by Virginia Vélez
From March 14th to the 16th, 2003, All of Us or None a dynamic new civil rights alliance by and for prisoners and former prisoners, took root in a statewide strategy session held in Oakland, California. It already has local organizing committees in 17 cities/regions around the country. Its goals are to:
- develop a national alliance by and for prisoners and former prisoners and their families
- build political power so they can participate in the political process, locally and nationally
- educate and organize themselves and their communities
- eliminate discrimination against people with felony convictions, and fight for the human and civil rights of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.
I interviewed Linda Evans who is an All of Us or None organizer along with Dorsey Nunn, Program Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Linda is a former prisoner who served 16 years in federal prison and who has been out now for a little over two years. Linda’s enthusiasm and the alliance’s hard work were apparent as calls came in from organizers as far away as Oklahoma City, Boston, and New York. Here’s a summary of our conversation:
Over 40 people from all over California met for the original strategy session in Oakland, all of whom had done time in INS detention centers, county jails, federal and state prisons, and juvenile halls. More than half the attendees at the strategy session were women and 90% were people of color. The alliance began by with an agreement to organize people with felony convictions across race, gender, class, age, and geographic lines. The Center for Young Women’s Development and Young Women United for Oakland brought several young women to participate, some of whom had just gotten out of juvenile detention or California Youth Authority in the last two weeks. Linda, Dorsey, some other organizers from California then went on to the Critical Resistance Southern Conference in New Orleans. There they convened a national meeting to discuss All of Us or None as a national organizing initiative. Over 50 former prisoners/organizers from 16 states enthusiastically agreed to unite in this national effort to organize prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.
The All of Us or None alliance is determined is to strengthen the voices of the people most affected by mass incarceration and the growth of the prison-industrial complex, so together we can make changes in public policy and fight for prisoners’ rights. The alliance is committed to a process of democratic decision-making, where everyone has equal access to information and where people are accountable to each other. They are building a movement that is egalitarian, where women’s and young people’s voices are respected and where our ideas are supported and implemented. All of Us or None will most immediately focus on fighting the discrimination that people coming out of prison face every day: the legal, financial, and social barriers to rehabilitation for prisoners and reentry for ex-prisoners, such as their right to decent employment, healthcare, housing, food, education and the right to vote. All of Us or None proposes a Family Bill of Rights that advocates alternatives to incarceration, and fights unnecessary foster care placement, fast-track adoption, and deportation of mothers and juveniles away from their families. The alliance will educate and organize communities impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, and will support ongoing legislative efforts like the ballot initiative to amend California’s Three Strikes law sponsored by Families to Amend California Three Strikes (FACTS, http://www.facts1.com) and a legislative bill to tax tobacco and alcohol sales to fund alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs for youth.
Linda notes that a national political alliance by and for prisoners and ex-prisoners is long overdue, as the Prison Industrial Complex has built a huge potential membership all around the country. The introduction in All of Us or None’s founding document says, “Over 30 million people are walking around this country with felony convictions. Seventeen million of these people have served prison time, and it is estimated that three million more people will be released from prison over the next five years. The time has come for ex-prisoners and former felons to organize to fight the discrimination we face and to regain our civil rights. We will be successful when people realize that we are not just victims of the system, that we can act together to change it – for All of Us or None.
The Fire Inside will keep you posted on their actions. Contact info is: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, 1540 Market St., #490, San Francisco, CA 94102; 415-255-7036, Linda Evans ext. 311, Dorsey Nunn ext. 312 (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Photos by Scott Braly