From February 28th -- March 2nd, Alabama will play host to formerly incarcerated activists from across the country as they convene in an effort to organize what may well be our nation's next major civil rights movement.
The conference, which is being organized by a steering committee comprised of prisoner rights and criminal justice reform activist leaders, will draft a campaign platform calling for the restoration of civil rights, a halt to prison expansion, the elimination of excessive punishments, and the protection of the rights and dignity of family members of the incarcerated. Conference events, which are slated to occur in Montgomery, Dothan, and Selma, will include a backwards march over Edmund Pettis Bridge.
Who better to lead this movement than those who have first-hand experience of the dehumanizing, unjust nature of our prison system? They know all too well the inequities that exist within the system, the abuses that occur behind prison walls, the suffering that families of prisoners must endure, and the struggle that those returning from prison face in the search for housing, jobs, and a sense of belonging.
In this incarceration nation, where more than 2.3 million people wake up each morning behind bars, and another 10 million are on some form of court supervision, few of us remain untouched by the demolition caused by the system's wrath, but none are more equipped to spearhead the fight for reform than those whose lives have been most directly affected.
The recent prisoner strike in Georgia has been integral in building the critical mass necessary for a successful campaign. Thousands of people have demonstrated solidarity with Georgia's prisoners - and their demands for decent living conditions, fair wages for work, access to families, vocational and self-improvement programs, educational opportunities, access to health care, and an end to cruel and unusual punishment - through signing online letters of support, like this one. The convention in Alabama is yet another step towards the formation of a strong, determined leadership core for the movement - one that will demand the attention of decision makers and inspire others to act.
A number of grassroots prisoner rights, criminal justice reform, and service organizations are rallying in support of this movement. Among them are All of Us or None, World Conference of Mayors, Drug Policy Alliance, Equal Justice Initiative, Prodigal Child Project, National Justice Coalition, A New Way of Life, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), MN Second Chance Coalition, and The Ordinary People Society. Contact these organizations, or join Supporting Civil Rights of the Formerly Incarcerated if you would like to participate in the campaign.
The convention in Alabama will be followed by another gathering in Los Angeles, slated for November 11, 2011.