Voices from the Experts: Meet RAP members, Jennifer Bereskin and Brook Fadley on the Action Fund Endorsement Committee
By Caroline Lopez
“Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” This phrase was coined by Glenn E. Martin, the founder of JustLeadershipUSA, a national organization led by directly impacted people that builds power within communities most impacted by systemic racism to drive meaningful and lasting policy reform. Their website states, “The future we seek is where hundreds, thousands, millions of voices directly impacted by the criminal legal system know and elevate their agency and power to bring transformational change to their communities.”
Members of the Resident Action Project (RAP) often use this quote to make clear that their voices are key to solving the issues that are impacting their lives in a way that is accessible and equitable. Some RAP members have experienced systemic oppressions for a number of years; some for generations. RAP has a statewide presence and engages people with lived experience of housing insecurity and homelessness through education, advocacy, and leadership development. They build power to change state policy through storytelling, organizing and civic action. Two RAP leaders, Jennifer Bereskin and Brook Fadley joined the Action Fund Endorsement Committee in 2020.
Jennifer Bereskin, RAP Steering Committee Member and Housing Alliance Board Member clarifies who the experts are when it comes to housing and homelessness issues and why these experts should be on endorsement committees.
I believe it's pivotal that people with lived experiences be able to partake in the process and decision making of the candidates who could be elected into public service positions that will directly impact the policy and funding for people with lived experiences. The solutions to the problems we face as a community can be found from those who are most greatly impacted by them. The experts on poverty and homelessness are not those who hold higher educational degrees but those who have lived the experiences to tell you what policies are anti-racist and functional, what barriers prevent us from being able to break the cycles of homelessness, where the funding is lacking to support the community, etc.
A common thread through oppressive systems is the data on racial disproportionality of people within these systems. This week, the new Census Household Pulse Survey data estimates that 9% of white renters in Washington are not caught up on rent. The number for Asian renters is 18%, Hispanic/Latino renters is 25% and Black renter estimates are over 4x as many at 38%. This survey does not disaggregate for Alaska Native/Native American renters who have been added to the “Two or more races + Other races, not Hispanic” category which makes up 21% of renters who are not caught up on rent. This highlights the invisibility of Indigenous communities who has been experiencing displacement since the arrival of colonialists, almost to extinction. Bereskin, an enrolled Qawalangin Tribal member of Unalaska Aleut/Unangan and Snohomish shares her own experience.
My first experience with being homeless was at the age of 9, we were displaced due to gang violence in West Seattle near the hilltop area. I knew of poverty at a much younger age as food security was a big issue in our home. I had experienced the racism and discrimination by being on food stamps which back then were printed as actual bills. I could see the system treated our family in a more negative way. The label of being poor often came off as lazy, incompetent, lack of contribution to the colonial system. As an Indigenous person, Alaskan Native woman I’ve learned that this government structure was not designed uplift all people but those few of the dominate race. There are policies still in place today that were only created to ensure me as an Indigenous person and my ancestors would go extinct, federal and state genocide polices of the First People of Turtle Island, now known as America and Canada. In our teaching, those who are the richest or as we say High Class people are those who give the most away to their community. The people who are elected into power should always reflect the community they represent. These public servants should not be elected because they have the most money or the most prestigious degrees but those who have the lived experiences and have given back to our community.
Brook Fadley, RAP Steering Committee Member in Vancouver, WA talks about why her voice on the Endorsement Committee is necessary.
People with lived experience weighing in on candidate endorsements can have a profound impact on those who are running. As a person with lived experience, I can attest to the fact that I listen very carefully to what they say and what they actually do in their community. Particularly to those who are vulnerable: homeless persons, those living in poverty or on the verge of losing their homes/jobs/way of living. One candidate running currently presents himself to be someone who wants to solve homelessness---but when you read into him, do the research, you find he sees homelessness as a bane and not a horrible symptom of a sick system. The more voices we have to speak up and share their stories of being oppressed, discriminated against, or treated inhumanely the greater our power becomes. EVERY VOICE MATTERS, and we need to empower as many people with lived experiences to use their voice to power change.
To be out there, speaking up, speaking out and inspiring others to do the same, to make our lawmakers and policy makers HEAR what we have to say is one of the most empowering and powerful experiences I have ever had. Here in Washington, we had some major wins this session. And, for me at least, I plan on using that momentum! Change can be at a snail’s pace oftentimes, but we at RAP and all the other groups fighting for justice… we will be heard. And THAT IS POWER.
Fadley is also a Fellow with the Housing Justice Narrative through Community Change and the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Outsiders’ Inn, a grassroots organization that runs a men's shelter in her community. In addition to being a RAP leader, Bereskin has served on Governor Jay Inslee’s Poverty Reduction Workgroup Steering Committee, is a 2019 Emerge Graduate, and is currently a precinct committee officer and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Chair for Snohomish County Democrats Central Committee.
To move toward significant and transformational change, it is imperative that we “Trust the people.” This is one of the core principles of Emergent Strategy, by adrienne maree brown. “If we trust the people, the people become trustworthy.” This principle invites us to reflect on our perception of people who have no-to-low income, are experiencing homelessness or have been impacted by systems in any way. As Bereskin says, “We as people did not choose to be poor, despite all the false narratives or stereotypes placed on us.” These narratives were created long ago so that colonizers could remain in power. Those ideas turned into racist, classist and sexist policies so that very few people continue to gain power and wealth. By shifting our perspective to trust people who are impacted by systems, we open our minds to more creative, workable, and equitable solutions so that everyone can enjoy a safe, stable, and affordable home. Bereskin and Fadley have been using their expertise to educate elected officials and help shape policies through their work with RAP, and we are grateful for it.
If you have lived experience or work directly with people in low-income housing, or experiencing housing insecurity, sign up to be a member of the Resident Action Project now!
- Why We Must Center Lived Experience in Policy-Making by Zella Knight, Housing Justice Narrative Fellow
- More from Housing Justice Narrative Fellow, Brook Fadley: We Need a New Deal for Housing Justice
- In this episode of the System Check podcast, “Why are people poor?” Aisha Nyandoro, Chief Executive Officer of Springboard to Opportunities in Jackson, MS talks about the Magnolia Mother’s Trust which gives $1,000 per month, with no strings attached to extremely low-income Black women living in federally subsidized affordable housing. Nyandoro’s organization discusses the resident-led philosophy that the decisions of how to use those funds are best left to the recipients who know exactly what they need.
- Older and still relevant article from The Nation: This Week in Poverty: The Expert Testimony of Tianna Gaines-Turner “If Congress would choose to listen to people in poverty, rather than just talking about them, this is what they would hear.”
Check out our 2021 Housing Action Fund Endorsements! We have decided to weigh in on many races that were requested. The Endorsement Committee will be holding off on some races until the General Election and also decided not to endorse in some races. This webpage also links to endorsements through our subcommittee in Snohomish County. If you would like to organize a subcommittee in your county or region next year, please contact Caroline Lopez, email@example.com.
Ballots mailed out today!
Today the 18-day voting period begins. Be on the lookout for your ballot - if you’re a registered voter, it’s likely to arrive any day! Accessible voting units are available at voting centers. If you need to register to vote, online and mail registrations must be received 8 days before the election, on July 26. You can register in person through election day. The primary is on August 3 so you must deposit your ballot in an official drop box by 8pm on Election Day or mail it so it’s postmarked no later than August 3.
Here are some quick links:
- Election dates and deadlines
- Primary Election Fact Sheet and Current Election Information
- Online registration
- Video on the “3 Ways to Register to Vote”
- Voter Eligibility
- Voters with a Disability
- Felons and Voting Rights
- Find your County Elections Dept.
- 2021 Primary Election Drop boxes and Voting Centers
For more info: Secretary of State Election Information