March 8th, 2011 marks the 40th Anniversary of the anonymous group of activists who broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office and uncovered a counter-intelligence program known as COINTELPRO. This program played an essential role in destroying the American Civil Rights Movement and elevating the prison and criminal record as a major tool of domestic repression. Yet where there is repression, there is resistance. Where there are groups of resisters, there is organizing.
ALABAMA — From February 28–March 2, formerly incarcerated people from around the country will gather in Montgomery and Selma to develop a common platform for restoration of civil rights, stopping prison expansion, eliminating excessive punishments, and protecting the dignity of families and communities. The gathering – called by and for formerly incarcerated people and people with criminal convictions — is the first of its kind in the United States. Representatives from nearly 30 states will gather to establish a national agenda for securing the civil and human rights for the tens of millions people in the U.S. living in prison or jails, on parole or probation, or with a criminal conviction. For some, this comes at the close of Black History Month. Members of this Movement recognize the continuing saga and role of Black Liberation in America, but it is inclusive of other struggles and peoples, such as Latino, Asian, Queer and Transgender, Women, Youth, and Poor Working Class, and beyond.
Having served their sentences and returned home, formerly incarcerated people face circumstances that often seem designed to prevent their full participation in their communities and country. These include stigma for having a criminal conviction, barriers to gaining meaningful employment and decent housing, barriers to constructive educational opportunities, lack of access to healthcare, and denial of voting rights. It is nothing short of Second, or Third Class Citizenship in the United States, and (if unchecked) serves to create a Third World nation within our borders, with entire communities marked by unemployment and poverty. Those communities are no longer confined to a housing project, no longer a certain section of “East ___” or “South _____,” as roughly 25% of America has a criminal record.
This is a widespread problem. Consider that there are 2.4 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails in the U.S. today. Most people currently incarcerated are coming home – according to the Department of Justice, over 700,000 people were released from incarceration in 2006 alone. Across the country, over six million people are under state supervision like parole or probation. There are millions of people who are currently and formerly incarcerated, and millions more who were never incarcerated but have a criminal conviction—all of whom live, every day, without their full civil and human rights.
The gathering takes place in Alabama to re-connect with the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement. March 7 marks the 46th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, reminding America of the Civil Rights Movement. For nearly 100 years after the end of chattel slavery, Black people were denied their human and civil rights, including the right to vote. People got tired and organized all over the country to win their rights. In Alabama, the movement was especially vibrant. The Ten Million under government control are not waiting for the “Rise of a Messiah” (as J. Edgar Hoover was so adamant about preventing via COINTELPRO). For the same reason the Patriot Act wiretapping is irrelevant, a Movement is successful by being wide open in the sunshine… built on integrity and righteousness rather than infiltration or dirty tricks.
People in the middle of any issue are historically the ones who will solve it. But who is not affected? Taxpayers are spending more on building prisons than colleges. We spend over double incarcerating nearly 2 million non-violent offenders than subsidizing roughly 10 million needy families. In 1950, there were 250,000 prisoners in a nation of 150 million. Sixty years later, the nation’s populace has doubled, while the prisons have grown ten times as large. Watch this innovative video to see the growth of prisons over time and place.
For formerly incarcerated people, the promise of the Civil Rights Movement – full civil rights and an end to Jim Crow – remains unfulfilled, and legitimate concerns that COINTELPRO has essentially returned need to be sidestepped. Consider the over four million formerly incarcerated people who are denied their voting rights, the continuation of a failed drug war, and the expansion of the prison industrial complex. Guided by this history, and inspired by demands for justice in the U.S. and around the world – from the recent prisoner strike in Georgia, to the Egyptian revolution, to the protests in Wisconsin – a vibrant new movement is now being born as formerly incarcerated people join together to secure their full civil and human rights. By incarcerating millions and erecting barriers to regaining actual freedom, the policy-makers themselves have created a massive group that holds a demand.
▪ On Monday, February 28, diverse delegates from over 30 states will hold a day-long meeting in Montgomery, AL to map out a national civil and human rights agenda for formerly incarcerated people in the United States.
▪ At 1 p.m. on Tuesday March 1, the eve of the Bloody Sunday anniversary, and with the blessing of Civil Rights veterans from Alabama and beyond, formerly incarcerated people and their allies will march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, signaling their intent to fulfill the promise of the Civil Rights Movement.
▪ On Wednesday March 2 at 10 a.m., the group will hold a rally at the statehouse in Montgomery, just steps away from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s old church.
Participants are attending from around the country. The Gathering Steering Committee is available for comment or interviews:
Malik Aziz, Men United for a Better Philadelphia: Founder and Chairman of the National Exhoodus Council, with a presence in 24 cities across the nation. He began
organizing while incarcerated in Graterford Prison, and eventually found a role in the Philadelphia mayor’s office developing alternatives to incarceration and recidivism.
Susan Burton, A New Way of Life, Los Angeles: After cycling in an out of the criminal justice system for nearly fifteen years, Susan gained freedom and sobriety and founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 1998. Dedicating her life to helping other women break the cycle of incarceration, homelessness, addiction and despair, Susan becoming a recognized leader in the criminal justice reform and reentry rights movements, and was recently nominated as a CNN hero in the category of “community crusader.” She has been a Soros Justice Fellow, a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow, and a former Community Fellow under the Violence Prevention Initiative of The California Wellness Foundation.
Pastor Kenny Glasgow, The Ordinary People Society, Dothan, AL: Since his release from prison, Pastor Glasgow has remained committed to ensuring that redemption is in the lives of those who have served their debts to society. He is Executive Director/Founder of TOPS, an organization providing numerous rehabilitation and prevention programs for youth and adults involved, or at risk of involvement, in the criminal justice system. A longtime leader of state and region-wide voter registration and restoration efforts, Pastor Glasgow led the successful campaign resulting in restoration of voting rights for peoplecurrently incarcerated in Alabama state prisons– a first. In 2008, he was awarded Lyndon B. Johnson Political Freedom Award.
Arthur League, All of Us or None/Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, San Francisco: Arthur has a 40-year history as a community activist involved in social and criminal justice work. In the 70’s & 80’s, during a time of political unrest, Arthur was an active member of the Black Panther Party, and served a seven year prison term for his political beliefs and actions resulted. Arthur is a former Director of the Concord Re-Ed Project, a non-profit organization working with adolescents in a group home setting, and serves on the board of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. A Journeyman Plumber, he assists many young people coming out of prison to join the building trades unions and apprenticeships.
Aaliyah Muhammed, All of Us or None/LSPC, San Francisco: Aaliyah is a former prisoner and organizer who has worked with diverse groups of people inside prison and in the community. Her organizing abilities have increased the presence of formerly incarcerated people in the State Capitol, allowing her to supervise contingents of students and advocates in legislative arenas. Her efforts have resulted in creating avenues for former prisoners to take part in policy work in a variety of ways, from organizing community summits in Sacramento regarding legal expungement remedies to grassroots fundraising efforts to support the children of incarcerated people. She speaks widely on the conditions and struggles for women inside of prison.
Dorsey Nunn, All of Us or None/ LSPC, San Francisco: Dorsey is a co-founder of All of Us or None, a civil and human rights organization comprised of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners and their allies. He is also formerly incarcerated, and Executive Director for LSPC, a 30 year old San Francisco based organization dedicated to advocating for the human and civil rights of incarcerated parents, children, family members and people at risk for incarceration. Awarded nationally for his work, he was a 1996-1998 California Wellness Fellow and was recently awarded the prestigious Fannie Lou Hamer award from the African American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley.
Bruce Reilly, Direct Action for Rights & Equality, Providence, RI: After a decade as a Jailhouse Lawyer, Bruce hit the ground running in 2005. He served as the Volunteer Coordinator for the RI Right to Vote Campaign and drafted the final language of a state constitutional amendment that re-enfranchised felons on probation and parole. He wrote a probation reform bill which became law after four years of organizing. He is a former board member and organizer with DARE, and is preparing to enter Tulane Law School in 2011. A successful writer, Bruce has produced a play of prisoners’ writings and his blog on criminal justice has over 200,000 hits in 2010.
Tina Reynolds, Women On the Rise Telling HerStory, New York City Tina is Co-Founder and Chair of Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), an association of formerly and currently incarcerated women. Tina Reynolds has received a Master in Social Work from Hunter College and is currently an adjunct professor at York, CUNY in the Psychology Department teaching the “Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities and Children”. She has published pieces on the abolition of prisons, the impact of incarceration on women and children, formerly incarcerated women and policy change and is an editor of an anthology “Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States”.
- From Montgomery to Los Angeles and Beyond: Formerly Incarcerated People Building a Movement (alternet.org)
- Formerly Incarcerated Activists Spearheading a New Civil Rights Movement (criminaljustice.change.org)