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Alan Luis Ramirez with Southerners on New Ground

What do you do? I am the Bilingual Regional Organizer with Southerners on New Ground. I am on staff to provide capacity for SONG chapters and members to do the important organizing work for our movement! This means that I am a part of a team who connects organizers to political education resources and base-building tools. One of my missions is to build campaigns to End Money Bail in different cities across the South. Also, my role is to base build with monolingual Spanish speakers and strengthen our multilingual capacity.

Why do you do what you do? I do this work because I believe in building Southern power. I was brought up and mentored by immigrant parents, mentored by Southern leaders and understand the type of systemic racism we face in the South. I also think that it is important to be a part of a movement by Southern Queer people who are organizing against our flawed criminal justice system that puts people in cages. Personally, I do this work to defend my communities against ICE, police and State violence.

What motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? The biggest motivator for me was my comrades and their organizing efforts that were intersectional, educational, politicizing and fulfilling! Organizing work is easily overshadowed and underfunded, but it was the dedicated organizers who plan amazing actions or campaigns that were fighting for causes I cared about and directly affected me or my people. It was young queer people who highlighted the systemic injustices in my environments and had the courage to speak out!

What are you most proud of? I am most proud of my community and the trust we have built to continue fighting this long battle. Although we expect changes now, SONG members have an understanding of being in this fight for the long run and can appreciate the people before us. I am blessed to be a part of such a strong community of organizers, artists, parents and queer people!

How do you want people to support you/the work you and SONG are doing? Especially if you have not been involved in organizing work before, you can really support our work by researching organizing opportunities where you live! We are always down to connect with other Southern queers interested in organizing! Become a SONG member and get involved by reading some material on your website southernersonnewground.org, signing up to volunteer, or going to a meeting! AND if you’re out of the region or not interested in throwing down, you can become a monthly donor to help sustain the work towards Queer Liberation!

The ask: My most immediate ask is to donate to the bail out, so we can free as many Black mothers and caregivers from jails in the South, so they can be home in time for Mother’s Day! There are crews of organizers in seven different cities who are bailing out our people and highlighting the issue of the cash system, pre-trial detention, and the for-profit prison system. You can learn about them through our social media or the website and get involved if you’d like! This is an action to continue our current work of organizers and base-building in Southern cities to #EndMoneyBail.

No More Money Bail

Vision: National Black Mama’s Bail Out Day will give incarcerated mothers an opportunity to spend Mother’s Day with their families and build community through gatherings that highlight the impact of inhumane and destructive bail practices on our communities!

Impact: In 2017, the campaign was able to help free more than 200 Black people who were incarcerated pretrial because they could not afford bail. This year, more than 20 organizers around the country are involved in the campaign.

 

Marbre Stahly-Butts with National Bail Out Collective

What do you do? We bail out Black Mamas, caregivers and community members to highlight the inhumane impact of bail. We also work with organizations across the country to develop advocacy strategies and policies that will end money bail, reduce pretrial detention and center the expertise of those most impacted in crafting solutions. Lastly, we work to build and sustain supportive service infrastructures that can ultimately replace cages.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? The National Bail Out Collective is a formation of Black organizers who are committed to building a community based movement to end pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. We are lead by Black women, many of whom are mothers, who believe deeply that are people need care and not cages. We are committed not only to the end of money bail but the abolition of systems that kill, torture, cage and harm our people. We believe that communities are the real experts and are best equipped to name the problems and mold the solutions are pretrial detention. We also believe that pretrial reform must be lead by communities most impacted by these systems not institutional actors or corporate interests, who are entrenched and benefit from the current system. We also know that there is a threat that reform being enacted will not result in long-term improvements in the material conditions of impacted communities and do not address the underlying causes of pretrial detention. We are motivated by the reality that those most impacted should lead and are best equipped to transform the systems we currently live inside.

What moment or experience motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? I came into this work as a result of watching people being caged and harassed. I knew early on that my purpose was to try and change the material conditions of my people and community so they could live their full lives and thrive. The boldness and bravery of young Black organizers in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York and across the country emboldened me to fight harder and without fear or apology. The collective is made up of people who have directly experienced the system- from being incarcerated themselves to watching loved ones languish in cages. It is from this deeply personal place that we do the work.

How has your work been different over the last year? Our work in many ways was a bold response to the current political climate. As Mary Hooks, a leader in the collective and the originator of the Mama’s Day Bail Out, often says our work is a continuation of the work of our ancestors. In light of constant state oppression and violence we are working to free ourselves until we can abolish these systems. Our ancestors created the underground railroad and bought, stole and journeyed their way to freedom in fraught and violent political times. We will do the same until mass incarceration is abolished. The current political climate has made our work even more urgent. It has inspired us to work with immigrant organizations to unite our struggles and name the way mass deportation systems work in collaboration with mass incarceration to dehumanize and harm our people.It has in some ways inspired us to be bold and not wait for political opportunities to come- but instead to create our own.

The ask: Donate what you can to the National Bail Out Day by clicking on the donate button. There are als a number of other ways folks can plug in. If you are in one of the over twenty cities where bail outs are happening you can join a local crew. If you are lawyer you can visit www.law4blacklives.org and sign up to join a legal crew- which provides legal and research support for organizers. If you are a social worker you can email us to find out how to plug in with some of the supportive services we are providing. You can also share our facebook and social media posts widely and encourage others in your network to support. Check us out at https://www.facebook.com/NationalBailOut/ on facebbok or https://twitter.com/NationalBailOut on twitter.

Dolores Canales with The Bail Project

What do you do? I’m the Director of Talent Development for The Bail Project and I just started in January. We are setting up sites across the nation to get people bailed out. We’re able to create so much connection through the work. It’s been incredible to see so many people coming together and all the different movement happening around bail. So far, we have established sites in St. Louis, MO, Louisville, KY, and Tulsa, OK; we’ll open in Detroit in two weeks. We’re expanding in St. Louis, both in the city and county, to have more bail disruptors there. It’s been phenomenal for me to be doing this work—absolutely amazing.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? My dad passed away a year ago, May 20th of last year. I thought back to when he bailed me out. I was being held in custody, unable to afford bail, and facing the possibility of life in prison. When my dad bailed me out, he gave me an opportunity.

My bail amount was set at $25,000 but it could have been $250,000. These are amounts of money most people can never hope to pay, so they are forced to stay in jail. For many people facing arrest and bail, for things as minor as an unpaid parking ticket becoming a felony, they do not expect to find themselves in jail, and are unable to afford the thousands of dollars they must pay to get out.

When The Bail Project came to LA and they were hiring, I had already been active with Essie Justice Group. My friend said it was as if the universe put this dream job in my lap. The first day in the office, I felt my dad’s presence. What an amazing gift he gave me. Freedom. Had I not been able to make that bail, things would have turned out so different in my life.

We’re not just bailing people out, not just looking to meet numbers. We’re building a community network and resources. It’s not just about the arrest, we provide a support network that considers what will happen to people’s kids, their jobs, etc.

What moment or experience motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? Before coming to The Bail Project, I had spent over 20 years of my life in prison. In 2002, I was serving out my last sentence, under California’s three strikes law. I began looking around and saw young girls with 300-year sentences because they were at the wrong place with their boyfriends at the wrong time, because of how California sentences people. I thought about all these people who could not afford bail who ended up in prison. I wondered, what are we doing housing people in cement for the rest of their life?

When I got out, I got paroled and got a job. I stayed in touch with the women I’d met who were still in prison. It’s very important that we stay in touch with people inside—otherwise, who are we advocating for?

On July 1, 2011, my son helped launch a prison hunger strike at Pelican Bay in California to bring attention to the deplorable conditions in solitary confinement. I got involved to support him, and even though I still had my corporate office job, my heart was 110 percent in the movement. Later when I was featured in Ava DuVernay’s 13th, I saw it all laid out so clearly. We can change conditions, confinement – but then what? We live happily ever after in prison? The system is designed to keep creating mass incarceration. That’s why we have to start at the forefront – at the time of arrest.

How has your work been different over the last year? Obama had made all the commutations of sentences and was the first sitting president to visit a prison. There was hope stirring because of the federal reforms. Then came Sessions and Trump wanting to undo all that work. Fortunately, at the state level in California, Governor Brown is doing a great job on commutations. So it is important to organize the hell out of state-level elected officials. Let’s keep the power in our states, keeping moving on the state level and not feel discouraged. If anything, Trump is bringing people more together – we have a voice, we must vote and if we don’t do it, nobody will but us. He’s created controversy, but also sparked a movement in the hearts of people who may not have gotten involved and showing importance of why you need to get involved.

The ask: We are raising money to set up 40 sites across the nation over a 5-year period, we have hired local bail disruptors who are often formerly incarcerated themselves. We also have a revolving fund to bail people out, and once they are bailed out, appear in court and are hopefully found not guilty, that money gets released back into the fund. The bail is returned even if the person loses their case. In some jurisdictions a fee is deducted, but all that matters is that you show up to court and the bail is returned. We want to disrupt bail and restore the presumption of innocence.

Iman Freeman with Baltimore Action Legal Team

What do you do? I use this thing called a law degree to empower my community and to help them understand what is happening to them. I co-founded Baltimore Action Legal Team after the uprisings in Baltimore because I knew I had to do my part to help people be free. We started by bailing out and assisting some of the hundreds who were arrested. We turned that moment into a community lawyering collective. Doing this work has forced me to relearn and rethink what I can do with my degree. It also makes me want to support young Black lawyers in connecting their knowledge to where and for whom it is most needed in our communities. I know bailing people out is just a small piece and it won’t get us to the finish line but we can’t just let people sit in jail because they can’t afford their freedom. As we bailout our people, our collective of lawyers is also supporting grassroots organizations that are working to change the rules and system that are designed to hurt us.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do?  Dealing with this system is not easy. A lot of the people that I love have been impacted by the criminal injustice system. Even after I became an attorney, it was still difficult and I couldn’t always help my loved ones. Overall, Black people in this country do not have a constructive relationship with the legal system. I want to show our community that despite these systems conflating to oppress you, there are people that look like you and resources out there that can support you. I tell people I work with that I am willing to let you lead me in supporting you and that my work is about expanding beyond the criminal injustice system so we can be free.

What moment or experience motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice?  Birth! I grew up in Harlem, in the 80s.  Despite Harlem being known for drugs and violence, that wasn’t the Harlem I knew and loved.  Of course, I saw bad things but we didn’t know we were going through all of this bad stuff at the time.  I didn’t know what structural racism was or that ghettos and pockets of poverty were the result of intentional behavior.  Right before law school, I started to understand that some of the things I was lived through were the result of racist policies, decades in the making. I started to understand the concepts of institutional and structural racism. The gentrification of my neighborhood opened my eyes.  For example, my grandmother just couldn’t understand the concept of Starbucks when they first came to Harlem. My grandmother understands working hard, having a good time and taking care of your family.  She kept asking me whether Starbucks was a library and couldn’t get that people would just be there for hours drinking coffee and talking. One day she stood outside Starbucks in her walker and stared at the people from the window like, “what are you all doing in there?” And the manager closed the blinds on her. When she told me what happened, I had so many emotions.  That minor interaction is how I came to understand privilege, cultures clashing and crushing displacement. All of this led me to do this work.

When were you most proud of yourself or your work? After I graduated law school and went to visit my grandma, everyone in her building was congratulating me. I asked my grandma how everyone knew I graduated and she said, because “I told them if I whip your ass, I can get out of jail before you leave the hospital.” She was hilarious, but what she was really saying was that “my granddaughter has tools to help me.” Anytime someone can say that my interaction with Iman helped me out, I’m good. That’s what I try to do every day.

The ask:  As a natural giver, it’s always very hard for me to ask for help or identify ways for people to help me.  If you have skills that will help me do this job better, hit me up. If you would like to learn how to help your community, hit me up. And if you have the means, please donate to our Mama’s Bailout campaign by clicking on the donate button.