Category: Art and Social Change

Feb 16 2015

Image of the Day

“Beautiful contribution from sandra-nadine for #BlackLivesMatter’s #VisionsOfABlackFuture during this year’s #BlackFutureMonth. We say abolish the prison industrial complex yesterday! End mass incarceration! Liberation now!”

image by Sandra N. Khalifa (2015)

image by Sandra N. Khalifa (2015)

Feb 15 2015

‘We Must Love Each Other:’ Lessons in Struggle and Justice from Chicago

The national protests catalyzed by the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson last August continue even as many (including the mainstream media) have moved on. Some critics have suggested that the uprisings/rebellions are leaderless, lack concrete demands and/or are without clear strategy. Each of these critiques is easily refuted so I won’t concern myself with them here.

In Chicago, many have used the energy and opening created by these ongoing protests to re-animate existing long-term anti-police violence campaigns. On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people gathered at the Chicago Temple to show our love for police torture survivors on the day after Jon Burge was released from house arrest.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (2/14/15 @ Chicago Temple)

The gathering was billed as a people’s hearing and rally in support of a reparations ordinance currently stalled in the Chicago City Council. Politicians, faith leaders, and community activists spoke at the event. Poets exhorted the crowd. But the most impactful, poignant and powerful words came from the Burge torture survivors themselves.

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

Burge Torture Survivor Darrell Cannon (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 2/14/15)

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Feb 07 2015

Image of the Day: #ReparationsNOW

Yesterday evening, I joined friends from the Chicago Light Brigade for an action at Rahm Emanuel’s house. We brought a message to him and made sure that it was in lights so he wouldn’t miss it.

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

photo by Rachel Hoffman (2/6/15)

Feb 03 2015

Talking to Kids About Incarceration…

A month ago, I posted about my friend Bianca Diaz’s new children’s book “The Princess Who Went Quiet.”

princessquiet2

Along with several other people (from Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration and CLAIM), I co-organized an event last Tuesday to share Bianca’s book and to hear from formerly incarcerated mothers.

princessquiet

It was a moving and beautiful event. The women who bravely shared their stories with us were honest and reflective. They discussed the impact(s) of their incarceration on their children. They talked about the hopes they had and have for their children. They shared their mistakes and their triumphs. Many of us shed tears along with the women. These were tears of rage, pain, grief and love.

I was technically the moderator of the panel but I had nothing to do. I just invited each woman to speak, to share her story. I wasn’t needed; they were more than enough. As we closed out the event, I spoke briefly to the importance of telling children that they are not at fault for their loved one’s incarceration. I said these children also needed reassurance that even though their loved one was away, they were thinking of them and would always love them. These are lessons that I have learned in working with young people over the years. They are simple but essential.

One of my favorite things about Bianca’s book is that it’s a story of a young girl coming to voice. So many children with incarcerated loved ones need help to articulate their feelings, fears and questions about what’s happened. That’s really the bottom line. Unfortunately, too often they are confronted with judgement and shame. This needs to change. The women who spoke last Tuesday helped to catalyze a conversation that I hope will spread throughout our city.

Bianca generously made her book available to view and download through issu:

Many people, however, have been in touch to say that they can’t figure out how to download the book through issu. To that end, I am making a PDF copy of the book available for downloading. I would encourage everyone to first read Bianca’s reflections about talking to children about the PIC and also listening to formerly incarcerated mothers narrate their own stories. She was inspired to write the book based these experiences.

Finally, Bianca created the book with the intention that it be shared with children who have incarcerated loved ones. This means that those who download the book have a responsibility to share it with that group of children. I hope that you will do so and that you will find a way to let the children know that they are loved and cherished.

Jan 25 2015

Chicago #TrainTakeOver For #BlackLivesMatter

If you read this blog with any regularity, then you will be unsurprised at young Chicagoans’ consistent and constant creativity in protests. Over the past few months, young people in Chicago have led several protests against state violence.

On Friday, some of these young people organized a #TrainTakeOver. Below is a terrific video by Kuumba Lynx documenting the action.

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

photo by Todd St. Hill (1/23/15)

Jan 18 2015

“Free Us All:” Love in Action in Chicago

It was Dr. Martin Luther King’s actual birthday on Thursday and Chicago was in the mood to celebrate through study, action and protest. As part of an effort to #ReclaimMLK, Chicagoans demanded reparations for police torture survivors, gathered to discuss the radical roots of the Black Freedom Movement, called out a list of the system’s crimes against those most marginalized and finally marched by the hundreds in solidarity with a youth-led protest on the near Westside of Chicago.

Listen to these words offered by Kaleb Autman, a 12 year old student at Village Leadership Academy & co-organizer of the ReclaimMLK march and by Page May, a young organizer with We Charge Genocide who helped VLA students bring their vision to fruition. Listen to their words to better understand the current rebellions led mostly by young people of color taking place across the country.

I was invited to speak at Thursday’s rally and march. I had jotted down a few words but when it came time for me to speak I decided to focus on what was in front of me rather than on what I had planned to share. You see, by the time I was called to speak, we were in front of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (Chicago’s youth jail) and I could hear the children who were locked in cells insistently pounding on their windows.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/14)

Their message to us on the outside was urgent and unequivocal: “Free Us.”

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez  (1/15/15)

photo by Silvia Ines Gonzalez (1/15/15)

I turned and looked to my right. I saw my friends of the Chicago Light Brigade holding light boards spelling out “Free Us All” as they projected the words “Indict the System” on the side of the courthouse. I struggled to hold back tears.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

It was the vision of a group of Black elementary school students that we march 2.5 miles from their school to the juvenile jail to underscore how close they are to being funneled through the pipeline to prison. My friend Kelly Hayes, who helped organize the march, wrote beautifully about the proximity of incarceration for these students:

VLA student Jakya Hobbs told us, “It is this system that keeps us from the world.” Her use of the word “us” was very intentional in this context. These student organizers see no distinction between themselves and the incarcerated, and rightly believe that as long as black and brown children are criminalized and caged, no young person is truly free. In elementary school, they understand what it took me decades to comprehend: Prisons don’t simply confine prisoners. They confine hopes and ambitions, and dampen the faith of those who might otherwise dare to believe in better things. Living as a black or brown person in a country where the prison industrial complex cages over two million of our brothers and sisters means walking through the world with the knowledge that, while you may have eluded the slave catcher, many of your people will not.

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Over 600 people braved the Chicago cold to march alongside the young organizers of the protest. I was so proud to live in this city as people of all ages, genders, class backgrounds and races responded to their call to action. I felt hopeful.

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

photo by Osei David Andrews-Hutchinson‎ (1/15/15)

One of the children in the jail scrawled out the words “I <3 You” on his window. It read crystal clear to those of us standing outside of the jail. People responded by calling out and signing their love in kind.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (1/15/15)

Thursday’s #ReclaimMLK march was a manifestation of love in action. It’s that simple and that complex. If these uprisings and rebellions are to develop into a movement, love will have to be centered alongside power. This is a truth gleaned from past movements and leaders:

Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Source: pp. 324-325 in The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson (1998).

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

Photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

In the end though, I will remember three words from this action: “Free Us All.”

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

photo by Bob Simpson (1/15/15)

These words will ring out as we continue to struggle and fight for a more just and peaceful world. “Free Us All” is our North Star helping us to find our way in our journey toward liberation.

Jan 15 2015

For the Living…

This morning on Dr. King’s birthday, I’ll be joining friends and comrades at City Hall to sing in for reparations. This action is the third one in a month and is focused on pressuring Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago City Council to pass a reparations ordinance for police torture survivors. Over half of the council has expressed their support for the ordinance, the Emanuel administration is the current obstacle to passage.

My Goddaughter recently asked why it is important to pass this reparations ordinance. I gave a number of reasons having to do with fairness, restitution, decency, morality and more. Above all though, I told her that it would be one way to concretize the meaning(s) of #BlackLivesMatter. As political philosopher. Joy James has said: “Black lives matter because we make them matter.” Insisting that black people who are tortured by the state be compensated for this harm is one way that we can make Black lives matter.

As protesters around the world have taken to lying down in public spaces, staging “die-ins,” I’ve been uncomfortable and mute. I’ve been screaming inside though: “The system already wants us dead. Living is resistance.

I saw a photograph on Twitter a few weeks ago. It was of a young black woman lying on train tracks as a “die-in” protest against police violence.

diein

The image has haunted me. I’m over dying in. I hate death.

But I have kept my mouth shut because who cares, really, about what I think of a particular protest tactic. There are plenty of tactics that I disavow but I don’t use my small platform to do so publicly. And besides, plenty of people think die-ins are symbolically effective.

For me, the reparations ordinance is a memorial for the living. The ordinance’s stubborn insistence that people (no matter what they have done) should be compensated for torture is a little earthquake. It shakes up and re-configures the normalization of punishment. To say that the state needs to formally apologize for harm done is important too.

At City Hall today, survivors of Jon Burge’s torture will once again speak of it loudly, publicly and with courage. And those of us who are there to listen and demand restitution will sing. It’s a live-in. Join Us.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (12/29/14)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (12/29/14)

Jan 08 2015

Video: #BlackLivesMatter Chicago

I thought that I would be able to ease into the New Year. Hahaha jokes on me. I am busier than ever so I won’t be able to blog regularly for the next couple of weeks at least.

I am happy to say, however, that the work that I get to be part of feels promising. We’ll see.

In the meantime, my friend Kelly put together this wonderful short video documenting some of the #BlackLivesMatter actions in Chicago. It’s inspiring so I thought I’d share it with you. You can also read Kelly’s post about some of the Chicago-based protests and actions that inspired her in 2014 here.

Dec 30 2014

“The Princess Who Went Quiet:” A Fable

For the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with and to get to know a talented young Chicago artist named Bianca Diaz. Bianca spent a summer (a couple of years ago) as an intern with my organization and has stayed on as a volunteer since that time. Over the past couple of years, I have watched Bianca learn about the ravages of the prison industrial complex along with the possibilities for transformative justice. She has listened attentively to the stories of people who been incarcerated and their families. She has used her artistic talents to further the struggle for justice and to promote an end of prisons.

Bianca is currently studying art in Ireland. While there, she completed a beautiful children’s book titled “The Princess Who Went Quiet.” It’s a story informed by Bianca’s thinking about incarceration and peace. Hard copies of the book will be distributed to children who have a loved one incarcerated at Cook County Jail through a grant by 96 Acres.

Bianca has generously made the story available to others who want to read it by posting it online too. Here in her own words Bianca shares her inspiration:

“I’m happy to share that my comic is now online for your reading and downloading pleasure! Please feel free to print and share this with anyone.
This comic was inspired by the stories that many people have shared with me about how incarceration has impacted their own lives, the lives of their family members, and the life of their communities. Thank you so much for letting me listen.”

by Bianca Diaz (2014)

by Bianca Diaz (2014)

Below is Bianca’s description of the story. I could not be more proud and blessed to know and work with such an incredibly kind, creative and talented person as Bianca. Stay tuned for an upcoming collaboration between us in the new year!

“There once lived a storytelling princess who was loved by her entire kingdom. When the princess was stolen away by a dragon everyone searched desperately for her, but they never found her. Alone in the belly of the dragon and with no one to tell stories to, the princess fell into a deep sleep.

In the kingdom of her dreams, the princess rules with fairness and love. She introduces peace circles to help her community find peace together. Having heard of the princess’s many great deeds and her ability to grow peace, King Capybara seeks her help when the capybara way of life is threatened, and capybara are disappearing. The princess travels to a far away land with the capybara and discovers what is making them disappear.

To save them, she must re-learn how to use her voice and speak. To save herself, she must open her eyes, and unite her dream world with her waking reality.”

Dec 23 2014

Video – Groundswell’s Brooklyn Mural Project: The Prison Industrial Complex

THIRTEEN documented one Groundswell mural from conception to execution — a piece entitled “P.I.C.T.U.R.E.S Prison Industrial Complex: Tyranny Undermining Rights, Education, and Society” in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, that addresses the causes and effects of incarceration.

Since 1996, Groundswell has brought together artists, educators, activists and youth to create collaborative public artwork across New York City. Every mural has a central theme — meant to give expression to underrepresented ideas and perspectives, and to better the lives of both neighbors and artists alike.