Category: Organizing

Jul 28 2014

#ChicagoForMarissa

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who organized and took part in the excellent Chicago Community Gathering in solidarity with Marissa Alexander on Saturday. The gathering was the culmination of a very busy month of events that members of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA) organized initially anticipating that her trial would kick off today. CAFMA later learned that the trial was postponed until December and used the events to continue to educate Chicagoans about Marissa’s case and to fundraise for her legal defense.

This month, hundreds of people attended a teach-in about Marissa’s case, the opening reception of the “No Selves to Defend” exhibition, a screening of the film “Crime after Crime” followed by a panel discussion, and finally the community gathering on Saturday.

For myself, it’s a true blessing to organize with my fellow CAFMA members. We are all fully committed to supporting Marissa in her fight for freedom. I hope that others in Chicago will join in the fight. You can see Chicago’s contribution to Free Marissa NOW’s http://www.freemarissanow.org/selfies-for-self-defense.html project here.

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

#selfiesforselfdefense taken at Community Gathering and Pre-Trial Rally for Marissa Alexander organized by CAFMA on 7/26/14 in Chicago (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee)

Jun 13 2014

July 18: Opening of ‘No Selves To Defend’ Exhibition

This summer I am curating, with my friend Rachel Caidor, an exhibition based on the ‘No Selves To Defend’ anthology. I have also roped my friend Billy Dee into helping us with the design of the exhibition. [It's a wonder that I still have anyone who is willing to be my friend.]

Yesterday, the three of us visited the Art In These Times space to start envisioning the exhibition. I am always so excited to see blank walls and to imagine the possibilities of what we can create.

The exhibition includes original art by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, and Ariel Springfield. It also includes ephemera and artifacts from my personal collection.

The opening reception for the exhibition is on July 18th from 6 to 9 p.m. I hope to see many of you there. This exhibition is made possible by individual donors who have generously contributed to my organization’s summer fundraiser. I am incredibly grateful for the support.

Billy created two posters for the exhibition and I can’t decide which I like best (I love them both) so I’m sharing them below.

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

by Billy Dee

Jun 11 2014

No Selves to Defend #4: The Case of Joan Little

For the rest of this week, I will feature some of the stories in the new anthology ‘No Selves to Defend.’ I hope that you will buy a copy of the publication as all proceeds will support Marissa Alexander’s legal defense.

We kick off with Joan Little’s case. This short essay was written by Dr. Emily Thuma and the art is by the supremely gifted Micah Bazant.

On August 27, 1974 in Beaufort County, North Carolina, a twenty-year-old Black woman prisoner named Joan Little defended herself from sexual violence at the hands of a white male guard. Little gained control of an ice pick the guard had used to threatened her while she was in her cell, and she used the tool as a weapon to wound him. She then fled the jail. The guard did not survive his stab wounds and Little quickly became the target of a statewide search. One week later, Little surrendered and declared to state authorities and the press that she had acted in self-defense. An all-white grand jury charged her with first-degree murder, which carried the possibility of the death penalty, and she was sent to the women’s prison in Raleigh to await trial.

Joan Little by Micah Bazant

Joan Little by Micah Bazant

In the following year, a broad base of individuals and organizations from around the country participated in the mass mobilization that became known as the “Free Joan Little Movement.” From Oakland to Detroit to Atlanta, people formed local committees that helped the North Carolina-based Joan Little Defense Fund raise money to pay for Little’s bond (set at $115,000) and legal fees. Many widely known racial and economic justice and feminist organizations threw their support behind Little as well, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Panther Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, and the National Organization for Women. The renowned a cappella group Sweet Honey and the Rock released a song entitled, “Joanne Little: She’s My Sister.” While out on bail before her trial, Little traveled the country and spoke to numerous audiences about her case as well as unjust prison conditions more generally.

With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and others, the legal defense team produced documentation that persuaded the court that Little could not receive a fair trial in Beaufort County and it won a venue change to Raleigh. The five-week trial began in July. During the trial, the defense called several Black women to the stand to testify about their own experiences of sexual harassment by white male staff at the Beaufort County jail, demonstrating a chronic pattern of abuse. The jury, made up of both Black and white jurors, deliberated for only seventy-eight minutes before acquitting Little.

While State v. Joan Little is noted for being the first time a woman was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense against sexual violence, its wider impact and legacy was its powerful reflection of the interconnections of racism, sexism, and economic inequality. As scholar, activist, and former political prisoner Angela Y. Davis wrote in Ms. magazine in June 1975, “Those of us—women and men—who are Black or people of color must understand the connection between racism and sexism that is so strikingly manifested in her case. Those of us who are White and women must grasp the issue of male supremacy in relationship to the racism and class bias which complicate and exacerbate it.”

Jun 09 2014

Standing on a Soapbox, Calling Out the Cops…

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one.

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

Me on a soapbox (photo by Sarah Jane Rhee, 6/7/14)

On an overcast afternoon, on a concrete island at the intersection of Ashland, Milwaukee and Division, I joined a couple dozen people (mostly young) who were reading/performing poetry in opposition to state violence.

I was invited to say a few words, so I did. I shared words written by Langston Hughes and AI. I added a few of my own too.

On Friday, Damo was laid to rest. I planned to attend the funeral but in the end I was unable due to a previous commitment. It’s just as well. I hate funerals. I despise them especially when the person being buried is in his early 20s.

So I stood on a real soapbox and in memory of Damo & others who are victims of state violence, I shared two poems. Here are a few lines from one by Langston Hughes:

Three kicks between the legs
That kill the kids
I’d make tomorrow.

I’ll admit to actively suppressing any thoughts of a young man being tased (twice) and hitting his head so hard that he was basically brain dead when he arrived at the hospital. How does this happen? Then I remember the disposability and un-humanness of black and brown people. I know how this happens. I am a witness but I’d rather not be.

Ethan spoke before me. No, that’s not actually true, Ethan bled before me. I watched with others transfixed by his words and his pain. I hoped that it was catharsis towards healing. But I don’t know how young black men can heal in the midst of continuing, continual, unrelenting violence. Is this possible?

The title of the gathering organized by members of the Chicago Revolutionary Poets Brigade was ‘No Knock’ An Artistic Speak-Out Against the ‘American Police State.’ The title is inspired by Gil Scott Heron’s poem “No Knock.”

No knocked on my brother Fred Hampton
Bullet holes all over the place
No knocked on my brother Michael Harris
And jammed a shotgun against his skull

It is as it ever was. No knocked on Damo who is now six feet under ground.

Passersby stopped to listen as various people read poems about Guantanamo, police violence, prisons, surveillance, and more. Audre was right: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” There is magic in hearing voices speaking out for justice over the din of a bustling city. You had to be there to understand what I mean. Gathering as a collective to recite poetry can’t end state violence but it does keep our spirits up so that we can demand and fight for more justice. It does help to “give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.” And now more than ever we need the words and we need to be able to think through that which cannot be thought. These are revolutionary acts in our time.

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with others to strategize and organize around the epidemic of police violence experienced by our young people of color in Chicago. I don’t know what will come of our discussions but I am sure that nothing will change unless we change it.

I stood on a soapbox Saturday. I mean a real one. I read some poems including “Endangered Species” by AI.

At some point, we will meet
at the tip of the bullet,
the blade, or the whip
as it draws blood,
but only one of us will change,
only one of us will slip
past the captain and crew of this ship
and the other submit to the chains
of a nation
that delivered rhetoric
in exchange for its promises.

I hope that you find your own soap box. I mean a real one and read some poems, calling out the cops…

Jun 06 2014

Video: “Is A Prison Sentence Always The Solution?”

This short animated video by Penal Reform International is beautifully illustrated.

Is a prison sentence always the solution? from Penal Reform International on Vimeo.

Jun 03 2014

Illinois Legislature Passes SB 2793: A Big Step for School Discipline Data Transparency

SB 2793 passed out of the Illinois Legislature on Friday. According to Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE):

“SB 2793 is a landmark piece of legislation won by young people and allies from across the state of Illinois to address the overuse of exclusionary discipline.

This legislation is the FIRST OF ITS KIND in the nation and would require:
The public reporting of data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings in lieu of another disciplinary action for all publicly-funded schools in Illinois. The collected data would be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency, incident type, and discipline duration.

Illinois School Districts that are identified in the top 20% in the use of suspensions, expulsions or racial disproportionality would have to submit an improvement plan identifying the strategies the school district will implement to reduce the use of exclusionary disciplinary practices, racial disproportionality, or both.

Halima Ibrahim, a VOYCE student leader, said that SB 2793 is important for her because “the community should know what suspension and expulsion numbers, as well as racial disparities, are for each Illinois school district. If we know which districts need help and improvement, we can work to keep students safe and in school, instead of out in the streets.”

Some of you contributed to this victory by filing witness slips and contacting your legislators when asked. Thank you!

The following organizations led and supported this campaign.

VOYCE Member Organizations:
Southwest Organizing Project
Albany Park Neighborhood Council
Kenwood Oakland Community Organization
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Action Now Institute
Brighton Park Neighborhood Council

Allies in the Campaign for Common Sense Discipline:
Attorney Jim Freeman
Illinois Safe Schools Alliance
Community Organizing on Family Issues
United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations
Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Advancement Project
Chicago Teachers Union
Gamaliel (Springfield)
Blocks Together
Project NIA
ONE Northside
ACLU of Illinois
Alternatives, Inc.
Blocks Together
Chicago Freedom School
Community Renewal Society
Disciples for Christ Evangelistic Ministries
Enlace Chicago
Inner City Muslim Action Network
Adler Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice
Korean Resource and Cultural Center
TARGET Area Development Corporation

This has been a banner year in school discipline data transparency advocacy in Illinois as the Chicago Student Safety Act Coalition successfully advocated for the Chicago Public Schools to publish and make accessible school discipline data for the first time ever this February.

Jun 03 2014

Collateral Consequences of Criminalizing School Discipline…

The Advancement Project is out with a good short video that updates Kiera Wilmot’s case. Kiera is a Florida high school student who was arrested and charged with two felonies for a botched science experiment. The Advancement Project video speaks to the collateral consequences of criminalizing school discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline.

May 28 2014

Reasons For Hope: Youth-Led Anti-Prison Campaigns…

I take hope from the fact that young people like Asha Ransby-Sporn are organizing against prisons in creative and inspiring ways. Listen to Asha as she talks about Columbia Prison Divest (Facebook Page).

May 21 2014

More Sights From Locked Up & Locked Out March & Action

So many wonderful images from Monday’s Locked Up and Locked Out action and march keep coming in and I also couldn’t include all of the photographs in yesterday’s post

by Tommy Callahan (5/19/14)

by Tommy Callahan (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Holly Krig (5/19/14)

by Holly Krig (5/19/14)

by Sehar Sufi (5/19/14)

by Sehar Sufi (5/19/14)

Read more »

May 20 2014

Banging on Windows: Protesting Against Youth Incarceration in Chicago

by Richard Ross (JTDC Cell with high window)

by Richard Ross (JTDC Cell with high window)

They are banging on the windows…

At first, I can’t place the sound. Then I look up and I see arms waving from behind darkened windows. They must be standing on their beds straining to see us. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that they might see or hear us outside. This is after all mainly why we are here.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

Over 200 of us (or more) are standing outside of the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC). We’ve walked over 2.5 miles from Paderewski Elementary, one of fifty schools that Rahm Emanuel closed last year. As we march, there are energetic chants, waving signs, a colorful banner, cars honking, neighbors looking out of their windows and others rushing over to ask what we are all about. It doesn’t feel somber though we’re here to resist the criminalization of young people. We are joining together to kick off the National Week of Action Against Incarcerating Youth.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

Our group is an intergenerational one – from babies and toddlers to teenagers and college-age young people to those of us in middle-age and grandparents. We are black, white, latin@, asian and a mix of all of these. We are cis-gendered and trans*. We are able-bodied and differently-abled. It’s an incredibly diverse group and this matters if we are to build a mass movement to end prisons.

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Sarah Jane Rhee (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Bob Simpson (5/19/14)

by Monica Trinidad (5/19/14)

by Monica Trinidad (5/19/14)

Read more »