(PHOTOS) IBW Call to Action to End Mass Incarceration & War on Drugs

By Nick Westbrooks @NickWestbrooks

End the War

WASHINGTON (June 17, 2013) – D.C. residents and national supporters alongside the Institute of the Black World marched and rallied today in front of the White House urging the Obama Administration to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs.

The Direct Day of Action marks the 42nd anniversary of the War on Drugs, and it brought a plethora of speakers including clergy men (Yes, they were all men.), leaders of community organizations relating to the criminal [in]justice system, law enforcement and reentry as well as activists and politicians. Rev. Jesse Jackson was the keynote speaker, and Mark Thompson the host of Make it Plain on Sirius/XM radio moderated the event. The youngest and the probably the only young person that spoke was Hip-Hop artist and activist Jasiri X who delivered a few rhymes before engaging in a brief speech on the criminal [in]justice system’s attack on the youth.

A few people held signs that read “the War on Drugs is a war on us” [Black people]. Unfair sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses and mass incarceration disproportionately affect African people in the United States. Activists fighting against the system constantly reference Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to put the relationship between slavery/Jim Crowism and the current Black prison population into perspective.

Advocates are calling for federal intervention in particular for President Obama to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs through either Congressional legislation or executive order. After its inception 42 years ago by President Nixon, families and communities have been destroyed by the War on Drugs, and many Americans are tired of it. Most supporters would prefer the government to focus on drug rehab, mental health and job creation.

Although the rally was small in number, the energy was powerful, and the message will get out to the masses through the various media outlets that were present –both national and international– and the influence of social media and the Internet. Petitioning the federal government is a step towards ending mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, but as Salim Adofo from the National Black United Front (NBUF) said, we need our own people in the boardrooms to change policy as well as the street soldiers in the community reaching out to the grassroots. We must unite across organizations, faiths and races and  implement all tactics and use all avenues to obtain the change we want to see.

View some of the photos from today’s rally below:

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Who Will Continue the Race for Social and Civil Rights?

Last week, I read a USA Today column by DeWayne Wickham discussing the legendary Jesse Jackson’s plan to rally against black-on-black violence.  A major crusade, Wickham writes that Jackson plans to galvanize followers and march in 20 cities “hard hit by the gun violence that has made the streets of America a bigger killing field for young black men in the United States than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been for U.S. troops.”

I don’t know if the marches will be an effective solution or not, but Jackson is definitely tackling one of the more important issues devastating the Black community along with mass incarceration and unemployment. In another space, we can discuss tactics and strategies, but here it’s necessary to address leadership and participation.

As Wickham mentioned, Jackson turned 70 in October. While many individuals have been questioning the civil rights leader’s relevance, the writer of the column suggests that this may be Jackson’s “last big campaign.” For many, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Simply but respectfully affirmed, the man is old. He doesn’t have the energy and influence that he had in his heyday of his career.

But the question now shouldn’t be, “How do we expedite the process of getting Jesse out?” The questions we should be asking are, “Who will continue where Jesse Jackson left off?” and “How will we transfer his and his contemporaries’ leadership position to some new organizers?”

From a historical perspective, it was the young people transitioning into adulthood who were leading the Civil Rights Movement. They were Black men and women in college executing marches, freedom rides, rallies, sit-ins and voter registration drives.

With voter suppression laws, black-on-black carnage and mass incarceration, there is no time better than now to stir up and usher in a fresh group of young and energetic leaders. As a young man in college, I’m more than willing and able to take on the role, but I don’t have the training or the blueprint for action.

Although times have changed, the same social ills plaguing the Black community remain. Jackson’s relevance lies in taking under his wing, the 18-year-olds through the 30-somethings and teaching them the strategies that earned victories in the Black community. Combining those age-old tactics, education, new media and the youthful energy of the present, we may successfully exterminate black-on-black bloodshed.

It will take the cooperation of both the older and younger generations. The older generations must be willing to reach out to the younger generations and teach them how to organize. The younger generations must be willing to reject apathy and the diversions that distract us from the real issues. The youth must also be willing to sacrifice, which is the foundation of service and leadership. We must be willing to sacrifice status and prestige. We shouldn’t concern ourselves with appealing to a liberal, conservative or mainstream media’s agenda.

Jesse Jackson is one of last veterans still running the race for social and civil rights. Many of the men and women that were running with him have dropped out and have earned the right to do so. They either no longer have the energy and ability, or they are no longer with us.

For the leaders like Jackson and his contemporaries who are still with us, we should be waiting in the hand-off zone to receive the baton as they run their last 200 meters of this relay for human rights.

For the leaders like Jackson and his contemporaries who are still with us, we should be waiting in the hand-off zone to receive the baton as they run their last 200 meters of this relay for human rights. The livelihood and preservation of our Black communities and people depend on a new movement supported by the leaders of yesterday and spearheaded by the young leaders of today.