I recently attended my first meeting with the Prison Abolition Letter Writing Project of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). I didn’t know who would be there but thought it likely a few of my Mutual Aid friends might. It is a maxim of justice activism that a small core group of people work in many different justice groups in a city, and such was the case. I was glad to see two of my Mutual Aid friends there. Seven of us met in a park shelter not far from the church our Mutual Aid group uses for the food giveaway project each Saturday morning.
I wondered what I would learn about the Prison Abolition Letter Writing Project and was fascinated by what I did learn. I assumed the idea was to establish a relationship with those imprisoned, which it certainly is. But as part of the sample letter shows, the concept is to invite those incarcerated to help those who are not understand what is going on in the prison system. Yet another example of Mutual Aid, where all involved work from the concept that we are all working together. Not “us helping them”.
I am writing to you as a part of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of American prison abolition group. I am inviting you to join our solidarity and pen-pal network. We are connecting with people incarcerated in Iowa because we believe the struggles of people both inside and outside of prison walls are intertwined. Specifically, we recognize the need to eliminate systemic injustices produced by the current criminal justice system.
Please let me know if you are interested in taking part in this project. I would love to receive any information from you so that we can make a case to those on the outside to take action on the demands of incarcerated people.
We are the Central Iowa chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Promoting the concept of democratic socialism through political action, direct service, and education. We are building for the future beyond resistance.
I became interested in DSA when my friend Fran Quigley, a professor in the Law School at Indiana University, wrote the following in response to my blog post, The Evil of Capitalism, 12/31/2020. Fran’s book was just published. Religious Socialism: Faith in Action for a Better World – August 25, 2021.
This post of yours struck me close to home. I too have become fully convinced of the evils of capitalism. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that my faith dictates that I work to replace it. Turns out I am far from alone, so I’ve been devoting much of my time this past year to the Religion and Socialism Committee of the DSA, www.religioussocialism.org.
I’ve also been participating in the Quaker for Abolition Network, initiated by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh. The following is from an article they wrote for Western Friend.
Mackenzie: Let’s start with: What does being a police and prison abolitionist mean to you?Abolish the Police by Mackenzie Barton-Rowledge and Jed Walsh, Western Friend, November December 2020
Jed: The way I think about abolition is first, rejecting the idea that anyone belongs in prison and that police make us safe. The second, and larger, part of abolition is the process of figuring out how to build a society that doesn’t require police or prisons.
Mackenzie: Yes! The next layer of complexity, in my opinion, is looking at systems of control and oppression. Who ends up in jail and prison? Under what circumstances do the police use violence?
As you start exploring these questions, it becomes painfully clear that police and prisons exist to maintain the white supremacist, heteronormative, capitalist status quo.
We as White Quakers like to think of ourselves as ahead or better than dominant culture, but we have been complicit in a system and mindset that are ubiquitous. Claiming the full truth of our history and committing to repair the harms done are deeply spiritual acts of healing our own wounds of disconnection. I would argue it is the pathway upon which we can, perhaps for the first time, discover and invigorate our faith with its full promise.
What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?
A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021
Lucy’s article includes this correction, that so many White people do unintentionally:
Correction: The author and FJ editors realize that an earlier version of this article inadvertently erased BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Quakers in describing Quakers as though we were/are all White. Certainly there have been Black Friends and Friends of Color in our body from our earliest history. We apologize for this error. This online article has been updated accordingly. We have also clarified the relationship of George Fox with Margaret and Thomas Rous.
A goal of Mutual Aid is to grow, pulling increasing numbers of people into the work. I’ve been involved in Des Moines Mutual Aid and the food giveaway project for the past year. The Iowa Mutual Aid Network has expanded to include the following organizations. The Prison Abolition Letter Writing Project is a way to bring more people into our mutual work.
The Iowa Mutual Aid Network is made up of numerous individuals, collectives, and affinity groups working together and alongside each other to change the material conditions of oppressed communities in so-called Iowa.
The groups represented on this site are in no way a full accounting of those that are engaged in the struggle.
All Power To The People
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