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'We’re really writing our own script here' | California reparations task force explores new territory

The task force's final report is expected in 2023

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is the first state in the country to develop a reparations task force. It was established when Assembly Bill 3121 was enacted in September 2020. The task force has now held four meetings to discuss the history of slavery and the current harms it continues to cause.

Chris Lodgson  is a community organizer and the lead organizer with the Coalition for a Just and Equitable California (CJEC). He said the coalition is expecting at least 10 public meetings.

“We work for actual Black folks in the actual community. So our job, as I was saying before, one, help make sure the task force is open, transparent and responsive to community voices, and then also to help make sure that the task force actually creates strong reparations proposals that get done in the real world,” said Lodgson.

He explained what was on Wednesday’s agenda.

“This fourth meeting is important because today’s meetings are going to be about banking and tax and labor and the influence of structural racism on those particular sectors and industries, and on black folks who descend from U.S. slavery,” Lodgson said.

He said they also discussed the wealth gap.

"That’s an important topic because the racial wealth gap is probably the most important indicator, reason or measure of the impact of the past on the present,” Lodgson added.

Kamilah Moore, chairperson of the California Reparations Task Force, said she understands what it means for California to be taking the issue of reparations head-on.

“This effort in California is so rare because it’s the first state in the nation, first ever of all the 50 states that’s committed to atoning for slavery, committed to committing a body to study and develop reparations proposals. And it’s something the United States still hasn’t achieved quite yet,” said Moore.

As Lodgson explained, they are working without a blueprint to follow.

“We can’t point to any prior efforts. Even throughout the civil rights movement, there’s nothing equivalent to something like this. And so, we’re really writing our own script here.”

Moore explained what’s been discussed so far.

“In the September hearing, 23rd and 24th, we discussed the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the institution of slavery and the impetus and implications of the Great Migration, like what compelled Black Americans to leave their ancestral homes in the South to go to California,” Moore said.

She also elaborated on Wednesday’s meeting agenda.

“We’re starting to discuss the contemporary harms and more modern harms against Black Americans, whether that’s in housing and education segregation, environmental racism. We’re discussing racism in banking and tax and labor, and we’re also going to discuss the racial wealth gap more broadly,” Moore said.

She also described how she hopes to use her skills in the process.

“When it comes down to actually developing the proposals for reparations, I’m hoping to utilize my knowledge as an international law scholar, as a reparatory justice scholar, to make sure that whatever reparations proposals we recommend are as comprehensive as possible and are informed by international law standards,” Moore said.

Lodgson offered some advice for anyone who hasn’t been following the task force proceedings.

“Pay attention. Tune in. Add your thoughts. Add your input. This is not going to work without community input,” he said.

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