13th Amendment and the Prison Industrial Complex

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Section 1

Over the past couple of years, there have been many conversations and projects that center mass incarceration and the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution. There’s Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th to name just a couple. Celebrities like Matt McGorry and John Legend have helped to start conversations about these issues and support organizers that work to support incarcerated folks and change policy.

I was always taught that slavery ended with the end of the Civil War, with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and the ratification of the thirteenth amendment. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one, as schooling here in the US generally tends to not provide a full context and understanding of history. This subject in school was always a whitewashed overview, just the bland highlights of a complicated and deeply contextual history.

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Last Saturday.

The Women’s March on Washington and related sister marches around the world happened this past weekend and honestly, I have some mixed feelings about it all. On one hand, it was incredibly amazing to see all the crowds that showed up in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Seattle, London, and more. Hell, there was even a (tiny) protest in Antarctica! And I’m not going to lie: seeing the dramatic contrast between the inauguration on Friday and the march in DC on Saturday was spectacular.

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Know your rights.

Protests have become more and more common place in the past few years, or at the very least I’ve been more aware of them in that same time. These actions can be effective in bringing the conversation around to important issues and for voices to be heard. But riot police are often used in response to protests around the United States and dangerous tactics have been used against protesters in Ferguson, North Dakota, New York City, Seattle, and more. For example, water cannons sprayed cold water at #NoDAPL protesters in North Dakota in the middle of a winter night and tear gas has been repeatedly used against protesters in various cities.

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Northern Racism.

I have lived somewhere in the Pacific Northwest for pretty much my entire life. I’ve travelled here and there and spent some time as a voluntourist in western Kenya but for the most part, I’ve lived in the mostly rainy and overcast upper left of the United States. For the most part, I love it here but it’s not without its faults.

We like to pride ourselves for being progressive and liberal here in the Pacific Northwest. Portlandia takes the liberal hipster ways of Oregon’s largest city slightly farther in its episodes, joking about feminist bookstores, local and organic food, and weird art. Pemco Insurance’s commercials of quirky stuff we do here is spot on. As a child, I learned to distance myself from my family in the South, learned to identify as a good white person.

But the reality is that racism and white supremacy is alive and well in the northern states of the US just as it is in the south. Some of it looks different, other parts of it looks exactly the same. But it’s still here and it’s really important that the white people here (myself included) not only recognize race and the racism here but we need to talk about it all and work to end it. My own experience limits me to the Pacific Northwest, but that doesn’t mean that other northern states are exempt.

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Things to Read.

The past few days have been incredibly emotional to say the least. The killing of both Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights not only brings more pain and anger but the videos of both also show the graphic violence of police brutality and fatal nature of white supremacy. I won’t be linking to either video and you don’t have to watch either to fully understand the violent nature of how these two men and many like them were murdered.

There are many people who are writing and tweeting about all of this in a significantly better way than I ever could so here are the things I’ve been reading and keeping in mind: Continue reading

Police at Pride.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about police presence at Pride celebrations – after the mass shooting in Orlando and a potential attack in LA stopped, many people are on edge about potentially being attacked or killed because of their sexual orientation and/or gender. And it’s hard not to be a little terrified after everything: in addition to the Pulse shooting, queer/LGBTQ people are generally most at risk for hate crime related violence and that trend is unfortunately going up.

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Faith.

I spent a good chunk of my college career working on different interfaith committees – primarily focusing on LGBTQ+ inclusive spaces and the sanctuary movement. As someone who had very little experience with different faith backgrounds and had until then really rejected religion and faith, my experiences then truly opened me up to the idea that God is love and that faith communities should be the cornerstone of community and support.

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Quote from Roxane Gay.

When you hear, ‘black lives matter,’ don’t instinctively respond that all lives matter, as if one statement negates the other. Instead, try to understand why people of color might be compelled to remind the world that their lives have value.

When others share their reality, don’t immediately dismiss them because their reality is dissimilar to yours, or because their reality makes you uncomfortable and forces you to see things you prefer to ignore.

Avoid creating a hierarchy of human suffering as if compassion were a finite resource. Don’t assume that if one person says, ‘These are the ways I am marginalized,’ they are suggesting you know nothing of pain and want.

Roxane Gay, Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel DuBose and Cecil the Lion (July 2015)