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The Georgia Greens and Black mass incarceration

Bruce Dixon, here:

In Georgia, our Green Party will look a lot like a red, black and green party. We are confident that with black majorities or near majorities in many of the state's largest counties, including several outside metro Atlanta, that some of these contests are eminently winnable by Green candidates willing to place the issue of mass incarceration squarely on the political front burner. We will be recruiting and training those candidates and the people who want to work with them to change this failed and destructive social policy.

By comparison, the mobilization achieved by the Obama campaigns last year was superficial, a mile wide and an inch deep, its imperatives dictated from the top down rather than from the bottom up, and its activists dispersed and demobilized immediately after the election. Establishment campaigns, such as Democrats usually conduct, are not “movements”. They are where movements go to die, or are betrayed misdirected, and disbanded. To be successful the fight to change and reverse the national policy of black mass incarceration must be closer to a real mass movement than anything seen in a generation, directed and inspired in large part from below. As far as Georgia's Green Party is concerned it will not be the slave of any candidate's political career. It won't go away after a few, or maybe quite a few people get elected, or not. It aims at nothing less than explaining, confronting and curtailing the carceral state with the power of organized people.

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CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

I just don't think the opposition to America's policy of mass incarceration can attract a enough support to win control of any state government once the law and order crowd sees what is happening and reacts.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

It has a powerful resonance in black communities, and is therefore a powerful draw of votes in cities and areas with a heavy black population- like the city of Atlanta.

Maybe it's not the most important issue to some people, but it's still a good issue to be concerned with, and if it gets the votes needed to achieve political power then I'm all in favor of starting out with it. Rally votes around the issue of mass incarceration, get liberals and leftists elected to office on the issue, then tackle mass incarceration. Once mass incarceration has been tackled, or is in the process of being tackled, then you use the power you gained with it as an issue to move on to other pressing issues.

Submitted by lambert on

... it's a good wedge issue that will split the Dems and strengthen the Greens, making the Dems easier to take over.

And I think Bruce has done the math, too (to address CMike's concern, above).

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

And Republicans/conservatives still control Georgia state government and those in the rest of the South. Atlanta has had African-American mayors, four different ones including the current mayor, Shirley Clarke Franklin, since 1974. What impact have they had on this issue and or local police policy generally?

The opportunity to stand up against America's policy of mass incarceration may quicken the heart beats of lefties everywhere. However, those on the left who follow political issues are going to the polls all ready, voting Democratic or third party I would guess. Maybe, by concentrating on this issue, you can increase voter participation among working and underclass blacks and others who are indifferent to electoral politics and don't vote. That's a tough demographic to reach out to, though. In the end, I don't think dividing centrist, left leaning, and leftist votes between a third party and Democratic candidate gets you anywhere.

I favor rallying around an issue that would attract white Republican voters and possibly bring some of those who don't vote into the process. I think single payer health care for all is the best issue for this. Of course, single payer is more of a federal issue than a state or local one, nonetheless, it's a useful one to organize around at all levels.* The key is Democratic voters must make support for single payer a litmus test for all Democratic candidates.

*Sarah Palin made pro-life one of her planks when she first ran for mayor of Wasilla.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

Obama said that the only thing preventing single payer was a Dem president. Well, they got one, and big majorities in the House and Senate. But the Speaker, who supposedly was a single payer advocate for 30 years doesn't even give it a real debate. Instead she pushes through an insurance industry bailout. Meeks. Conyers. And so on.

Holding onto the Democratic Party is like waiting for pasta in a pan to cook when the stove is not turned on.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

I agree that SP could function as the fulcrum of a national third (well actually second) party. On the local level, however, there is definitely a lot to be said for campaigning in predominantly AA wards and precincts on the issues which are of most concern to them.

The drug war and mass imprisonment might have some traction there. Though the main point to keep in mind is that turnout tends to be pitifully low in these areas. In New Haven, for example, where I served, in some of these wards it was often less than 10% of eligible voters.

This was a result of a deliberate strategy by Democratic machines which recognized that the voting blocks they had control over (the churches and city workers) were disproportionately significant when turnout was low.

This ended up shooting them in the foot in statewide races (there's been a Republican governor for a long time) but they didn't seem to care.

The point is that local races accompanied by major voter registration drives (starting well in advance) could be very successful in these areas.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

You're saying city machines have more control over the general election process than state parties and that those machines are more concerned with controlling intra-party personnel issues than encouraging general election turn-out? That would be in cities where they have large registration advantages, right? Otherwise, I assume, they have to pull out the stops to "get out the vote."

On a related note, I have always wondered why, year in and year out, registration of blacks is not Job #1 for the Democratic Party. Finding single women to register seems like it would be harder to do and Democrats wouldn't end up with as large a net advantage of voting loyalists among that group. This is not to say Democrats devote enough effort to registering single women throughout the months between election seasons. You would think also that Democrats would try and be successful at making voting a cultural ritual for African-Americans. (Conservatives have to be careful encouraging the long term habit of voting by their own working class supporters.)

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

Yes-the state (and national) party relies on the local party apparatus for GOTV. That and the unions. And, to be clear (which I was not in my post) I'm talking about major eastern and predominantly black cities which are almost entirely Democratic.

And yes, low rates of registration are all about protecting incumbents from potential primary challenges. There is no threat in the general election. New Haven, for example, had two Greens, two Republicans and 26 Dems on the Board of Alderman. Repugs had- and have-NAMBLA level approval ratings in big cities.

To be honest, it is anecdotal evidence I'm presenting above and I have never seen a serious study done of this-i.e. voter registration by local Democratic machines. But I'm pretty certain it could be easily confirmed it by consulting voting lists.

I do know for a fact that the local party had no serious voter registration drives in the years that I was in NH. While no Dem would speak to me on the record about why this was the case, savvy local journalists knew the score and related the explanation offered above to me as an open secret.

Hope that's a bit more clear.

Submitted by brucedixon on

where I spent more than twenty years volunteering in, consulting for and helping run insurgent Democratic campaigns and registration drives in various communities. Machines like the famous Daley contraption that has ruled my home town most of the last half century damp down registration and do all they can to lower turnout in ALL primary elections and off-year city contests. They want big turnouts in general elections ONLY. We had to fight for years and years to be able to freely register people.

You're right, somebody could write a book about registration. When we ran Bobby Rush, formerly of the IL Chapter of the Black Panther Party and now congressman for the 1st district of IL for alderman in 1975 we discovered the Urban League had a mobile voter registration bus. We persuaded them to bring it to the projects on 37th street one afternoon and spent a couple days canvassing the area in advance. They opened up and 9 and by noon we had registered seventy people. Somebody got on the phone to City Hall. They closed for lunch, and before 1PM the registeration bus had left, never to return until shortly before the following year's presidential election. And in the meantime the only place you could register to vote, in a city of 3 million, was City Hall during weekday business hours, and in your precinct from 6 yo 6 exactly 28 days before each election.

We had to fight years and years to get to be able to freely register people. We had to sue, picket the mayor's house, disrupt the governor's appearances, get arrested, etc. When we finally won that fight we elected Harold Washington mayor. But that's a book that hasn't been written either.

Submitted by brucedixon on

because it does not appeal to "centrists" is one I find abhorrent. Maybe the "centrists" don't live in communities who are paying the terrible cost of this failed and malevolent social policy. Did you know that after a felony conviction in GA, almost nobody will even rent you an apartment? Have any of these "centrists" had to rent apartments for family members because of this absurd crap? Do the "centrists" know that even in states where you supposedly can vote after serving your sentence, that you really cannot without absurdly burdensome letters and accompanying documentation furnished to judges, parole boards, local boards of election and other entities?

My colleague Glen Ford made a speech on the subject before a group of 200-300 mostly young black women in NYC last week, college grads and sorority ladies almost all of them. It hit home with them, because they are from the same families and communities where the facts of the policy and its effects are undeniable.

The issue has enormous appeal in black communities because they can see it happening to their own families and friends and communities on a scale completely unconnected to crime rates or any of that. I reject any suggestion that it is illegitimate as a political issue because Republicans and "centrist' Democrats might prefer to avert their eyes. Fortunately, we do not require their permission, which is another reason to do it outside the Democratic party.

Submitted by lambert on

Not only is it the morally right thing to do, it's fucking brilliant strategically. It's all good, legitimate, what have you. Fuck the Dems sideways for not doing what they should have done long ago.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Single payer is one, issues having to do with labor rights and employment opportunities are among others. Those are issues which lend themselves to creating a voting bloc large enough to swing a state or national election your way. As you know, we don't have a system that allows a minority party, after an election, to join in creating a government and enacting policy. (The exception is, after winning, Democrats do have a habit of sharing power with Republicans.)

Incarceration rates in this country are as absurd as they are tragic. However, I do not think it's an issue that is as likely to win over centrist voters as are some others. I may be wrong about that; I may be a bad person and just not realize it, but that's what I think.

Further, I think American society becomes kinder and gentler when the economic life of the median income person is improving. Voters are more receptive to moral arguments when their own standards of living are on the rise. (For the sake of argument here, I'll grant you that young black female college grads and sorority ladies are atypical in this regard.) If I'm right, this may just go to show you that centrists and those on the right are, at their core, bad people. That may well be but that still leaves you stuck trying to effect change through democratic processes.

Submitted by lambert on

I think Bruce should throw caution to the winds to do exactly what he's planned.

The system is chaotic, heterodyning. Small changes, big effects....

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I think that has more resonance in white communities - due to cost and their own use of drugs - than many think, particularly for drugs like marijuana. And the practical effect would be to lower incarceration rates for African Americans and others.

But mostly I think it's not about trying to fashion one solution or look for some magic tactic that will deliver us to the liberal promise land. Any challenge to Democrats from the left on any issue anywhere is a good thing, IMO. I don't think there is a perfect solution that we can just adopt, I think the solution is for us to challenge the corporatists in every community, every way we can. And this sounds like a good start in the communities where they're planning to hit.

As for my Senator Jim Webb, I generally don't like him, but his advocacy for saner policy on incarceration is one of the few areas that make me happy he's in office. Given the crappy democrats we generally get in Virginia, he's at least good for something unlike, say, Tim Kaine.

Submitted by lambert on

"...where they're planning to hit."

Exactly. Maybe down the road somebody's going to run on a sane drug policy and it turns out the roads merge. What you said: "Challenge the corporatists in every community, every way we can."

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

Since Lambert proposed a little while back that Corrente could function as a support group for nascent third party efforts, I'll chime in here with a few scattered observations.

Bruce may very well be right that criminal justice reform could be a winning issue in certain targeted races in certain communities. The key here is targeting. I'd be very interested in hearing specifics about what he has in mind-i.e. which races, on what levels, what existing organization resources he would tap into (e.g. unions and churches-all important down there) and what pool the Greens are drawing candidates from. (Recruiting candidates, incidentally, is much easier said than done; almost everyone gets cold feet when it comes to actually signing the papers.)

If we are talking about local races, the question comes up how mass incarceration can be made an issue, since most of the relevant statutes are state and federal. What could be moved on a local level which would have the effect of eliminating, for example, mandatory sentencing?

Along these lines, I once proposed the following idea when I was in office: have the New Haven police enter the Yale dorms and execute mass arrests of those students in possession of controlled substances-in the same way that they routinely do in other (which is to say black and hispanic) neighborhoods.

You can be sure that after a few senators', CEOs' and ambassadors' kids started serving hard time, mandatory sentencing would end in a hurry.

We were never able to move on it and I'm not sure if the paradox of reducing incarceration by (initially) increasing it can be resolved. (Though a similar logic applies to reinstituting the draft as an antiwar measure). I mention it as the kind of concrete proposal which would show that you actually meant business and had something to offer beyond rhetorical "support" for a given position.

Finally, I should say that having Bruce Dixon signed on as press secretary is about the strongest endorsement of the seriousness and legitimacy of a partisan organization as I can imagine, one that should be leveraged into plenty of in kind and financial contributions from the "left" in all states, insofar as that terms has any meaning these days.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

Imprisoning people for noncompliance with social policy is a human rights violation, especially when the prisons are as inhumane as many American prisons are. And a government that practices mass incarceration is at war with its own people. This should not be a negotiable issue for liberals.

I don't know if the practice could have been stopped earlier. America is characterized by a punitive culture, and an acceptance that non-productive violence in the form of wars and incarcerations constitutes legitimate economic development. However, I think there's increasing rejection of imprisonment for some things, notably drug possession. The cost of the prisons is also a potential opening during a recession. Until we educate the population to less flat-out meanness, we'll have problems with an agenda of wide-spread social support.

jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

is committed to the cause of prison reform. He's sponsored a bill to examine the issue and wants to reform the nature of incarceration in America. I think that's something, considering you never see prison or incarceration policy get even a mention from any other politician, even so-called progressives.

S Brennan's picture
Submitted by S Brennan on

He's one bad mother...Shut your mouth! I'm talking about Webb. Then we can dig it. He's a complicated man, No one understands...

I remember him from his Reagan years, decent dude, right wing, but a flaming liberal compared to Obama.

Submitted by brucedixon on

Aside from Kucinich and Steve Cohen, who represents black Memphis, he is practically the only white politician who acknowledges mass black incarceration as social policy. Among congresscritters as a whole, there are others. One is our old friend Rep. Danny K. Davis from the west side of Chicago.

A couple things I did not put in the BAR article because of time constraints were...

Iowa and Connecticut have been the first states to adopt legislation which compels states to produce racial impact statements along with any proposed sentencing legislation. While the legislation does not require the state to do anything in

Also I failed to note the Oct 29 hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, in which several members of Congress, John Conyers of Detroit, Steven Cohen of Memphis, and subcommittee chair Bobby Scott of Richmond heard testimony and questioned witnesses in a manner that actually did address mass incarceration as a matter of social policy.

There is a link to the video on the web site of the Sentencing Project, dated Oct 27 or 29.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

But I feel that had to be a slap in the face to the black community that supported him, since it's one of the biggest fronts in which racist practices hide behind, which leads to mass incarceration.