Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Michelle Alexander: Civil Rights Lawyer/Legal Studies/Social Justice

"I am shocked that the NYTimes ran this powerful piece, but glad. This is a conversation we need to have. The author expresses what so many have been feeling - namely that peaceful protests have proven useless in recent years and so perhaps it makes sense to tell Baltimore officials to stop protecting the police or watch the city burn. I absolutely understand this sentiment and I've heard it expressed in various ways many times. There are a number of reasons why I disagree with violence as strategy, but in the short space here I'll just say one thing: As I see it, the reason nonviolent protests haven't yet achieved what many have hoped is NOT because the protests have been nonviolent, but rather because the problems and demands are often defined quite narrowly, and the tactics are typically reactive. There is a big difference between protesting when tragedies happen - marching in the streets with pastors asking for a few officers to be indicted - and building a nonviolent revolution against an unjust system. At its best, the Civil Rights Movement used nonviolence as a means of deliberately and strategically withdrawing all cooperation with a fundamentally unjust system. Think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which nearly destroyed the bus system and rocked the city as a whole. Think of the Freedom Riders who refused to cooperate with or abide by segregation laws, throwing much of the South into an apoplectic state. And think of Dr. King, who at the end of his life said that the time had come to recognize the critical difference between a reform movement and a revolutionary movement, and urged advocates to work for a "radical restructuring of our society." At the time King was murdered, he was developing plans to bring a nonviolent army of poor people to Washington, DC and shut the nation's capitol down until Congress agreed to honor the basic human rights of all people to work for a living wage, live in decent housing, and obtain quality education. He wanted to paralyze the entire system of government and force a reckoning. In recent years much of that revolutionary spirit seems to have been lost or forgotten, particularly on MLK day when school children are taught the importance of nonviolence but not the importance of organized, nonviolent rebellion against injustice. Fortunately I see awakening today in so many young people - from Ferguson to Sanford to NYC to New Orleans to Chicago to Oakland to Baltimore and beyond - a fire and yearning for radical change that will not be satisfied by politics as usual or mere tinkering with the machine. We would not even be having this conversation today if it wasn't for the bold and courageous young people in Ferguson who inspired uprisings nationwide. Nonviolent protest forced a national conversation that politicians have tried to avoid for decades. We have more power than we realize, but we must use it strategically and proactively - not just sporadically and reactively. To this author I say: Don't burn Baltimore down. Shut it down. Let's use nonviolence as a strategic tool for revolutionary change, not as a polite response to predictable tragedy." -- Michelle Alexander on Facebook referring to the Baltimore Uprising and D. Watkins "In Baltimore, We Are All Freddie Gray": April 29, 2015)

Alexander, Michelle. "A System of Racial and Social Control." Frontline (April 29, 2014)

---. "Introduction."  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. NY: The New Press, 2010: 1-19.

---. "The New Jim Crow." The UO Channel (November 15, 2012) ["For reasons that seem to have little to do with crime or crime rates, we in the United States have chosen to lock up more than two million of our citizens. The U.S. has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, and it is continuing to rise. Michelle Alexander, a legal scholar and former civil rights attorney, examines this phenomenon, and offers her thoughts on what she believes to be the underlying racial biases that drive the U.S. criminal justice system. Alexander’s lecture ... will be based on her recent book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010)."]

---. "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness." We Are Many (September 12, 2012)

---. "Telling My Son About Ferguson." The New York Times (November 26, 2014)

---. "Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote." The Nation (February 10, 2016)

---. "Who We Want to Become: Beyond the New Jim Crow." On Being (April 21, 2016) ["The civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander is one of the people who is waking us up to history we don't remember, and structures most of us can't fathom intending to create. She calls the punitive culture that has emerged the "new Jim Crow," and is making it visible in the name of a fierce hope and belief in our collective capacity to engender the transformation to which this moment is calling."]

The New Jim Crow (Website for the book)

Schuessler, Jennifer. "Drug Policy as Race Policy: Best Seller Galvanizes the Debate." The New York Times (March 6, 2012)

Wallis, Victor. "13th and the Culture of Surplus Punishment." Jump Cut #58 (Spring 2018)

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