On April 10, over 125 students, community members, and faith leaders turned out to watch “The House I Live In.” We filled the seats and spilled into the aisles to start a conversation about the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline that leads to action.
The film was full of deep analysis of the drug war, and the political and economic factors, which continue to serve as fuel for what David Simon, creator of The Wire, calls a, “Holocaust in slow motion.”
I had already seen the movie, so I, and some of the other organizers, waited outside of the theater for the most part, so others could take our place. But when I did poke my head inside I could read the concern and confusion on people’s faces.
Each audible gasp signaled a new revelation. When Michelle Alexander reported that there are more black men incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850, you could feel the outrage in the room.
By the end of the film and the excellent conversation that followed, everyone left knowing why we need to do something about the drug war, and some even left knowing what they want to do about it. But the question left on most people’s mind was: How?
How do we take this huge problem of structural racism as manifested in the systems of mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline organize a response that (1) changes people’s lives for the better, and (2) affects change at a large enough scale to make a significant difference?
Another question was: When?
When do we begin to take responsibility as individuals, and as a community, to build the power required to reverse the decades of bad policies, which have yielded such destruction and devastation?
The answers to both questions are simple, though the work will be hard. We will only build the power to challenge the school to prison pipeline and the drug war by continuing to organize people in opposition to these systems of exploitation and control, and sustaining the conversation we began on Wednesday with injections of action and learning. Nights like Wednesday need to become commonplace. And the energy in those rooms has to translate into committed, strategic action.
And we must do so now. There are three key events coming up, which will advance the conversation into action and power building.
On Wednesday, April 17 there will be a public town hall about public education in Columbus. Because as Dr. Patty said during the panel conversation, “if we are going to do something about the cradle to prison pipeline, we have to do something about the cradle.”
On May 2, there will be a direct action about the school to prison pipeline outside of the Dept. of Education and City Hall, on the corner of Front St. and High St downtown.
And on May 11, there will be a power and strategy training to help us develop targets and goals to organize around. Location and time TBA.