The Next Generation
This week: conversations about grassroots movements for social justice, with Andrea James, Ayana Aubourg, Armani White, Fatema Ahmad, Queen-Cheyenne Wade, and Carl Williams. Listen today at 2 pm or anytime at our site.
In 2010, criminal defense attorney Andrea James was sentenced to 24 months in a federal prison for wire fraud. That’s where it all started for Families for Justice as Healing, James’s abolitionist organization aimed at ending the incarceration of women and girls. And since its founding, a new generation of activists have further propelled the movement against mass incarceration and the inequalities of the U.S. criminal justice system. This week, we hear about that new generation and leaders like James who have inspired them.
James’s experience of prison gave her a clear view of how the criminal justice system ramifies way beyond justice, affecting, for example, not just the incarcerated, but the families and communities around incarcerated people. She writes:
I only had a 24-month sentence, yet many of my fellow prisoners had already been there for 24 years. So many of them were mothers who hadn’t seen their children at all since their arrest. (Indeed, more than 60% of women in jail or prison are mothers, and many of them are single mothers). Many attempted to parent from a prison payphone (if and when they had the money to purchase phone minutes).
And on this week’s show, James explains how others draw from their own experiences to take a stand against incarceration and unjust policing. She describes
directly affected people standing up and saying the policies that continue to be created are not policies that actually transform ourselves and our communities. They’re policies that help keep in place white supremacy. They’re policies that help keep in place things that are harmful to our communities. And so the people who are most directly affected are now saying, look, these are proven failed systems that are currently in place.
Carl Williams is an activist and lawyer with years of experience in social justice movements, and he’s taking note of all the new people getting involved in the Boston protests:
Those people are new people who are ready to fight for, I say for black liberation, but really black liberation as a bellwether for all people: for black folks, for transgender folks, for LGBTQ folks, for women, for poor people, for differently abled people, for indigenous people. And you see that in the way folks are organizing, who they’re bringing in. I mean, from day one, these organizations have been working with the urban indigenous community in and around Boston. They’ve been working with the Arab and Muslim community. They’ve been working with the undocumented and less documented communities in Boston. And it’s . . . really beautiful to see.
Also joining the conversation this week are Queen-Cheyenne Wade, activist and organizer with For the People Boston, Armani White, an organizer with Reclaim Roxbury, Ayana Aubourg, co-founder of Sisters Unchained, and Fatema Ahmad, of Muslim Justice League.
Armani White tells us of a movement that’s drawing even more energy from its youngest participants. He says, “I do see with these zoomers, the newest generation . . . they work even harder. They work really hard.”
Queen-Cheyenne Wade describes being a part of a younger generation that’s learned a lot from those that came before: “My parents really raised me and my siblings from a very young age to understand the beauty of African-American history and the beauty of resistance history in America.”
Fatema Ahmad, of Muslim Justice League in Boston, especially focuses on resisting surveillance and criminalization of marginalized communities. This joins her work with that of others working against related injustice. She tells us, “Boston, honestly, I think is a great place for connecting with other organizers. Many of the folks that we’re connected to or I’m connected to have this same framing, this underlying foundation of knowing that, you know, we can’t be siloed . . . We’re fighting the same thing, we’re focused on the same system.”
Read: The New Jim Crow
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander has inspired so much of the past decade’s rethinking of criminal justice. On this week’s show, you’ll hear from some of the many whose work has been influenced by Alexander’s book. Ayana Aubourg, for instance, describes how the book led her to an epiphany: “I felt something in my spirit; I just felt very activated.”
Alexander exposes the myth of colorblindness in U.S. criminal justice, and explains the interlinking forces at work in a system of mass incarceration since the age of Jim Crow. She writes:
What has changed since the collapse of Jim Crow has less to do with the basic structure of our society than with the language we use to justify it. In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination — employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.
Support Us on Patreon and Listen to: Millennials
A simple (and rewarding!) way to support Open Source is to become a patron of ours over on Patreon. There, you’ll hear the ongoing Close Reading at a Social Distance series of conversations. This week, Adam Colman talks with Andrew Martin, whose new book of stories, Cool for America, goes deep into the miseries of the past decade that shaped the millennial generation. It’s a conversation that covers millennial careerism, art for art’s sake, and the cathartic experience of reading about bad times during an even worse time.
Here’s what the New York Times review had to say about Cool for America:
To their credit, these stories don’t overreach to arrive at pat conclusions. Martin often winds up to a killer ending, leaving the uncertainty to linger and his characters, if not his readers, suspended mid-muck . . . You feel Martin is going somewhere, and the prospect is tantalizing.
Watch: La Chinoise
Appropos of everything, our pal David Bromwich sends along this rec. Jean-Luc Godard’s pop art masterpiece (over on the Criterion Channel) channels and parodies the revolutionary energies of Paris youth in 1967. Disillusioned by their suburban lifestyles, a group of middle-class students, led by Guillaume (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and Véronique (Anne Wiazemsky), form a small Maoist cell and plan to change the world by any means necessary. After studying the growth of communism in China, the students decide they must use terrorism and violence to ignite their own revolution.
Next Week: Nicholson Baker
The new book by Nick Baker, one of our all time favorite writers and people, is a kind of diary on government secrets and pathology balanced alongside the joys of daily life he discovers while researching the “nasty, ugly, wrong things” done by intelligence agencies and the US military during the Cold War. The book’s title is Baseless; stay tuned for the conversation.
This week’s ephemeral library
The looming crisis in primary care. A lesson from AOC on decency. Rebecca Traister: The Poison of Male Incivility. A movie watch list to rescue summer. Susan Orleans’ delightful drunk tweeting. Adam Tooze: after the shock, Whose Century?
That’s it, folks, stay safe, sane and cool.
The OS activists.