KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

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"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights

Michelle Alexander had an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times on Sunday, May 15th.

Michelle argues, rightly so, for a " a re-commitment to the movement-building work that was begun in the 1950s and 1960s and left unfinished."

.....Today, 2.3 million Americans are behind bars; the United States has the world’s highest rate of incarceration. Convictions for non-violent crimes and relatively minor drug offenses — mostly possession, not sale — have accounted for the bulk of the increase in the prison population since the mid-1980s. African-Americans are far more likely to get prison sentences for drug offenses than white offenders, even though studies have consistently shown that they are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. 

Those who believe that righteous indignation and protest politics were appropriate in the struggle to end Jim Crow, but that something less will do as we seek to dismantle mass incarceration, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge. If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars. A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.

Yes, some prison downsizing is likely to occur in the months and years to come [because of the current financial crisis]. But we ought not fool ourselves: we will not end mass incarceration without a re-commitment to the movement-building work that was begun in the 1950s and 1960s and left unfinished. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch. If we fail to rise to the challenge, and push past the politics of momentary interest convergence, future generations will judge us harshly.

Her book - THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS

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