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)

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.

Nov 30 2014

Coffins on Trees: Art and Protest in Chicago

I don’t remember if I called or Facebook messaged my friend Kelly. One morning, a few weeks ago, I woke up with the certainty that we would have to organize an event, an action, SOMETHING when Darren Wilson’s non-indictment was announced. There was no question in my mind that it would be a non-indictment (for reasons that I write about all the time on this blog).

I had an idea but it was inchoate. I needed help to actualize it. Kelly is one of the founders of the Chicago Light Brigade. She teaches direct action strategy and is well-versed in creating art for protest. Art making is definitely not my strength so I reached out for help. My idea was to create something that could symbolize the 89 people who have been killed by Chicago Police in the last 5 years. I knew that I wanted to incorporate coffins somehow. Kelly didn’t hesitate to help and came up with the idea to create a tree where the coffins would hang. At its base, she (along with volunteers) would recreate the teddy bear and candle memorial that Mike Brown’s supporters made in Ferguson.

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

photo by Kelly Hayes

The symbolism of coffins hanging from a tree and coffins hanging by a string is brutal testimony to racist violence in the U.S. It was a fitting symbol to incorporate in our action.

“Return the tree, the moon, the naked man
Hanging from the indifferent branch
Return blood to his brain, breath to his heart
Reunite the neck with the bridge of his body
Untie the knot, undo the noose
Return the kicking feet to ground
Unwhisper the word jesus” – Reverse: A Lynching by Ansel Elkins

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee

Read more »

Nov 21 2014

Video: The Truth About Police by Molly Crabapple

I really appreciate this video about police violence by artist Molly Crabapple. It opens with these words: “On August 9th, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot a black teenager named Mike Brown. Since then, the city has been protesting. The police did not react well.”

Oct 29 2014

Meditations on the Meaning(s) of Chiraq

Tomorrow is the release event for a new publication that I’ve been working on titled “Chiraq and its Meaning(s).” I am privileged to partner with Temporary Services who invited me to do this and who designed the publication.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been interested in the idea of “Chiraq” for a few years. I’ve been threatening to create some sort of project based on that interest for some time.

This summer, when Temporary Services invited me to collaborate with them to create a publication as part of an exhibition at the School of the Art Institute titled “A Proximity of Consciousness: Art and Social Action,” I took it as a sign to delve into the long delayed “Chiraq” project.

I distributed a call for submissions this summer inviting Chicagoans of all ages to send in words, images or audio considerations of their Chiraq meaning(s). You can hear some of the audio submissions here.

In late August, I organized an event titled “Rethinking and Reimagining Community Safety: An Intergenerational and Interactive Discussion” at the Hull House Museum. We had an overflow crowd and engaged in activities such as yoga, art and more. This event officially kicked off a year-long exploration of the concept of “Chiraq” and community safety.

from 8/20/14 rethinking & reimagining community safety event

from 8/20/14 rethinking & reimagining community safety event

from 8/20/14 rethinking & reimagining community safety event

from 8/20/14 rethinking & reimagining community safety event

Read more »

Oct 06 2014

Domestic Violence, Poetry and ‘Giving Name to the Nameless’

First, I love poetry and Nikky Finney is one of my favorite poets. So I was over the moon a few weeks ago when I read her new poem dedicated to Marissa Alexander titled “Flare.” October is domestic violence awareness month and we very much want to keep Marissa in mind. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed Ms. Finney and asked if she would participate in the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander’s campaign which is asking people to send video submissions of them reading the poem “Flare” or another poem of their choice. So far, we have received wonderful submissions which you can find here. I asked Ms. Finney if she would participate too. And guess what???? She said yes!!!! So today, I am thrilled to share her video reading of Flare with all of you.

Audre Lorde was right (as usual) when she wrote in the essay “Poetry Is Not a Luxury” that: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.”

I use poems a lot in my teaching and in my work with young people. When young people see something of themselves in a piece of literature, identify with the work, reflect on it, and undergo some emotional experience as a result of that reading, I consider that to be the basis of a successful anti-violence intervention. For years, I have been collecting poems about gender-based violence that I have used with young women (in particular) in various settings. Some of these poems can be found in a poetry guide that I created a few years ago titled “Giving Name to the Nameless: Using Poetry as an Anti-Violence Intervention with Girls.” A PDF of the guide is available at no cost to those interested in a copy. Details are here.

Life comes full circle as one of the poems that I use a lot with young women & girls is Nikky Finney’s “The Girlfriend’s Train.” I included it in the guide and am featuring it below in honor of DV awareness month. As a bonus, I am including some questions that you can use if when you are discussing the poem with girls and young women.

Note: While the guide was created with young women and girls in mind (I have the most experience facilitating poetry circles with them), the information and poems included can certainly be used with young men, trans young people and also with adults.

Read more »

Sep 12 2014

Image of the Day: Prisons Break Apart Families

The following is an image made by Meredith Stern which is available for purchase at Just Seeds Cooperative for $10. Stern explains why she created the image:

This is a redo of an image I made over ten years ago when the incarceration rate had already skyrocketed and the trend has tragically continued as a direct result of harsh and disproportionate racial profiling, targeting and sentencing of communities of color for non-violent drug related behavior. For starters, we must end mass incarceration, the criminalization of undocumented migrants, and the war on drugs. It is incredibly damaging for families, for communities, and our entire society to be putting such a large portion of our population in detention centers for non-violent behavior.

The Sentencing Project has incredibly eye opening data on the current state of affairs.

For anyone interested in learning more about the current state of affairs:
“This House I Live In” is a documentary about the “War on Drugs” in the US which I highly recommend.

For book readers I recommend “Race to Incarcerate” and “The New Jim Crow.”

I purchased a couple of the prints.

by Meredith Stern

by Meredith Stern

Aug 31 2014

#FergusonSyllabus: Talking and Teaching About Police Violence

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

by Molly Crabapple (2014)

Regular readers of this blog know that I think, write, and organize a lot around policing and violence. It’s back to school season and many of my educator friends have either already started teaching or will be soon. Police violence is very much in the news lately and many young people want to address the issue (they always do). I and several of my comrades have created several resources that can assist in those conversations. I share them below.

General Questions To Ask About Policing

Who benefits?
Who suffers?
Whose interests are advanced?
Who pays the costs?
Who/What is protected and served?
Who is bullied and brutalized?
How has policing evolved over the years?
Can you envision a world without police?
What might be some alternatives to policing?

Introductory Activities

#1 – 6 Words about Policing and Violence
I have found 6 word stories to be good opening activities (especially if you are limited in terms of time). You can figure out what young people/students already know & think about various issues and can effectively engage a group. I have created an activity that includes watching a video, discussing it, and then facilitating a 6 word story activity. This was created for an event I co-organized last year. Download the instructions HERE (PDF).

If time is an issue, you can substitute the video suggested in the curriculum template with this 2 minute one produced by Buzzfeed using Shirin-Banou Barghi’s powerful series of graphics depicting the last words of unarmed black men killed by police. I shared her graphics here.

Some examples of 6 word stories are:
Walked outside. Did nothing. Cop Harassed. [by me]
Cops said my bruises would fade. [by me]

You can also switch it up by asking students/youth to write a 6 word story for the families of the murdered men featured in Barghi’s graphics as well as others.

#2 – Activity Guide
A couple of years ago, I created an activity guide to help youth workers and educators discuss police violence with young people. You can find some introductory activities there too.

Historical Timelines of Policing

#1 – Interactive Timeline
We focus on political education at Project NIA. As such, we create many resources and tools that can help with that work. A couple of years ago, Lewis Wallace, Jessie Lee Jackson and Megan Milks (3 of our volunteers) created an interactive timeline that covers the history of policing in the U.S. from pre-colonial times to the present. You can find that timeline here.

#2 — Interactive Activity
In addition, Lewis developed an interactive activity about the history of policing and violence that can be downloaded HERE.

#3 — History Zines
In late 2011, I decided to develop a series of pamphlets to inform and educate community members about the longstanding tradition of oppressive policing toward marginalized populations (including some activists and organizers).

This series titled “Historical Moments of Policing, Violence & Resistance” features pamphlets on various topics including: The Mississippi Black Papers, the 1968 Democratic Convention, Resistance to Police Violence in Harlem, the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, Oscar Grant, the Danziger Bridge Shootings, among others. The pamphlets are available for free downloading here. They are youth-friendly and each publication includes a set of discussion questions.

Read more »

Aug 22 2014

Artistic Interventions About Events in Ferguson…

Wherever there is injustice and protest, you will also find art. That’s the case with respect to the killing of Mike Brown and the Ferguson protests.

Below are a few samples of art that I have seen in various media platforms.

Jasiri X wrote a song called 212 degrees about the events in Ferguson.

Black bodies being fed to the system
Black American dead or in prison
Love for the murderer never the victim
Dead kids cant beg your forgiveness

We are at war
What you telling me to be peaceful for
When they break the peace by firing the piece now the peace gets tore
I don’t give a fuck about Quik Trip’s store

I saw the illustration below on Twitter. It’s by Sandra Khalifa. I’ve begun to curate other visual art related to the events in Ferguson here.

by Sandra Khalifa

by Sandra Khalifa

A few singers/rappers have produced music about Mike Brown and/or the Ferguson protests. Here are some of those: