I began this blog in May 2009 following the death of Marcia Powell at Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona. It is not intended to prescribe the path that leads to freedom from the prison industrial complex.

Rather, these are just my observations in arguably the most racist, fascist, militaristic state in the nation at a critical time in history for a number of intersecting liberation movements. From Indigenous resistance to genocidal practices, to the fight over laws like SB1070 and the ban on Ethnic Studies, Arizona is at the center of many battles for human rights, and thus the struggle for prison abolition as well - for none are free until all are. I retired the blog in APRIL 2013.

Visit me now at Arizona Prison Watch or Survivors of Prison Violence-AZ

Friday, June 26, 2009

Freedom Dreams

I have been accused more than once of being an idealist; it is usually not leveled as a compliment. I have been advised that certain strategies for social change were ineffective, antiquated, even counterproductive. I am not and have never been a political insider. If anything, politicians hide from me, sometimes seeking solace in the arms of my more moderate allies. This is okay with me, so long as the movement continues to move in the direction of greater liberation and respect for all life. I don't need to be the one who gets us there. I'm satisfied with my place in Left field and the knowledge that once in awhile a friend veers from the center to see what it is I'm looking at, listening to, talking about, dreaming of. Their objective is usually to bring me back into the fold, into the mainstream of activists. But occasionally they linger, considering possibilities they'd abandoned for more practical objectives years ago. We so desperately need artists and dreamers in the movement - to keep the vision alive in the midst of a sometimes brutal struggle to just survive.

This month I turned 45. I have been an activist for over a quarter of a century, and I just got started. I've seen the tide of social change rise and fall, flood and recede, over and over again. I know that demonstrators get gassed in the streets, radicals get thrown into holes, and idealists get dismissed or ignored. It doesn't matter what party is in power: whomever it is, they want to keep their power and often go to extremes to do so - as we see with Arizona's Republicans today, plotting ways to lengthen prison terms for citizens who betray their country by offering humanitarian aid to undocumented immigrants. They are desperate, and its not the immigrants they're afraid of - it's the American sympathizers. The "race traitors". The Latino citizens. The Native Americans. And those damn Black radicals. The people who actually have the power to vote now - and to purchase. The generation that will soon be making new laws, and deciding what to do with its more twisted elders.

That's why they gut the schools, screw the poor, and arrest all the radicals leaving jugs of water in the desert so others don't die on their journey to the Land of Opportunity. They are from the privileged class, and feel so entitled to their way of life that despite the lip-service paid here to good old American democracy they don't even pretend to represent the rest of us - making deals behind closed doors, passing budgets in the middle of the night. They are invested in keeping the vast majority of us ignorant and desperate to stay afloat - too desperate to critique how we ended up here in the first place, and too ignorant to know that there's another way to live. Many other ways.

Thank god for the "little" people - the "powerless" ones - the dreamers and idealists and inmates who chart alternative futures, then put themselves on the line trying to clear new paths. The hunger strikers in Arpaio's jail, for example, were inspiring but faced overwhelming odds. The "smart" prisoner would quietly do his time and try not to return. These fools, though, risked getting more time, harder time, even time that could kill them, for what?

For Justice.

To move the Free so deeply that we get off our asses and demand that prisoners be treated with dignity.

They did it not only for themselves, but also for us. They made us take notice.

Nothing I have done in my life - probably nothing I will ever do - rivals that kind of action in courage, vision, and uncompromising adherence the promise of our Dream of a nation which promotes equality, cherishes freedom, and values the rights and humanity of even the least of us. Righteousness comes from the strangest places sometimes: like these prisoners demanding edible food, demanding to be treated better than dogs.

And most of them weren't even citizens, nor were they trying to be. They're just trying to eke out a life. They could have just been put down without most of this state blinking an eye. Yet when it came down to it and it seemed they had no cards left to play, some actually found their freedom standing up for the rights of their fellow human beings in our desert jails. These were the least protected, most maligned people in this country up against the "toughest" most bigoted SOB of a sheriff I've ever seen. At one point nearly 2,000 inmates were striking. They totally undermined the authority of the bully they call a Sheriff here, and none of them had to pull a gun.

Those are the kinds of Americans we need more of, not less of, these days.

Rock on, brothers and sisters from the Global South. Don't believe it if they tell you what you've been trying to do is impossible, whether you are trying to change our land or your own; we are really all one.

If I had money I'd always be betting on those hunger strikers. This time I think they won, but even if they lost this battle - even if they lost their lives - they will have shaped the nature of the peace by affirming in the rest of us what this is all about. It is more than a dream they helped keep alive; it is a sustainable future for humanity. Only idealists would believe in such a possibility, and lay down everything for the fight.

This is why I'm an abolitionist, and not a middle-of-the-road reformer. I believe we'll end up where we're going, and I don't want a world with "better" prisons; I want one in which we don't need them. There are indeed horrendous prisons, but I do not believe there are any good ones. Their presence in our society reflects our collective failure, not the incidence of individual transgressions.

Some lament the middle for staving off the Revolution, but it would be a far more bitter, bloody fight without their dedication and moderation, and I myself may not have survived this long had they not pulled me back from the edge so many times. I value the work my moderate friends do because they keep people alive and help to ease their suffering. But without dreamers and idealists at their side, they risk becoming cold and jaded, or - worse yet - co-opted and settling for less while racism and capitalism continue to claim lives and gain ground.

Yes, I dream of a world with no prisons, as crazy as it sounds. A world that doesn't operate on violence. A world in which there are no bombs, not even smart ones. A world that raises children to love each other, instead of breeding hate and greed and fear. A world in which people are both free and responsible to each other and the planet. The kind of world that the better part of humanity has fought for over the course of centuries.

I believe that world may be possible some day, and I'm willing to do what I can to help build it. Even if I lay only one solid stone in my lifetime, and die at the hands of hateful disturbed men, I believe that dream is worth living for, and keeping it alive for future generations is my obligation. I will make mistakes; I will regret certain compromises. I will get discouraged, and may be consumed by despair. I will be discounted, discredited, and dismissed - sometimes by the practical "realists" who love me, sometimes by those further out on the limb than I dare to travel. The more I try to share this dream, the more others may try to silence me. I will meet resistance from all sides. But it's too late to temper me now. I have an extremely ambitious dream - a Freedom Dream - and I am hardly alone. From Robin Kelley to Angela Davis to the Freedom Riders and the Grimke sisters to Fredrick Douglass and those hunger strikers - and to my best friends and big brother - I am in the finest of company whenever I am true to the vision of that dream.

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