Thursday, July 31, 2014

Proposed Tactics and Strategies for the Committee to Decarcerate the Garden StateStreet Panel Discussion - Bob W's Prepared Remarks

Below is what I had prepared for the July 30 Street Panel Discussion to Decarcrate the Garden State.  While I stuck to the basic points I had planned to hit I probably abbreviated it some since folks had been there for a while already.  I give those in attendance credit for hearing me out after having already been out there at Newark City Hall in the sun for 2 hours.

The actual presentation can be viewed here:

Proposed Tactics and Strategies for the Committee to Decarcerate the Garden State
 Street Panel Discussion - Bob W's Prepared Remarks

Our NJ Decarceration Act iniitiatlve is basically a Legislative effort – it can bring short term relief for a few but not  an end to mass incarceration which will require systemic change . . . however we can not be revolutionaries that only promise long term solutions and some non disclosed distant date . . . it sounds too much like a pipe dream to those whose families and communities are devastated now by mass incarceration, joblessness, inadequate housing, over priced and substandard food, rising energy and water costs . . . if we want the masses of people to be part of our revolution to replace the system that depends upon mass incarceration for maintenance and control of those populations which it exposes to the most intensive forms of exploitation . . . then we must earnestly fight for immediate relief so that the masses we want to engage in our struggle will be around for the long haul, will respect that our fight is just and will become part of the long term struggle.

So even if we know that the system is rotten to the core . . . which it is . .  . we need to join the struggle to support the NJ Decarceration Act . . . and we need to make it clear to legislators, first those who represent communities that are most directly targeted by mass incarceration, over policing, over prosectution and over sentencing, to the point where 60 percent of NJ state incarcerated are Black, 26 percent Latino, that not only do they need to support the NJ Decarceration Act because it is the right thing to do – but because their political survival depends upon it.

So a key strategy of our Committee to Decarcerate the Garden State has been to introduce the concept of a NJ Decarceration Act and to begin to approach our political leadership with the concept.  The problem with the political class that wants to continue to herd us to election polls every November is – everyone says there are too many prisoners – we spend too much on prisons – we have too many non-violent prisoners – yet where are the robust proposals for massive decarceration . . . the US has 4 times its share of prisoners vs. the rest of the world – if there is such a thing as a fair share – and there is no comprehensive measures addressing this on an emergency basis.

We have put a proposal forward – it is spelled out in The NJ Decarcerator paper.  It is no doubt flawed and imperfect and will need changes based upon practicalities and legalities – and will be subject to other changes by those who want to water it down and render it less effective – but it is a legitimate proposal and the onus now is on the political class to either take it and run with it or to come up with their own proposal that will deliver massive relief.

So we will continue to push for this Decarceration Act and thus far we have focused upon Sen. Ron Rice – not to single him out – but because his constituents are strong for this and are among those in the state that are most targeted by mass incarceration.  However, our plan is to continue to reach out to more representatives in the Senate and Assembly and hopefully Senator Rice or another representative will soon step out and be bold enough to put it out their to the floor.

In support of our Decarceration Act effort we have promoted an on-line petition with currently about 1100 signers.  Today the petition drive has entered a new phase with an old fashioned paper on clipboard version.  This way we can use the petition as a way to engage folks in face to face discussion of the issue and also as a way to identify our constituency for follow up work.
The next part of our strategy is to take the public street forum, like we are having today – and we had a smaller such forum this past May in New Brunswick – and we find committees in the other targeted communities around the state and begin organizing in those communities as well to bring this kind of message to the floor – or to the street.  Of course the shape and content of each event will be determined by those local communities.  But through such organizing drives we will also urge the local communities to approach their own represeantatives as we have approached Sen. Rice and will approach assembly representatives.  We encourage those in other parts of the state to reach out to us for support of local organizing of such forums and for Newark folks to be willing to take it on the road to advise and help get other towns organized.

Another part of our strategy is the NJ Decarcerator.  This first issue includes an open letter to the community organizations, includes the proposed act and a run down of the NJ Decarceration Act strategy, it includes articles about torture in NJ state facilities including solitary confinement and massive violence and rampant racism at Bayside.   It contains supportive yet critical analysis of our own efforts, discussion of the bail reform being proposed and various other perspectives on decarceration.  The paper is a way for us to raise the issue of discussion and to bring the issue into the community and other communities.  As we share the paper we can use it as a chance to engage on the topics.  We have 6000 in the first run of the first issue.  We will need help in distribution and folks should be encouraged to help but PLEASE!  The biggest nightmare is folks taking copies and not getting them out.  I encourage those of you that have the paper to read it in its entirety – to share it with your family members and friends.  You don’t have to agree with everything in the paper – it would be pretty hard to do because there are likely contradictory opinions in here.  But hopefully the paper will stir things up and make it abundantly clear that there is something wrong with the way the system is incarcerating millions of people and that we no longer have to accept it.

Another aspect of our work is to develop a Justice Subcommittee.  The purpose of that is to offer support to families and to those on the inside that are victims of miscarriage of justice either through false conviction, over charging, over sentencing.  Renee Felton who is on the panel will detail her son’s particular case.  Our Justice Subcommittee needs to be able to support people like her son Kwadir Felton who was sentenced to 16 years for the crime of not dying after being shot in the head and blinded by a police bullet in Jersey City.   Our Justice Committee also needs to support those that are incarcerated and being abused on the inside.  There truly are people that need to be separated from others for a time for things they have done but nobody should be tortured by the prison system – often such torture can be worse than the original infraction the incarcerated person was convicted of doing.  We also need to support the incarcerated when they organize to improve their conditions be it through hunger strike or other actions.  Too often us radicals on the outside who support every international movement challenging imperialism fall down on the job when it comes to supporting incarcerated who face the most severe repression yet every so often are able to mount effective resistance to their mistreatment.

Our justice subcommittee needs to support political prisoners, those who are incarcerated for fighting for their community or against the injustices carried out on behalf of the wealthy oligarchs and multinational corporations.   We need to demand their freedom but also support their humane treatment.   Our decarceration movement should be a place where political prisoner support groups can reach out to and we can share their information and support the action calls that they generate.
Our decarceration movement needs to be a place where families and decarcerated can turn to for help – we need to be able to put out the call of support and share their information and hopefully enroll the families and the decarcerated themselves as members of our decarceration organizations.  We hope to develop outreach strategies through the families – possibly by distributing NJ Decarcerator at visitor lines as well as other methods.

Eventually our movement needs to become effective and stronger to the point that when we demand justice, be it for a political prisoner, a victim of a frame up, a tortured incarcerated person, a victim of police violence who is prosecuted to cover up the police crime – we put the system in a position where it realizes that it better do something about it.   We need to have effective strategies but we also need to be massively mobilized and well organized to make that happen.

Another important aspect of our work is self reflection and study.  We need to inform ourselves of this issue by studying it, by reading and discussing.  In order to make the case – be it on the streets – in the class room – or in meetings with officials – we need more than a gut feel that it is wrong.  We need to have our facts lined up and our arguments and counter arguments prepared.  Toward those ends we have started – albeit in a small way – a study group of the Michelle Alexander text The New Jim Crow.  We started with 10 copies of the book which we are either loaning or sharing at cost to us –with those who have it – and we intend to read and discuss both face to face and on line.  We encourage folks who have the book, plan to get it etc. to participate in these discussions.   This is the first text but there are other books as well.  We also will obtain copies of the DVD Broken on All Sides – and we can use that for meetings in libraries, classrooms, etc.  Our members are also available to speak at your organization meetings, in classrooms, or even in your living room if you wanted to organize a community meeting.

Finally we have developed some on line resources that will connect you to all that I have outlined including our website – – can you repeat that for me?  We also have a blog site that we use to put up our press releases and the documents of our organization.  Those who would like to become authors there – contact us and we can add you as an author.  We also have put all of our minutes and documents up in our Facebook group Decarcerate the Garden State.  Now that our website is up we will also archive the documents there.

All of these strategies and tactics are more fully explored in NJ Decarcerator paper – so please do read thoroughly to get the full picture of our proposed plan .
We don’t have all the answers and we might not be doing everything perfectly but we do have a plan and the biggest part of our plan has been our collective approach to our work.   We have been meeting weekly for a couple of months and have had rich discussions.  We do not always stay on point of our agenda but we have made a lot of decisions and accomplished some degree of success so far.  The most important part of our strategy is that we grow and engage – all of you who are hear – and we become a much bigger committee – we started this with a few people and got the word out to a good part of Newark – we got enough people here relative to the rest of the state to have the same impact on the whole state.  There might be some aspects of what we are doing that needs to change and there might be some things we are doing right that we need to fine tune.  And as more people become engaged we will figure those things out and we will shift into the next gear.

We are fighting for some immediate short term changes but we recognize that even if we pass a NJ Decarceration Act – mass incarceration will still be utilized – because the system needs it to keep resistance to its designs – on behalf of the wealthy and powerful – in check.  Mass incarceration and the torture and abuse that goes with it has the stench of rot because it is parcel to a rotten to the core system.  As we fight for immediate changes – we need to continue to educate ourselves about the mechanisms of the system and realize that like imperialism and massive war, like slaughter of innocents, like environmental destruction, double digit unemployment , sub survival wages and abuse of workers, overpriced low quality food, speculation on water and manipulation of energy costs, mortgage foreclosure fraud and substandard housing – these are all parcel of a system set up for the wealthy billionaires and we must join the battle for systemic change – but for now we need immediate relief – we need to see our way to tomorrow before we see our way to the revolution.  So we must fight for decarceration and pass the NJ Decarceration Act – not 5 years from now – but now and we need to make sure Sen. Rice and everybody else in Trenton gets that message loud and clear.

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