Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The People's Scholar/ Activist

Hola mi gente,
I was having a discussion with a friend and former colleague the other day, and the question came up: Why don’t you start your own thing, Eddie? It is a question that she has asked before and I guess part of the answer lies in the fact that perhaps there is a part of me that is afraid. So that convo got me to thinking and I have come up with an idea… 

The People’s Scholar/ Activist

Thinking is an action, critical thinking is a subversive action.

At my last “official” job, part of my duties was to write reports from information we gathered from our prison visits. Whenever I am writing, whether it is for this blog or in my professional capacity, I am thinking of who I am writing for. Too often, in the interest of sounding technical or “scientific,” professional writing, as sociologist C. Wright Mills put it, is terrible. The social sciences are full of writing that depends on jargon and specialized language to express ideas and observances that should be understood by the masses. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. 

When I sat down to write these prison reports, I saw as my potential audience, not some bureaucrat from the department of corrections, or legislative aide, but the single mother of two who had a husband currently incarcerated at that prison. My thoughts were on the loved ones of the people who were incarcerated and my efforts, or at least my motivations, were to get this all-so-important information to the people who most needed to see it.

Similarly, most of the sausage-making of social policy occurs in spaces where the people who will most impacted by those compromises are not present. Yes, we are good enough when there is a press release and the nonprofit sector needs our stories, but we are actively discouraged from being part of the process of “making” policy. I even heard one long-time lawyer say that if she were able to get one hour of out-of-cell time, she could go home with a clear conscience. I was horrified. Who appointed her the arbiter of the fate of so many hundreds of people? What moral standing did she have to admit to something like that?

As anyone who has worked with me or knows me, I have never been shy of pointing out these mission-related inconsistencies in public forums. I think is at best condescending, at worst racist and elitist. I understand these kinds of behavior as having to do with securing funds and “paying the rent.” In other words, the nonprofit- industrial complex has a vested interest in keeping the status quo and, indeed, some of the larger, better known criminal justice reform organizations get upwards of 90% of their funding from the very institutions we should be tearing down. As a result, these organizations have evolved into appendages of the current monster than shackles us. And I am saying this as someone who has been quite successful in playing the nonprofit game for over 20 years.

My point is this: we need more people who are not invested in the system, people who can speak more freely and, most of all, be in touch and have a vested interest not in the systems, but in the communities that have now become open-air prisons and feeders of the prison-industrial complex.

I am developing a strategic plan identifying the problem and its solutions which I will share here shortly. Most of all, I want to do the work of the people, not the institutions that lock us up. I hope that you will help me in launching and sustaining my initiative.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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