Notes from Nine-Nine Decarcerate Event

by Jim Brash, member of North Star editorial board on September 22, 2016

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I arrived at the 9-9 event with 3 purposes:

  1. To represent the Green Party of New Jersey
  2. Document the day in real time via Twitter and Facebook.
  3. To join with like-minded people in solidarity with incarcerated men and women and their families.

Those goals were easily accomplished. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the speakers and participating in the short March down Market Street, from the Essex County Courthouse to the Lincoln monument. Not the joy of that one gains via some form of entertainment, or spending time with family, but the joy you have when you are part of an event that might be the catalyst for many more such events going forward. The one thing that kept nagging at me was the turnout.

There were less than two dozen people at the Newark event. I found a moment to ask about the Trenton event, and found out that it never materialized. Asked about Camden, found out a few people arrived but there was major miscommunication and therefore more forces couldn’t be drawn together. I still have the image of disbelief in my head, that I saw in Decarcerate the Garden State co-founder Bob Witanek’s eyes as he explained to me what happened elsewhere. He was visible upset about as well as saddened, but had given his all that day until that moment for the Newark event.

I asked myself, in a state where there over 25 thousand arrests simply for pot possession –  why wasn’t there more people in Newark? In the state where a Black person is 12 times as likely to be incarcerated as a white person – why wasn’t there more people to help bolster at least the events scheduled? In a state full of social justice activists, cannabis activists, supporters of Mumia, relatives of incarcerated workers, victims of police misconduct & judicial impropriety, as well as being home to many so-called progressives – why only a handful answered the call by the Free Alabama Movement, to show support with the National Prison Strike, held on the anniversary of the Attica uprising, in New Jersey?

As I grasped for answers, I began to remember and think about what was going on during the organizing calls for 9-9. That outside of POP no other organization that endorsed committed themselves to doing anything. Not because they didn’t want to do something but because they didn’t want to take ownership of it. Many organizations were willing to endorse but wanted the Committee to Decarcerate the Garden State, and more directly, it’s cofounder, Bob Witanek to organise everything.

Every endorsing organization should’ve committed staff, their network of contacts, some dollars, some something to ensuring that at least 3 events would take place and successfully built. Green Party candidate for Camden City Council Gary Frazier stepped forward to make something happen in Camden, but had problems communicating with other comrades the time and location, plus none of the endorsing organizations offered support. An organization or two were working on something in Trenton but allowed it to collapse, and then basically put the collapse at the feet of Decarcerate. We Greens were able to get a few of our people to Newark, but as an organization we were too preoccupied with a March and Rutgers event that featured Jill Stein to donate any time to planning an event of our own for 9-9. Then I looked more intently at myself.

As a Green and as a socialist I not only support but fight for social justice and sharing what I can about the criminal injustice system. As a Black man I am affected my mass incarceration and the mistreatment of incarcerated human beings because my community, my brethren are affected. I was on the calls for organizing but outside of helping with a few media advisories and a press release and attempting to be a sounding board for Bob when needed, I didn’t make the moves necessary to get more folks out, at least to Newark. And so I also failed to take ownership of 9-9. If I would’ve brought one person with me that would’ve been one more person that might have been able to convince one more to come down as well….and so on.

Going forward WE have to start organizing these events better together. One person or two people or two organizations can’t do all the organizing. We all need to take ownership for the work needing to be accomplished post-9-9. There will be more events – panels, teach-ins, civil disobedience, rallies etc. With this events there is much work to be done and we need to demand not ask, for a share. I challenge every organization that endorsed 9-9 to consider offering staff to help out with the organizing. If you can’t offer staff, consider sharing your network of contacts. If you can’t share your contacts, then share some dollars. If you don’t have dollars to commit, then commit to getting the entirety of your organization out to the event(s) you’ve endorsed. Ownership comes in many forms.

To fellow Decarcers, I challenge myself as I challenge you. Become not merely supporters of the movement to Decarcerate the Garden State, but it’s organizers. I’ve attached to this post a few minutes of Bob Witanek’s speech from Newark 9-9. Til next time.

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