If I believe in prison abolition, and I do, I don’t get to shift my philosophy when it suits me

I’ve been listening to them talk about 40 years for Lori Loughlin, a person I don’t think I’ve ever spent 10 seconds thinking about before this. I understand the outrage and frustration. Black parents have been thrown in jail for lying about where they lived so their children could attend a better public school. I understand the vulgarity of privilege and have been hurt by it. Often white women who do not acknowledge that privilege have been the very heart of that harm. 

But if I believe in prison abolition, and I do, then I don’t get the option of shifting my philosophy when it suits me. Either I have a principle, or I don’t. Either I believe in transformative justice, which centers the idea that no member of society exists in a vacuum or external to that society and addressing a harm must not be grounded in individual revenge but returning all involved, including the broader community, to whole. Prisons and jails are a failed, lazy response to social disruptions. No matter what the crime. All these people doing time and every harm still stalks us: sexual assault, murder, larceny. Whatever. 

I’m interested in working with people who are less about turning up and more about turning in, considering what is needed to have a society where equity and health and compassion and safety and joy are the norm. And yet even from people who say they honor these things, I more hear anger and revenge, emotions I understand well, but ones that I refuse to allow guide any decision I make or position I take.


(Image Credit: Empty Cages Design)

Ending the War on Drugs: It’s time to have the conversation

History of the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush
, the video we did with dream hampton, Jay Z and Molly Crabapple, has officially won best nonprofit video of the year!!! Thank you to all who voted and shared!! Be with me for a moment as I share some thoughts about why this was important:

Winning this award helps us center the critical importance of ending the drug war–for those of us who value human rights, freedom, justice, compassion and dignity. Make no mistake. The drug war started by Nixon in 1971, was a direct response to the civil rights movement. Period.

Ending the drug war is not only about ending a set of intricate series of policies rooted in racism, xenophobia and false morality. It’s about transforming a way of thinking that would even allow those policies to be enacted and thrive. That way of thinking has helped make us the world’s largest incarcerator. It has provided a disturbingly large range of people cover when police kill our kids and our elders. It has allowed us to shrug as our own neighbors and family members struggled and died. It has destroyed families, ripping children from their parents’ arms. It has created a created a nation evermore deeply committed to the horrific, really, the demonic, notion that some lives are valuable and others wholly expendable.

Our movement is a big tent and as such we hold space for everyone but unlike many other movements for justice and peace, we also hold space the most disenfranchised, the most harmed: the poorest, the darkest, the criminalized, those least afforded civil rights because of where they were born or the gender they identify/don’t identify with or the person they love–and of these groups of people, those additionally disparaged because of their involvement with drugs. Our work is noble and life-saving because our work speaks for the least of these, for people often rejected by their very families and scapegoated by all of society.

As soon as it’s said that someone uses or sells drugs, all other questions seem to fall away. Did they actually harm anyone else? If so, how and what’s a way to respond to that harm that restores all to whole? Was that person themselves a target of harm? How does that factor in the equation? Since every society in recorded history has used drugs, what is the way to respond to that without hurting people? What keeps people alive and safe????? These are questions even the progressives among us have sometimes shirked, but it’s time to have the conversation.




(Image and Video Credit: YouTube / Drug Policy Alliance)

Black Lives Matter, ACT UP, and let the naysayers be damned

All movements for justice that have participated in direct actions have been maligned. Actions have been called misguided and worse by non-participants. There’s a place and time for righteous criticism but it’s not outside the doors of a movement. It’s inside, with the strategists and actors and real-world risk takers.

The last two days I have been thinking about when ACT UP burst onto the scene. I was young, a teenager, and a huge number of my friends then were gay and artists and musicians and most of them are dead. They died fast and ugly and with lesions and mostly alone. I remember how even hugging my friends in hospitals seemed like an act of resistance. That’s how deep the lies were, the fears.

And I didn’t know how to process so much loss before I was 21, but I do know how nasty the comments were when ACT UP disrupted Wall St trading for the first time in history, when they interrupted the nightly news, when activists got Body Positive naked in Manhattan. And I do know after there at least began to be a public discussion about how to save lives, a conversation that had previously been viciously squashed by the Reagan administration and stigmatized by the wider society. And then public and private funding increased for research. And more people lived. And we stopped having to whisper that someone we loved had AIDS. And there is so much more to do about HIV/AIDS especially for Black people, people living in the Global South and people living in poverty but there was also a beginning and it ACTed the fuck UP and every person in reach of this post who cares about Black lives should too and let the naysayers be damned.


(Photo Credit 1: Naomi Ishisaka / http://ijoarts.com) (Photo Credit 2: Queerty)

Mae Mallory. I #SayHerName

For all of my sisters involved in the work of organizing for justice and freedom, please, if you would, take a moment to read this as a favor to me because it’s too hard for me to hold alone this morning when I can’t stop thinking about freedom fighter, Mae Mallory, a leader of the Harlem 9, a radical Black organizer who pushed to end unfair conditions in New York’s segregated school, a woman who risked her life and freedom in supporting her friend, Robert F. Williams, leader of the North Carolina NAACP and staunch advocate for armed Black self-defense.

Ms. Mae, present when they executed Minister Malcolm, mentored a woman who would later mentor me, Yuri Kochiyama, and at dinner with my Godmother, Safiya Bandele, this week, she shared that when Ms. Mae was near death she said, “I gonna die a Black woman, fat, alone, unloved and unacknowledged.”

It wasn’t as true as she thought it was, but I know the feeling and I know women who have had this feeling, this sense, that their lives and their work will be unaccounted for, disremembered when not disparaged and dismissed. I see this happen in the work all the time and too often by people who say that they are our comrades in struggle, or in the very least, share our worldview.

This is not the only battle we need to engage, but it is one of the most important: ensuring that those who are doing the work and giving the world everything they have to make it more livable are not dismissed by louder, often snarkier voices. Mae Mallory. I #SayHerName.



(Photo Credit: http://zinnedproject.org) (Video Credit: Vimeo / Schomburg Center Black Freedom Studies)

I appreciate the Christian ethos of forgiveness. But …


I appreciate the Christian ethos of forgiveness. But in the most generally used and accepted meaning of the practice, the protocol of forgiveness requires that one come humbly, make confession of one’s sins, and ASK for forgiveness; and once asked for and penance received and acted upon, forgiveness is granted by God. So as appreciative as I am of this protocol, I am equally troubled by what appears to be our training to almost knee-jerk hand out forgiveness. This is something I worry that works against us, for it seems to demand we forgive but without our right to wholly engage our pain, our need to heal, our right to be restored–and then the time to actually do these things. One cannot dictate another’s healing or grieving process or timeline, and that’s not my attempt here. But I worry that if past is prologue, the way we’ve been trained to say ‘I forgive,’ absent, it appears, critical unpacking, moves the dialogue too fast and us into a supplicating position where we “forgive the sinner, hate the sin,” and then are forced to move forward without the rightful space to restore those who directly experienced this massacre–as well as the impact upon we who were a witness and now, now we all must live with yet another level of terror in our blood–which impacts our health, physical, spiritual, emotional. Forgiveness, I am saying, in this nation, lands too often as a tool of white supremacy.

I am writing this to say I need time to heal. I am writing this to say that if I do, I can’t imagine what those who were in the church that night, or their family and friends and fellow congregants need. This above all, is what sits in my heart this Saturday Mourning.



(Photo Credit: Getty Images / Win McNamee)