Tompkins County Virtual Town Hall Racial Justice and Healing: Voting Rights, HALT Solitary Confinement and Parole Justice 7-8:30pm, Wednesday, May 19 Zoom registration link: http://bit.ly/519Justice For info: Liza Cobb, firstname.lastname@example.org, 571-275-2107
To a virtual town hall, the Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ) and Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) have invited racial justice activists, people most affected by our state’s punishment system, and advocates for social justice to speak about policies that contribute to flourishing communities that respect the dignity and humanity of all.
At the town hall, outstanding organizers will share recent victories for fundamental human rights during the 2021 NYS legislative session and advocate for important bills central to the People’s Campaign for Parole Justice. Phoebe Brown, the CNY AFJ coordinator and a candidate for the Ithaca Common Council, will serve as moderator. Following the presentations, there will be an opportunity for questions. Speakers:
• ReEntry Theatre actors: Personal experiences of incarceration • Soffiyah Elijah, ED, Alliance of Families for Justice: Voting rights for disenfranchised people • Jerome Wright, Western NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC): HALT solitary confinement • Jose Saldaña, ED, Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP): People’s Campaign for Parole Justice • TeAna Taylor, Policy and Communications Associate, RAPP: Take Action: Elder Parole and Fair and Timely Parole bills • Anna Kelles, NYS Assembly member for District 125: Call to support “Justice Roadmap,” including parole justice bills, in Upstate NY • Khalil Bey, Ithaca artist, community activist and mentor who was formerly incarcerated: Inspiration through art • Bill Underwood, former entrepreneur in the music and entertainment business, now serving community through Underwood Legacy Fund: After 33 years of incarceration, creating second chance at life
Co-sponsors: Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP); People’s Campaign for Parole Justice (PCPJ); Western NY Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC); ReEntry Theatre, project of Civic Ensemble; Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition; and Decarcerate Tompkins.
In many minds, Ithaca NY is a mythical place, intertwining academia and social activism and peppered with small town niceness. I grew up in a small rural town in Northern California, not only separated from Ithaca by distance but ideologically opposed both to academia in general and to social activism as communism. When I ended up in Ithaca for work, I was unaware of, well, anything about Ithaca. However, it wasn’t long before I learned of the Gradys, a family that exemplifies both the approachability and far reach typical of activism here. I knew Clare Grady from reading articles about her work and from a few brief interactions around town. After reading her sentencing statement this last Fall, I was struck. At the beginning of February, Clare began a 12 month prison sentence, for entering a Georgia naval base and symbolically damaging weapons systems in protest of nuclear armaments. Clare’s actions arise from deep listening in many communities, as she describes in her powerful sentencing statement (included at the end of this post). My initial response to Clare’s statement was discomfort. And, as I am learning more, this discomfort was signalling me to pay attention to something. I believe that “something” is guilt related to the ways I have been complicit with white supremacy and the patriarchy. My hope is that in sharing this discomfort, other white christian cis-women who read this will be able to see a path from complicity with systems of oppression to nurturing more complete communities through action.
I grew up in a very white town, going to a very white christian church. The church ladies were certainly very kind to me, but I often felt deeply alone at church functions. While the adults in my life were largely saying one thing about the teachings of Jesus, what I was learning from their actions was the opposite. I learned that color blindness was nice, that women obeyed (and ensured everyone else did too), and that people who were suffering likely needed elbow grease rather than a neighborly hand. In contrast, at the outset of Clare’s sentencing statement she describes how her love of the Bible compels her actions:
“7. I love the mission statement of Loaves and Fishes from Matthew 25. I especially hold the part that says, “whatsoever we do to the least, that we do to Jesus.” The Bible passage tells us a little about the least, that they are those without food, drink, clothes, those without health care, without welcome, and the imprisoned. I add to this list of the “least”, those who are being killed, ESPECIALLY THOSE BEING KILLED IN OUR NAME. Because, when we kill others and harm others, we do that to Jesus. I believe it is a Christian calling to withdraw consent, interrupt our consent, from killing in our name. To do so is an act of Love, an act of justice, a sacred act that brings us into right relationship with God and neighbor.”
In high school, I remember being upset by the fearlessness of some of the young women whom I argued with between classes. I was arguing for the death penalty and against abortion in the name of ‘goodness’. It took me many years before I understood that what upset me was being shown the cognitive dissonance in my thinking. These conversations brought to mind uncomfortable questions around the internalized rules of whiteness and the patriarchy and capitalism, and the ways in which I might be complicit in harming others. In Clare’s statement, again right at the beginning, she reminds us of our responsibility for one another.
“It is the consequence of my choice to join friends to undertake an action of sacramental, non-violent, symbolic, disarmament because the Trident at Kings Bay is killing and harming IN MY NAME. To be clear, these weapons are not private property. They belong to the people of the United States. They belong to me, to you, to us. These weapons kill and cause harm in our name, and with our money.”
Over slow decades, I have experienced increasing clarity in understanding the systems of oppression that remove from view harm being done in our name, and how community can exist in the absence of that harm. I have learned from SURJ to follow the teachings of the most impacted, and in Ella Baker’s life I’ve found an incredible guide in deep listening. Stephen Preskill of the University of New Mexico wrote about Ella Baker:
When asked by an interviewer to explain how you organize people, she said matter of factly that you don’t start with what you think. You start with what they think. She continued, ‘You start where the people are. Identification with people…If you talk down to people, they can sense it. They can feel it. And they know whether you are talking with them, or talking at them, or talking about them’
It is this sort of community building that is often used in quick slogans but is the slow work of a lifetime. Throughout Clare’s sentencing statement she references conversations and learning in her life that center the communities who were most impacted. Clare speaks to and urges us to also listen to experts on nuclear weapons policy, indigenous people whose lands and lives are harmed by mining and testing of nuclear weapons, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people from the Marshall Islands, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others. It is through deep listening and organizing that we can speak with one another, form community, and take actions to reduce harm.
I still feel far from any sort of revelation or complete healing, but I now recognize that feeling of intimidation and unease, familiar from debates with my friends in high school, as a signpost toward a deeper understanding of a community where we all belong. There is however, incremental resolution of this discomfort, an ease that follows taking responsibility for the harm I cause, and joining in a deeper, more vulnerable, and real community.
It was that familiar feeling of discomfort that came up for me in reading Clare Grady’s sentencing statement. Her strength and conviction about the teachings of Jesus drew my attention towards the gaping chasms between what is often taught in white churches and the harm that is proliferated through christian legislation, charity, and evangelism. My understanding of the lesson of Jesus’ life: to build abundant community by deep listening and leaning into discomfort to better understand how to care for one another.
One day in Sunday School, my father drew a picture of a wall with a garden on one side and suffering on the other. He drew people climbing the wall, seeing the garden and not turning around. “Jesus,” he said, “saw the garden and went back to tell others about it”. As a child, I understood the lesson of kindness in the story. Now, I think that the wall represents all the ways in which we separate ourselves from one another, how we ‘don’t have time’ to understand the suffering of others, or the ways we invalidate trauma with stories of bootstraps. We can begin to take down the walls of oppression by simply listening to others’ experiences of harm, and as good folks (christian or not) taking action in community to reduce harm. Clare Grady’s deep listening and commitment to action are a wonderful example of how to do exactly that.
There is room for so much more connection, more love, and more discomfort. I would love to talk with you about what that might look like, or hear how my story might be similar or different from your own journey. You can leave comments here, or reach out via email at email@example.com.
The JUST DEMOCRACY COALITION is a new informal alliance of organizations, groups and individuals in and around Tompkins County, NY. We are organizing ourselves to do everything we can to stop an illegitimate power grab by the Trump administration. We see nonviolence as the effective strategy that will enable us to connect broadly with all who share our concern for protecting democracy – so that we can continue to work on transforming it.
WHY WE NEED TO ORGANIZE NOW
“We have a president who has openly said he might not respect the outcome of our election. We have to be ready if he claims victory before votes are counted, tries to stop counting, or refuses to accept a loss.” – The Washington Post, July 19, 2020
Stealing the election by any of these means is a coup, a power grab, a violation of the democratic process. Trump’s violations of power and law throughout the country has made this potential coup possible. The suppression and criminalization of protest, the deployment of unidentified troops accountable only to himself, the deliberate creation of chaos and violence, and the use of propaganda and outright lies that the Trump Administration has engaged in are just a few of numerous examples of abuse of power. This is unacceptable.
2. We will refuse to accept election results until all the votes are counted.
3. We will nonviolently take to the streets if a coup is attempted (or support those that do.)
4. If we need to, we will shut down this country to protect the integrity of the democratic process.
2) JOIN OUR NEXT COALITION ZOOM MEETING Wednesday, Nov 4, 7PM. Join the conversation and hear about actions being planned locally. You can join a team to help plan events, become a trained peacekeeper, get your organization to sign on to the Choose Democracy pledge, help with social media, lead us in songs and chants, make beautiful banners and signs… whatever your skills, there’s a way you can help. To register for this meeting and get the Zoom Link, click HERE
3) SIGN UP FOR ACTION ALERTS FROM CHOOSEDEMOCRACY.US Text CHOOSE to 50409 to be linked to national organizing efforts, and to receive a call to action the moment a coup is declared.
4) RALLY THIS SATURDAY TO PROTECT THE RESULTS AND BUILD A BETTER DEMOCRACY! Whatever the election results so far, let’s come together in a massive show of Peaceful People-Power on Saturday, November 7 at 1 PM at the Bernie Milton pavilion on the Ithaca Commons. We will gather in solidarity to demand that every citizen’s vote be counted, and that there will be a peaceful transfer of power. Register HERE.
5) LEARN THESE SIMPLE NEW SONGS by the Peace Poets— and get ready to share our people power, love and positivity at upcoming events!
MORE ABOUT THE JUST DEMOCRACY COALITION – TOMPKINS AREA
Build connections and collaborations among diverse groups and organizations with a shared commitment to stopping an attempted coup and building a more just democracy
Enable fast and flexible responses to changing situations
Organize events, actions, persuasion campaigns, and gatherings both in person and online
Build a collective culture of effective, discipline
Encourage preparation and planning for rolling strikes, general strike, or other forms of widespread noncompliance with illegitimate authority, if necessary
WHAT WE ARE DOING
Building a database of people in and around Tompkins County who want to be informed of actions (in person and online) that are happening around this year’s election and the aftermath
Sharing the Choose Democracy Pledge and encouraging organizations, elected officials, faith groups, and others to sign on
Encouraging everyone to lean on elected officials to demand that every vote be counted
Sending timely emails to our members to keep you informed of actions you can take from home and on the street
TC SURJ is working with the Tompkins Antiracist Coalition to drastically shrink the budget of the Ithaca Police Department and use local public funds to invest in true safety and community needs. As first steps, our multiracial coalition is gathering signatures for a demand letter and launching a popular education and agitation campaign. We invite you to sign our letter (a place to sign is linked in the demand letter above) and encourage other members of our community to sign, too.
Below the letter is the list of our specific demands. For more information about the demands, see this FAQ sheet.
Please add your name today! If you are part of an organization that wants to be a part of the coalition and help strategize moving forward, or have questions/comments, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.