Category: Art and Social Change

Mar 29 2015

Learning to Fight…To Win

I haven’t had time to write. I’ve been going at 100 miles per minute, it seems. March has been an absolutely brutal month for me. I have worked no less than 80 hours a week for weeks and I am tired.

Since last December, many of us in Chicago have been engaged in a renewed fight for reparations for those tortured by Jon Burge and his fellow officers. I’ve tried to document several parts of the struggle. It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update.

The most important recent news is that the reparations ordinance finally has a hearing in the City Council finance committee on April 14th. This is one of the key demands in the current campaign. We are organizing for the hearing. Those of you in Chicago can help in many ways including by calling supportive members of the committee to ask that they attend the hearing on the 14th.

I am learning new lessons and re-learning old ones through this campaign. One issue that I continue to ponder is the definition of a “victory.” In a campaign born out of decades of struggle, such a definition can be stubbornly amorphous. I am trying to keep focused on those most impacted to gauge victory. If Darrell and Anthony and other torture survivors who I have the honor to know feel a sense of satisfaction after this campaign ends, then I will count it as a victory/win.

I can already say that one positive outgrowth of this campaign has been that so many new people are learning how to fight. This is a necessary precursor to learning to win. We are using traditional organizing methods and marrying those with new ones. We’ve organized protests and actions. We’ve had one on one meetings with various stakeholders. We’ve hosted community events. We’ve engaged individuals through traditional and social media. We’ve consistently relied on art in the campaign.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/15/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/15/15)

For example, we recently organized a pop up exhibition in front of Mayor Emanuel’s office at City Hall. This exhibition and teach-in engaged dozens of people throughout the day. It also pre-figured two parts of the reparations ordinance that we want to enact: 1. Teaching the history of Chicago Police torture in public schools; 2. Memorializing the legacy of police torture through some form(s) of art (a monument, site, etc…).

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

photo by Tom Callahan (3/18/15)

photo by Tom Callahan (3/18/15)

photo by Tom Callahan (3/18/15)

photo by Tom Callahan (3/18/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/18/15)

My friend Kelly storified some of the tweets from this exhibition and teach-in which can be found HERE. Last week, the Chicago Sun Times editorialized about the Burge torture cases. They wrote:

We now know that, under Burge, men went to prison at least in part because of statements elicited through police torture. We need to get to the bottom of each case and ensure justice is done.

Exactly…

Mar 02 2015

Update on the Burge Police Torture Reparations Struggle

As many of you know, I am on the advisory board of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (CJTM) and my organization Project NIA is also very involved in the current struggle to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance. Below is an update on the reparations fight written by CJTM. Join us in the struggle.

The movement to pass the Burge Police Torture Reparations Ordinance is alive and well and building momentum each and every day! We are excited to share with you several promising developments and invite you to join the struggle by attending an upcoming rally, series of teach-ins on the Chicago Police torture cases, and meetings at Chicago’s City Council.

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

photo by Kelly Hayes (3/1/15)

Election Results

After Tuesday’s election, we now have two mayoral candidates in the race. Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia has endorsed the reparations ordinance. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand, has not endorsed the ordinance. CTJM continues to demand that Mayor Emanuel fully support the ordinance and call for an immediate hearing on the ordinance in Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee. (#RahmRepNow).

Homan Square Exposed, Rally Tomorrow at 6pm

Since the election, the Chicago Police Department’s use of coercive, torturous and abusive tactics are being raised again in the media in response to a series of articles published by Spencer Ackerman in the Guardian about the disappearance of arrestees for excessive number of hours at the Chicago Police Department’s Homan Square. Many in the media, including Chris Hayes of MSNBC, have noted Chicago’s troubled history with police torture, citing the Burge torture cases and Mayor Emanuel’s failure to provide reparations to the Chicago Police Torture survivors.

Today, in response to these articles and mounting public outcry to all acts of law enforcement violence, there is a rally, Reparations Not Black Sites: A Rally for a Run Off, at Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington at 6 p.m.

Upcoming Events: #Teach Burge, City Council Hearings, and an Exhibition-In

Further, in support of the Reparations campaign and political self-education, CTJM and Project NIA are launching City Wide Teach-Ins on the Burge Torture cases, entitled #TeachBurge. We are calling on teachers, educators, organizers and activists to conduct teach-ins on the cases from March 9 through March 22, and we have created a series of materials for you to use here. One of the first Teach-Ins will be at the Hull House on March 10, from 4 to 6 p.m., please rsvp here if you would like to attend.

Members of CTJM, Project NIA and supporters plan to pack the City Council’s Finance Committee meeting on March 16 at 10 a.m. and the City’s Council meeting on March 18 at 10 a.m., and demand a hearing on the Reparations Ordinance.  The ordinance was filed in October of 2013, and it has sat in the Finance Committee for over a year and half without any action on it. The torture survivors and their family members have waited long enough to be heard and for justice.

Both meetings will be held at City Hall, 2nd Floor, 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois.  We are trying to get a head count on the number of people who can attend either or both of these meetings.  Please join us for one or both days at City Hall, and fill out this survey to let us know when you can attend.

Immediately following Wednesday’s City Council meeting, there will be a pop-up art exhibit on reparations. The Exhibition-In, March 18, 12 – 5pm on the 5th floor of City Hall, will address police torture under Burge and underscore the need for immediate redress through the Reparations Ordinance. Individuals and groups are welcome to attend.

CTJM_exhibition-inposter2

Support the Campaign

Finally, CTJM is comprised of all volunteers and this is a truly grassroots campaign seeking the passage of the Reparations Ordinance. While we have accomplished so much based on peoples’ power, creativity and generous in kind donations, we still are need of money to help support the work we do.  Please consider donating to CTJM here to help further support the campaign to pass the Reparations Ordinance.

With your support we know we can get the Reparations Ordinance passed! If you would like to get more involved with CTJM, please email justicememorials@gmail.com and for more information on the ordinance or the Chicago police torture cases check out www.chicagotorture.org.

Watch the 2/14 Rally for Reparations: A People’s Hearing below:

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)

Read more »

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.