Two days after Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro (D) introduced a bill called the Racial Equity and Social Justice Act, about 200 people gathered in Rockville Thursday night to discuss their hopes and dreams of making Montgomery County a more racially equitable place.
Navarro’s legislation follows the path led by Baltimore City and Fairfax County, Va., among others, where policymakers have created laws or ordinances to address racial inequity within their borders.
“It’s really a collective of both community-based organizations and grass-roots residents who have come together in an effort to work with the county to ensure that the policies that are being developed are the strongest that they can be,” said Jayne Park, executive director of IMPACT Silver Spring, a community organization.
Park, along with representatives of other community organizations, including Takoma Park Mobilization, Silver Spring Justice Coalition and CASA, are working alongside grass-roots activists to educate people in preparation for the final passage of the bill. The vote is scheduled on Nov. 26.
The rush, Navarro said, is the goal of making the law effective on Jan.1.
The legislation includes a requirement that county government agencies develop racial equity plans and a requirement for a racial equity impact statement for every future agency program.
Because land use is a huge driver in how the county looks and how services are delivered, the bill would require the county planning board to consider racial equity and social justice issues when preparing area master plans that are submitted to the Council.
At the forum, Navarro stressed the role community activists played in crafting the bill, which all nine Montgomery County Council members have sponsored. She said supporters of the measure cannot afford to become complacent and must continue to pressure policymakers and other community leaders.
“This is not a policy, this is a law,” Navarro said. “This is a structural way for us to start to address this. I’m here to ask you for help so we can make this happen.”
The event featured a number of speakers from local social justice organizations, as well as roundtable discussions for Montgomery County residents to brainstorm what changes the legislation needed based on their personal experiences with racism and injustice.
These organizations, according to Isabel Estrada, one of the speakers and facilitators of the night’s event, have been at the forefront of promoting remedies to inequality for decades in Montgomery County.
“The cultural situation, the political situation mobilizes all of us, because there are communities to protect and communities to defend,” Estrada said. “Certainly the environment leads to [this legislation], but these organizations have been doing this forever.”
More forums are planned for the upcoming months to educate the public about Navarro’s measure and garner support before the County Council vote.
“[The legislation] really is saying all of county government has to analyze and assess and dismantle structural racism,” Park said. “It’s a moment where all the groups on the ground realize, this is a huge undertaking and it’s going to take all of us coming together to work collectively so that we can partner effectively with the government to make sure that government and community together are working in lockstep.”
Ana Faguy is a freelance journalist in the Washington, D.C., area.