The Clarion Call

Alabama represents the answer to a clarion call.  This is a call that
speaks to us in our own voice; clear, loud and urgent.  A voice that
speaks to our identity and emanates from the soul, ringing true both
in the head and the heart.  Our objective is a collective one,
continuing in that vein, as we gathered fifty people from across the
nation to engage in a conversation about the need to build a Formerly
Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement.  We understand and
declare very clearly: the criminal justice system does NOT work.  It
is no more than a destructive force in our communities now and for
future generations.

Fifty formerly incarcerated and convicted organizers came with a
dedication and commitment stating that this was our time.  We were not
deterred by our inability to raise the entire budget to fly, feed and
house people in Alabama for three days, nor were the few dozen
supporters who found their own means to be present for this historic
.  As activists, we have been to our share of conferences and
rallies, yet before many of us left our homes, we knew this invitation
was different.  And we readily subsidized our own fight for
restoration of our own civil and human rights.

The first exercise was to introduce ourselves to each other not simply
by our names or the many great struggles that we were currently
engaged in, but by who we embraced as our heroes.  We wrote our names
and the name of our hero on a piece of paper and we taped those to the
front of the table where we sat.  We were quickly able to see the
right people were in the room.  We participated in designing a
historical time line and this practice drew us closer to discovering
our common history, something uniquely ours as incarcerated, formerly
incarcerated and convicted people.  Knowing where we came from made it
easier to find our vision.  We agreed to accept as our vision “The
Fight for the Full Restoration of Our Civil and Human Rights.”

The concept and construction of a movement requires a vessel large
enough to hold us all, and steering a vessel of this scale requires a
crew of many navigators and leaders.  Agreeing on a vision was an
essential and amazing accomplishment in light of the fact that time
was short, and with so many leaders in the room egos could easily have
gotten in the way.  We agreed to maintain the structure that propelled
us to this point.  However, we needed to enlarge the steering
to seriously consider setting a national agenda.  Twenty
people volunteered to join the steering committee, providing us
greater diversity in both geography and gender.  We decided we would
do regular conference calls to move forward with the agenda and
coordinating the Los Angeles convening.

The Steering Committee planned to kick off the beginning of this
Movement by walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma.  Days
before any of us hopped in a plane, bus, train, or car, we were
informed that we would have stay on the sidewalk if we were going to
march across the bridge.  Over 247 people called the mayor of Selma
and let him know we were coming to march over the bridge, and not on
the sidewalk.  Some of us consciously considered going to jail again,
and some of us even emptied our bank accounts just in case we needed
bail.  We didn’t anticipate Mayor George Evans of Selma would ask to
speak with us after our march, or agree to read our statement at the
46-year Jubilee marking Bloody Sunday.  Nor did we anticipate that our
march across the bridge would be headlines on one of the largest
papers in Alabama
, with over twenty photos online.  Our own Tina
Reynolds was photographed carrying a sign proclaiming that “Democracy
Starts At Home.”  We should be allowed to vote and exercise our civil
rights regardless of where we live in the United States.

Our visit to the state capital in Montgomery is a testament to the
power of unity.  While standing on the stairs of the Capital building
we were introduced to, and had a short conversation with, Alabama
Chief Justice Sue Cobb-Bell. The Chief Justice explained the serious
effort underway to rewrite the criminal code and reduce the prison
population by 3,000.  Once inside, we were led into a conference room
where we met Rep. John Rogers, the head of the Alabama Black Caucus.
After a spirited discussion about pressing issues, we were ultimately
promised a community forum of which we would take part in choosing the
community organizations to participate.  We were also promised that
key elected officials, including the governor, would be present at the

We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the work and support that
our host organization, The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), put into
our initial organizing.  On a side note: TOPS was seriously respected
by prominent members of the Alabama legislature, who pledged their
support to this struggle, and prominent officials in both Selma and
Montgomery.  Meanwhile, our Allies were honing their own efforts, such
as supporting those organizations on our side (and inspiring those who
should be), and creating more spaces for our voices to be heard.  They
are committed to recognizing our priorities and helping us create the
tools for our organizing efforts.

Last but not least, we want to thank everyone who attended and wrapped
their heads around the bigger picture of Movement and a larger
agenda.  As a collective we all committed to something bigger than
each of our own organizations or individual work.  We took action and
decided to organize through Regions represented by our expanded
Steering Committee.  Regional caucuses will facilitate closer
collaboration in our areas, and we will build a movement on one
accord, as a collective committed to “The Fight for Full Restoration
of our Civil and Human Rights”.  Let us keep moving forward, and share
this document with people we believe should know and participate in
our common efforts to build a Movement.  Let people know about the
goal to meet in Los Angeles- November 2nd, 2011.


2 Responses to The Clarion Call

  1. Pingback: Petition Oprah: Make “The New Jim Crow” your Book of the Month! | unprison

  2. Pingback: Will Oprah Make “The New Jim Crow” Her Book of the Month? « Criminal Justice Funders & Activists Network

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