenario, decarceration could possibly activate an anti-Black backlash in many urban areas.

Even in the absence of such a backlash, without extensive reallocation of resources to communities impacted by mass incarceration, tens of thousands of mostly Black released prisoners would face indefinite poverty with little prospect of viable employment or housing alternatives. Rather than transformation, such an approach to decarceration would merely add a new dimension to the racialized feedback loop set in place by decades of segregationist history and deindustrialization.

Link to original article from Truthout

Reprinted with permission.

Read 40374 times Last modified on Wednesday, 02 December 2015 10:18

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