Be Realistic, Demand The Impossible
In this episode of Wine, Women, and Revolution, Heather sits down with Derek Bloom from the Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project and Mimi Soltysik from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and the Socialist Party to talk about prison and police abolition.
This may be somewhat outside things you have considered before, but there can be a society without police or prisons. There can be something better. What seems impossible only seems that way because it hasn’t been done yet. Derek and Mimi talk about those alternatives, and what victory can look like. This battle may be long and require hard work but we can craft anything we want, its ultimately our society to create.
To learn more about the programs Mimi mentions visit:
Heather Warburton 0:02
This is Wine, Women, and Revolution with your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio. Hi and welcome to Wine, Women, and Revolution. I’m your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio, you can find us online www.njrevolutionradio.com, get us wherever you get your podcasts from and find us on all the social medias. Today I’m talking about a concept that’s fairly important to me and maybe an alien concept to somebody who’s never heard of it before. But we’re talking about prison abolition and police abolition, and what society can look like when we aren’t under this oppression of the suppressible racist rule. So I have two people here that are working in these fields. I have Derek Bloom. He’s joining us from the Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project. And I have Mimi Soltysik, who’s joining us, he was the presidential candidate for the Socialist Party in 2016. Welcome to the show, both of you.
Derek Bloom 1:07
Thanks for having us.
Mimi Soltysik 1:08
Hi, thank you.
Heather Warburton 1:10
So I’m going to start with Derek first. First off, let’s tell me a little bit about your organization. What is the Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project?
Derek Bloom 1:19
So yeah, the Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project, one of the main things we always start with is an anti colonial setting or form. And so we always like to talk about how we’re on occupied Lenae Lenape territory, realizing that New Jersey is Lenape land that was never agreed to be ceded to the United States government. So we always like to focus on that with the belief that if we’re going to want collective liberation or justice in our world, we have to focus on the first injustices that came in into the world, or at least this this nation state called The United States formally, for at least the last 10,000 years what the United States used to be is called Turtle Island. So I’d like to start in that anti colonial setting and mindset.
But The Asbury Park Transformative Justice Project. We have a mission, which is to drastically reduce recidivism by bringing an end to the victimization and powerless inherent in today’s criminal justice system by using the transformative justice collective model. And our vision is we put our belief that people are not the worst thing they’ve ever done into action by providing intentional housing, organizing, training, job skills, and mental health counseling to people of all walks of life returning from prison. Our ultimate vision is to transform the way people view crime and rehabilitation from one of individual choice to one of collective responsibility and accountability.
Our guests will find their own liberation by seeking their own mental health and healing from an unjust system while receiving the time they need to find housing, jobs, and restored family and community relationships. So that’s kind of a huge, a lot of words right there. But basically, what we want to do is we want to get a house and house people coming out of prison for free, most halfway houses or three quarter houses charge about 100 to $200 a week. But we want to make sure that people really get off their feet. And while they’d be living with us, we’d be living in an intentional community. And then all guests after three months have the choice to join the collective and then therefore they would have decision power within the house, we’re a horizontal collective so there’s no bosses in our organization, we all share power. And then eventually, we would start working on a transformative justice model.
And again, that’s kind of a newer concept. I think a lot of people are familiar with restorative justice. But I think transformative justice takes restorative justice just a little bit farther. So wants to restore the human, but also wants to take power from the system that has created these injustices like colonialism and racism, people hating their own bodies and skin and things like that. So we work through a process where we talk about the injustices of the prison system, class-ism, racism, trans-phobia, homophobia, why people are there. And then the second part is we do transformative justice, where we try to heal the person coming out of prison. And when I say that, we understand that prisons are pretty much just places where they punish people inside of cages. So people need healing. And we ultimately believe that no one is the worst thing they have ever done. So we look to heal them. But also, we look when I mentioned taking power away from the court system, putting the power back into the community. So giving the community the chance to heal each other, giving the community the chance, because ultimately, people want other people to go to prison, because they feel unsafe. So we want to start as talking to the survivors.
And the person who perpetuated the violence. And this might look different, it might be directly the survivor might just be a family member who misses their parent or their friend or their lover, and they weren’t affected. The crime in parentheses wasn’t committed on them. Sometimes the offence would be directly committed on a survivor. So we’ll work with both groups. But what does the survivor really want to feel healing? What does the survivor really want to feel justice, and most people don’t want just people to be in prison, they want to make sure that that person doesn’t do it again, maybe they want a sincere apology. And of course, some people won’t want to be part of the process.
But I think what we look forward to is to talk about community accountability, and human relationships. And I think, you know, stressing on the Lenae Lanape, I think they had multiple community accountability systems, they didn’t have prisons and things like this. So they had traditions, where if someone violated a community agreement, there would be consequences, you know, one it might be a first like, you’re not allowed by this person, and we’re gonna hold you to that the second time, something else the third time, they might be asked to leave the community for a year. And then they can come back, you know, I think the Zapatistas down in Chiapas in Mexico, the revolutionary group, they do something kind of similar to that. And yeah, it doesn’t work for everybody, but it works for some.
So anyway, that’s the second part, transformative justice. And then the third part, continuing transformative justice is to train the people coming through the house and program to be organizers to work with other people coming outside of the prison. Also, with the belief that the people that are most effective in the work are the people most affected. So believing people coming out of prison are the best people to organize people who are formerly incarcerated. So, and all those words, that’s what our project is.
Heather Warburton 6:49
How did you come to being involved in this? How did you get to the point where you’re like, recognize that prisons maybe aren’t a real solution for society?
Derek Bloom 7:01
Well, I think the first time was really, I guess, I’ve been to jail a few times, mostly in holding cells, I’ve only been in to population a few times, maybe six or seven times. And I think it was the first time I really realized, oh, when people are in jail, you’re putting human beings behind cages. And then there’s other human beings walking around with keys that are forcing these people to be inside of these cages. And I just realized how dehumanizing it was. And almost it became this hard concept of like, how does this How is this even accepted that this is, especially because most of us in there, too, were there for drinking a beer on the street or protesting, you know, for democracy or urinating in public. I mean, it was like these kind of minor things are, you know, getting wild and smoking pot. And then, and to do those things, and being forced behind bars just seemed like a pretty wild concept.
And so I think that was the beginning of that. But then once I learned about the injustices of the prison system, mostly through Angela Davis, and Critical Resistance out in California, I realized that the way the prison system works the entire system, which Angela coins is the prison industrial complex. So it isn’t just the prison system, but it’s the school to prison pipeline. It’s the drug war, its lack of education, lack of housing, the creation of ghettos are all part of this prison industrial complex that lead people to the prison system, which is basically a form of profit and a capitalist system.
So when I realized that capitalism is using the prison prison system to profit off of people, you know, I realized that that’s a great injustice, specifically with the idea that, as most people know, so I won’t get into this too much. But within the 13th amendment, it actually still holds slavery to be legal in the United States today, which you could, you know, people have been that’s been popularized through Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. But it states that inside the penal system, slavery is still legal. And then when you look at our prison system, which has about 2.3, to 2.4 million people in it, that in itself is kind of a wild number, specifically, because countries like China have 1 billion people in their population only have 1.3 million people in prison, we literally have the most people in prison in anywhere in the world. So we have 4% of the world’s population. But we have 25%, of the world’s prison population. So I think I just realized that prison and incarceration and making people criminals has become a profit incentive. And that is a great injustice that people are profiting off of putting human beings in cages.
I think that was sort of the beginning of realizing that the way that the prison system functions, and really was even created is a problem and to live in a more humane society, I think we have to come up with some more creative ways to deal with our community members who have mental health issues, who have become more individualistic and less communal, who are hurting, and I think we can be more creative and more humane with our community members.
Heather Warburton 10:35
I think it’s worth noting that our prison system doesn’t work. If our prison system was effective, no one would ever go back to prison. That’s whats effectice . And that’s clearly not the case, because people are ending up in prisons, because they’re in dire and desperate situations. And going into prison usually ends up putting you in a more dire and desperate situation, because it’s going to limit your job opportunities going to limit a lot of your choices you can make. So clearly prison is not this problem solver that a lot of people like might think it is it’s actually a problem creator a lot.
Derek Bloom 11:12
When I think to we have to think Dorothy Day said, was an old activist in the 1900s feminist woman, that all our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, dirty rotten system. And I think that’s along the lines of I totally agree with everything you said. But in a way, I also would like to add that I think the prison system is working great. For what its supposed to do. And I think America and the prison system were created to do very specific things. You know, the nation state of America was created to steal land from indigenous people, and build it by slave labor, and be profitable for a certain group of people. And the case way back then, mostly wealthy white men and 500 years later, it’s still mostly wealthy white men, right? So and I think with the prison system, it was created in capitalism, because it’s really interesting.
The United States is the first capitalist nation to be born capitalist. So its whole premise is to profit at all costs. And then the capitalism, it’s actually illegal if you stop profit from a corporation, whether you’re protesting or you work for that Corporation, and you get a heart or soul and say, You know what, that’s an injustice, I’m not going to do that. People who buy into your corporation can literally sue you for trying to do something good for your community. So in some ways, I think the prison system is working great. It’s working for people to make money. And that’s why we really need to change the way that works. We have to make sure that we’re concerned about people becoming healthy again and not to profit off of them. So but I think what you are also referring to most people think prison. Oh, you know, there’s bad people, and they should be kept there. You know, but that’s also not working either. As you said, I think
Heather Warburton 13:16
I think that what you said is correct, that the system is working exactly as designed. It’s just not designed to prevent crime. That was never what the prison system was designed to do. Do I have you back now? Mimi?
Mimi Soltysik 13:17
I sure am. I’m sorry, like, Wi Fi just completely cut.
Heather Warburton 13:39
You ran on a prison and police abolition platform when you ran? Correct?
Mimi Soltysik 13:44
Correct. So the reason I had come on to this program is that my Local of the Socialist Party works within a coalition here in Los Angeles, called the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. It’s a it’s an organization, it’s housed on Skid Row in Los Angeles. It’s a police abolition organization, it’s led by the community. It does a really wonderful job of being led by the folks, you know, most directly affected by police surveillance, police brutality. And so as opposed to like, you know, folks jumping in from the outside to say, Hey, this is what you need. It’s heavily led by, you know, the folks from the community from Skid Row from South LA from East LA, you know, etc. And what it does is it’s a direct fight with the LAPD, it’s an abolitionist organization. And the work is, you know, one doing research through Public Records Act requests, etc. to expose the programs that the LAPD are using surveillance, new technologies that are being used to expose them to inform the community, to build power, and then to peel those programs away and take them away from the cops, you know, on the ultimate goal to toward abolition.
And what we found with this is that it can work you do get you can get victories, just a few months ago, we were able to get the LAPD to, to ditch to force them to ditch some of their predictive policing programs. One in particular called Operation Laser, which stands for Los Angeles Strategic Extraction and Restoration Program. Sorry, strategic extraction, restoration. This stuff is big money, these, these algorithms, the software. So, you know, you’re not just fighting, you know, the LAPD you are also fighting. You know, the folks who contract these services who develop these services.
A couple years ago in Culver City, which is within LA’s borders, they were about the contract, an automatic license plate reader with an automatic license plate reader contractor called Vigilant Solutions, who also contracts with ICE. And I think this is about a $500,000 contract. And they wanted to encircle, the city of Culver City, which is an area that’s heavily gentrified. And they wanted to encircle the city so they could see who was coming in and who was coming out of the city. And through building that community power and community pressure, we were actually able to stop that contract. And it was a real treat to see the folks from Vigilant Solutions were there, they made the presentation, the cops were there, and to see them lose. You know, you can see that they’re stunned, you know, that this could happen. It’s really amazing, the work is relentless, for sure.
But I think to see that we can win against the cops, and we can start to dismantle the police, is really inspiring. And I can tell you that, you know, the founders of the coalition, and a lot of the community members within the coalition, they’re always flying around the globe, to sort of share how it is that this happened, how we do this, you know, and it’s sort of setting a blueprint for how we can abolish the police. So that that’s, that’s why that’s sort of where I’m grounded at to come into this conversation that that work. I can tell you also, one more thing, that’s a real trip for me. I’m a, I’m a white guy, you know, and this experience for me, it’s been, you know, I’ve been involved for about five years with the coalition. For me personally, it has meant a lot of going into the space, and listening, and learning and providing the support as needed, and as asked by the community, as opposed to, you know, leading that and, you know, that’s, that’s been a huge learning experience. For me.
Heather Warburton 18:15
I think both of you are coming from a very similar place in that that people that are coming out of these heavily over policed communities or the people that actually were in these prisons, would be the best people to tell you how to craft a society without this or a society that really works for them. So I think that that’s great that both of you were coming from a very similar place. In that respect of building an alternate power structure based off the needs of the community, which is one of the most important things we can do. What kind of successes have you had, Derek?
Derek Bloom 18:51
Um, well, you know, I think we’re at the very beginning of our process, we’re still looking for a house. So if anyone listening to this has a house in Asbury Park, or Neptune that they want to donate, that’d be great. But I think one of the things we’re finding to is so I’m working with people who are coming out of the prison system is that to really go through a transformative justice process, they need time, because once they get out they’re trying to find housing, they’re trying to find jobs, they’re meeting with their PO, and don’t necessarily have hours each day to really reflect of the time that it would take to actually do a transformative Justice Project.
So I mean, transformative justice is almost a form of decolonization. So getting out all the toxidity of a capitalist colonial system. And healing yourself takes a great amount of work. So to really do the work we want and believe in, we realized that we need to also provide housing, so that people are trying to get jobs just to supply of housing, so they have a few extra hours. So that’s one of the problems that we’re finding is that we really need to provide a space, rather than just a few hour meeting where people are talking, where they can really kind of feel calm, know that they have some time. It’s not about trying to push them out to get jobs, we don’t want to just make them part of the system, we really want to talk what is healing look like for them. And specifically, we started another group called Co Op Asbury that looks to have cooperative politics, similar to the revolution in Rojava or the Zapitistas.
But the other part of it is to start worker controlled coops that would be able to be ran by people who have formerly had felonies. But as far as some of the success working with people coming out of prison, just listening to their stories, talking to them about some of the things we’re talking about, like what is surplus labor? And that’s kind of a big Marxist terminology. Right. But I think just in some ways, it’s like, when you have a system, where you don’t have work for people, what do you do with those people? You know, either they’re a drain on the system, or you decide to start profiting on them. And then that’s what the prison system as you really see the rise of the prison system after slavery after the Civil War, you know, you’ve had what, 260 odd some years of slavery, and you know, 99.9% of folks from the African diaspora hadn’t made any money for those first 260 years. So what do you do? You either become an indentured servant, you sell your labor to somewhere, or you’re wandering around the streets, and you go to jail for being a vagrant or something like that, you know, so you really see the rise of prison happened with what do we do with this surplus labor for us, now that they’re that labor is not free, there’s not enough money or not factories to hire these people.
So let’s create an entire other system to place these people. So when you talk to people about that not everything is their fault and again, we always everyone’s culpable for their decisions. So we do talk about that. Like, if they had done something that wasn’t good for the community, or good for them, we do talk about that. I think it’s very healing for people to hear that there’s actually a system specifically targeting you as a black person, as a trans person, as a working class person as a person in poverty. That it’s not all your fault that I did all the same things you did as a youth, but grew up in a white suburb. And I’m fine. I didn’t go to jail. I knew all the police officers and I wasn’t deemed violent. And all these different things. So I’ve seen a lot of people kind of get healing, and be able to find sobriety through it, be able to, we’ve gotten people housing, a lot of places in Asbury Park are willing to hire people who have felonies. So we’ve gotten a few people jobs. So we’ve been working in that scenario. And that’s some of the small successes we’ve had.
Heather Warburton 22:58
Mimi, are you able to use your organization as well to have those kinds of conversations about this is where the police force came from. This is the goal of prisons. Instead of having a jobs program, we have a prison program, are you finding the community is very receptive to those kind of ideas as well.
Mimi Soltysik 23:16
So like this stop LAPD spying coalition, they have, it’s almost like every night, there’s an action, a meeting. And there’s different campaigns within the coalition. There’s one about how, you know, data tracks and surveils, black and brown bodies. The predictive policing programs, drones, counterinsurgency. And, like I said, that, that that work is led by the community. And so they’re having those discussions, you know, within themselves. They do take information, you know, that’s gleaned from, you know, Public Records Act requests, that will show clearly and they do show clearly the, the enormous racial component to this. And so those discussions, they’ve been happening, you know, for years as we build power, and then those discussions inform those actions, you know, so, you know, at any given moment, like right now, even though we were able to get this predictive policing program, removed from the LAPD, they do come right back around, you know, once they take a big hit, they will come back around. And I think now they’re saying they’re moving to what’s called Precision Based Policing, which is another predictive program.
I know, we have a team right now that’s working on the FBI’s Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools program, you know, which, you know, essentially, it targets Black and Brown students, K through 12, who expressed an interest in their culture, you know, who express anger and frustration, through music and art. And I believe, you know, through working with ULTA with the UCLA, the teachers union out here, we were able to get, I think them to sign a statement rejecting the program. And I believe to get the mayor out here Garcetti, who’s terrible, to reject the program. So, you know, you do see these, those discussions happen to build an understanding, but these communities that have been affected, they know they’ve been affected, they’ve been on the receiving end of this system, you know, since day one. So a lot of this thing, though, it’s the details about, you know, numbers, specifics that are coming from the LAPD, Department of Homeland Security, etc, that stuff helps to sort of provide additional arsenal for the tools to fight. But they know, you know, and like I said, you know, for me personally
Heather Warburton 25:58
Can you talk a little more about what you were just talking about that program, where they’re targeting children who are rightfully angry, and what are they flagging them?
Mimi Soltysik 26:07
Yeah, it’s actually on the FBI website. It’s really insidious. Oh Shit. A few years ago, we had a conversation with a former FBI agent, who sort of explained it, you know how this works, I believe the program initially started in England. And in there in England, there was actually a mandate that teachers were required to report on students who, you know, exhibited these behaviors. And now, it’s come to the US, a lot of what we we find when we filed, you know, when those Public Records Act requests are filed, is that a lot of the sort of tools, technology, strategies, they’re tested, they’re used in Pakistan, Afghanistan, you know, Iraq etc. And then they’re brought here, like I said, this is big money. So the decriminalization of black and brown bodies, this is just a lot of profit here, you know.
So this is just one that FBI Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools program, I believe maybe it was piloted in Boston and LA. And the idea is that teachers, K through 12, are I don’t think it’s a mandate yet, but are, you know, encouraged to report students who exhibit behaviors like, you know, that interest in their culture, I can, I can email you a link to the FBI website, where it outlines what their criteria are, and another one. Most cities, your city probably has this what’s called Suspicious Activity Reporting. I believe that what the legal standard for us to file a suspicious activity report means that you have to show observable behavior reasonably indicative of pre operational planning of terrorist activity. And what that means is that if you take pictures with your phone in public, if you use binoculars, if you ask for directions, that means that the cops have the authority to open what’s called the Suspicious Activity Report on you. That report then goes to what’s called the Fusion Center, of which there are tons throughout the country. I believe it stays there for about 30 years, and then that is shareable with law enforcement, not only within the US, but globally. And it’s also shareable with private contractors.
So you can see how this whole process of criminalization and of this targeting of black and brown bodies, it also is a direct correlation to, to profit to capitalism. So you know, knowing that these these programs exist, you know, part of that fight on the way to abolition is, is getting them out of there and seeing them removed, and that Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools is, is one that, you know, the stop LAPD Spying Coalition is focused on, there is a group it is being led by students, they develop, you know, the curriculum. And it’s amazing to see, you know, the community take control over this. And, and fight and win.
Heather Warburton 29:16
Alright, so this question is for both of you, if somebody is just now waking up to how damaging and exploitive our quote, unquote, justice system is in this country, and they want to start organizing or helping around that topic, and there’s nothing in their area, what kind of things would you tell someone who wants to become an activist and get involved in this? Start with Mimi?
Mimi Soltysik 29:45
Oh, wow. So you know, I think one thing, if you’re in an area, where did you say, if you’re in an area where nothing exists?
Heather Warburton 29:52
Yes, where if you’re not in LA, or you’re not in Asbury Park, you know, say you’re down in, you know, Cape May, where there’s some real issues with policing down there.
Mimi Soltysik 30:04
I would suggest, for anybody listening to this call, that a good place to start would be to tap into the resources and information available from organizations elsewhere, that have gotten a head start on that, so that you can inform yourself and start to ground yourself in what the, you know, the this work is like, so just, for example, if you’re in Cape May go to the stop LAPD Spying Coalition website, where you will find you know, a lot of these reports that detail what’s involved with body cameras, drones, you know, predictive policing, etc. And even though the numbers and names, you know, they’ll reflect the situation in Los Angeles, these strategies and techniques, they’re being used throughout the country.
So you can pull from what’s already been, you know, uncovered, to give yourself a head start. And then, you know, I think one of the next steps is taking that information, then you can start to expose to your community, whether you do it through like just hosting a small meeting to get started, what started with to build power, but start to expose what the police are doing to the community, build that power, and keep an eye toward the abolition process, you know, like, we want to build power, we want to be informed, we want to expose, show up to a police commission meeting to let them know that you’re aware of what they’re doing, or as our town hall or city council if you don’t have a police commission, but then start to work toward, you know, getting rid of these programs.
But I would definitely say if you’re starting by yourself in an area where that presence doesn’t exist, use the resources that have been, you know, made available to give yourself a head start. Start to educate yourself about, you know, on how this all works. So, I would suggest borrowing, you know, and so, you know, I can tell you that, you know, there are other groups throughout the country, who are doing similar kind of work as a Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. I know we partner with other groups on certain projects, and you know, Detroit, Charlotte, so they are popping up throughout the country. Some have been working on it for a while. But the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is just one that you can go to the website and start to pull information to inform yourself. And I think just starting simply like that, it’s a really good way to go.
Heather Warburton 32:44
And so Derek, how did the Asbury Park transformative Justice Project get started?
Derek Bloom 32:50
Um, we, I think, where we got started and just answering your question about how would someone get started in Cape May, for example, I think you had Jennifer Lewinsky, the founder of Black Lives Matter, Asbury Park on your program before?
Heather Warburton 33:10
Twice. She’s amazing.
Derek Bloom 33:12
And one of the things I really love about Jennifer and I think, you know, we are having a radical conversation, a very left conversation, and how do we meet people? How are we practical, right. And so I think, yes, the end goal is abolition to a place where communities have control of their own communities, right. One of the things Jennifer always says mostly to large white crowds, you know, we could go all the way to abolition, but one of the first things you can start is just have sessions, talk to people have a small community meeting, when something is going on, do not call the police as a first option. Right? Talk about you know, what is the issue is your neighbor playing loud music, think about if I do call the police, and my neighbor happens to be a person of color? What are the repercussions from that? Right? So I think we ultimately have to start, you know, if you’re a small person, and you live on the block, get to know your block, get to know your neighbors, start a community, neighborhood potluck, get to know each other, where you have these conversations. Hey, everybody, what would we do? If you know one of us is partying too much, you know, I want you to know, talk to me. And you know, I won’t call the police.
And I think that’s just something very basic is that a lot of people when they call the police, they don’t really know the repercussions, even the people who, for instance, in domestic violence calls, sometimes they’ll call the police, and then they go to jail. You know, one thing, I think, is another interesting resource to look at. And I agree with Mimi that, definitely, unfortunately, it’s not super exciting or sexy, but read, you know, really inform yourself, but Cop Watches all over the country. And I think it’s a really easy model. And you can get trained up on how to cop watch, you can train people how to film the police’s interaction with the community. And then another example, I would like to just mention, right before I mentioned how we got started, as you know, I always think about the Black Panther Party that got started in Oakland.
And you know, a lot of people in really both white and black communities to have can sometimes see if you’re not on the left side of things that the Black Panthers were violent, and they had guns and, you know, Martin Luther King was a really the person to go with. But you know, the Panthers really came out, kind of fulfilling what Martin Luther King and specifically Malcolm X wanted. But when they really started, the first thing they started was they, they wanted a Stop Sign at an intersection. And if I’m correct, Huey P and one other person started just standing on the corner and telling cars to stop, they started directing traffic, and their first big protest was just getting a stop sign on the corner. Um, you know, I think these are huge things. And, you know, they eventually organized kind of their own society. And they were mostly Marxist, Leninist and Maoist, which I, you know, have a disagreement on that political spectrum. But I think their model of how to do community organizing was unbelievable. They’re still health clinics that they started from the 70s. You know, they started breakfast programs and reading programs. And from what I know, as far as the community policing, any block that the Panthers were really at. Even drug dealers to the community were no longer on that block, they took care of that problem on their own. So for instance, in a very practical level, when a police officer arrests someone who might be selling drugs on the corner, that person’s replaced the next day by someone else. So the problem isn’t actually being solved, they’re incarcerating someone and then someone else comes.
And I think real community accountability and action. As far as doing I wouldn’t say we’re doing our own police work, but we’re creating community accountability it really just starts out with relationships. And as far as how we got started, Chris Lakte, who was one of the founders along with Jennifer Lewinsky, I think we started talking about organizing. And we’re in all these different projects that are doing this and trying to fight this injustice and that injustice and we want a police oversight commission. We want affordable housing. And and we’re doing all those things. But we started talking about what world do we want to live in? What kind of world do we want to live in. And one of our/ my favorite quotes from the Paris Commune and in 1968, in the French Revolution, the students had graffiti-ed all over the city when they took over the city for few weeks, a few days, I forgot the time. But they said “Be Realistic Demand The Impossible”
Heather Warburton 38:02
I love that.
Derek Bloom 38:04
We really wanted to do that with this project. So we want to help people. And through that, we want to talk about creating community accountability. We’ve talked about what it would look like, starting on Sundays, you call us instead of the police. We did that in Albuquerque for a little bit with the Albuquerque cop watch. And yeah, it was really intense, we got called into some really wild situations. But it felt really good. None of us got hurt. We knew that there was the potential to get hurt. But I think things like that. And the last thing I would say to someone wanting to get started, I think it’s also really scary. I think when we talk about the prison system and policing in America, which I mean, policing really started all the way back from colonization, and the first police were really slave catchers, you know, so when I think when we talk about that, and then when we looked at, mostly at least what 43 to 45% of the current prison population is black, even though black folks only make up 13% of the population. It’s a little scary how 500, you know, some years later, we’re still having the same issues with the prison system.
So it could get very overwhelming. But the one thing I would say to youth or anybody organizing and even in their 60s, is Yeah, we’re not perfect, we will never read everything, but we just have to start trying, start getting people together, start talking, talk to people directly affected, make sure they’re part of your organization, so you don’t just become the charity. And you start with two or three people. But as long as you move forward, you can build power. And, you know, start small and just keep pushing forward. And, and you’ll learn and you’ll meet people, I know anyone from the Transformative Justice Project would love to come down to Cape May and talk to people about cop watch or community accountability or transformative justice.
Heather Warburton 39:58
Alright, so we’ve been going quite a while now. So I’m going to give you a chance for a last word here. Key takeaways you want people to take from what we’ve talked about today. You know, are you optimistic about the future? What does the future look like? Whatever you think would be a good takeaway to leave people with? We’ll start with Mimi, go ahead.
Mimi Soltysik 40:20
So we have like a phrase that we will often use, that’s often used within the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, because this stuff is scary. You know, every week the coalition is in a room with at a police commission meeting, which essentially, you know, this idea of like, the community, police accountability, shit, they basically serve as a rubber stamp for whatever the LAPD wants. But, you know, every week at the police commission meetings, the community is surrounded by armed officers. You know, the, that just the very space is violence, you know, you know, here in LA, like, every time you look up, police helicopters are, you know, they’re overhead overhead. They’re always on Skid Row, you know, like, it’s just a swarm. It’s like a military occupation. At this shit’s, scary, you know, but what we always talk about is the idea of power, not paranoia, you know, that, as you do this work. It can be, it can be scary, and and there are consequences to doing this work. And I know that a lot of the folks who’ve been suffering the consequences since day one. And as they do this work, that intensifies.
But what I always want, you know, I mentioned some of those examples of how the coalition how you see victories. That gives me hope, you know, that, while I know, that requires a lot of work, a lot of research, a lot of, you know, being intentional, when we say things, you know, that we think that we think that we think that, that we’re actually following through with that, and, but I feel hopeful when I see that, you know, when the community comes together, to fight, that they can win, you know, watching seeing the police, and the police commission, and the police chief out here, seeing them get scared, you know, of in front of the community about seeing them seeing that fear that they have from community power, knowing, you know, like, how incredibly powerful this police force is out here, but seeing the fear that they have from the community when the community starts to expose what it is they’re doing, and mobilizes to fight to take them down. That’s inspiring as hell. And that gives me a lot of hope to see, you know, like shit, if you can do that here. I think you could do it anywhere, you know.
So I actually do feel optimistic. I’m realistic about, you know, how challenging this is. And I think as you know, the climate crisis continues to intensify, you know, we’re going to see sort of this, the scamper to secure access to resources, and profit, that’s going to intensify as well. And of course, there’s going to be a lot of policing involved with that to sort of, to provide security and pathways to those resources, you know, these technologies, they’re going to continue to crop up, and this is going to escalate. But we can do this, we can win. And essentially, you know, when you’re looking at things to that climate crisis, climate, climate crisis context, we have to win, you know, the alternative here It’s, it’s, it’s pretty bleak. So I’m always I feel sense of optimism.
Heather Warburton 44:02
All right, your turn, Derek.
Derek Bloom 44:04
Yeah, I always kind of wait for this question. I think about Ta-Nehisi Coates a little bit and how he answers this question. And I think he talks about bashing hope, in a really interesting way. And he talks about, show me statistics where I can be hopeful, and I’ll be hopeful. But until you do, I’m going to wait. And he talks about, I think every 24 to 28 hours of black person is killed by law enforcement or extra- judicial groups. And since his writings and since black lives matter, it’s certainly become way more popular. I mean, I think what he says is, nothing is new, just the cameras are new. But I think also in his writing that the police homicides to the black community, have not stopped. So I do think that’s important, because we have this niche to want hope.
So I, you know, I do truthfully feel despair. And I want to be honest, but then I also think about James Baldwin, a black queer man in the 50s, and 60s, who in the midst of all that had such hope in human potential, and love, and I remember his words as well. So I think, you know, if I had a faith or spirituality, I think it lives in tension, so that, that I do have that despair, but I also have the tension of the hope that we we bring the hope by our actions. So hope isn’t this magical thing that’s just kind of there. I think like Mini said, it’s about community power. Sounded like when he was having hope it was because the community showed up the community has victories all over the world and I think, when I got into activism, I’ll never forget, there’s that documentary, The Fourth World War, which I would highly recommend any listeners, but it’s the fight against globalization from South Korea, to South Africa, to Chiapas, to Argentina, to the United States. And if saying, hey, like, you might feel alone, but there’s thousands and millions of people and resistance to capital and the way it flows today.
And then as far as hope here, and Asbury I do have hope i, but I think it’s based on reality. It’s based off of hard work. I do have hope and people being able to change. And if I’m going to be optimistic, I mean, compared to the 90s. I think people maybe aren’t necessarily talking prison abolition, but they’re having hard critiques of prison systems and if I’m correct. I think even President Obama and the last one of the last things he ever did, he ended federal private prisons. So not saying like, that was amazing Obama but I’m saying that the the prison abolitionists like Angela Davis and Critical Resistance and all these people that have been doing prison abolition, really since the 1800s, anarchists have been against prisons. I think it’s it’s up front, Netflix documentaries is about it, you know.
So there’s definitely momentum, I just think the sad part, the despairing part of our country, it takes a really long time for justice to happen. It took 260 years for slavery to be abolished. And on day one, there was many white people that took up arms with black folks, runaway slaves and indigenous folks and said, this is wrong. So we knew slavery was wrong from day one, but it took 260 years. So I think about slave abolitionists who had that hope. And in a, in a world, I’ll never understand that violence or that despair. But they still fought, you know, the Harriet Tubmans, they kept going. And so if they had hope, I mean, I think I need to try to find hope, as well. And I think through people power, I think we can do that. But I also do think we need to start building institutions. I think that we can’t just keep protesting, but we need to start building the world we want to live and we need to start worker cooperatives, we need to start police accountability groups in every town, you know, the police are probably going to be here for a while. So let’s have our own community accountability system, we need to create alternate to capitalism. I mean, I think the one reason that gives me real hope other than the Zapitistas, is the the revolution in Rojava right now in northern Syria. And I think the YPGYPJ folks out there, I’m not going to get into it. But basically, they’ve taken over 300 municipalities or cities and Syria, and decentralized them, they kicked out ISIS, which the US or turkey or Iraq or Iran couldn’t do, which I also forgot to mention that 40% of their military is female.
On a lighter note, the ISIS believes that if you’re killed by a woman, you don’t get to go to heaven. So that’s pretty sweet. But long story short, here we have over a million Kurds. And these three municipalities basically did what the Spanish anarchists did during the Spanish Civil War. They are right here right now. And one of the most violent areas in the whole world, they’ve created direct democracies, where they’ll have a village meeting of 100 people, and then they’ll go to the larger town meeting, and then we’ll have a larger municipality meeting, and then they have a Congress. I mean, the work that they’re doing is so amazing. And I think that really gives me hope that people can organize for collective liberation. And for justice for all people, even in today’s hard times.
Heather Warburton 50:04
I think those were both both of you had great closing words there. And hopefully, if you’re listening to this, you hear that they’re coming at those and from different routes and different avenues. And there’s a lot of room for whatever your particular style of organizing is, or whatever your particular, as long as we’re fighting together, we’ve got people from the socialists, from anarchists. Here in Newark, we have the new African Black Panther Party, that’s a Maosit based party. And we’re all organizing in communities, and that there’s a place for you, no matter where you’re starting from, and there’s a home for you, there’s you can get involved, you can make a difference. Don’t be overwhelmed, get involved, and who knows where that spark that actually really starts changing things comes from, it is a scary place, we’re in horrible time. But if we want to have a future, this is how we start it right now, by organizing in your community, by helping open people’s eyes to the realities of what things are, if they don’t already see it. If you’re coming out of that community, if you’re coming out of the prison system, you already know this. So making sure you listen to people that are coming out of the system that are being exploited is really important. And I think that we can have a bright future no matter where you’re coming from, if you just get involved. There’s a lot of work to do, be pragmatic, but keep that little bit of hope in your heart, that we can make a better community because we have to. To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate you more than you can know. And we would not be here if it weren’t for the activist community. We take no corporate money on this show. We can’t be a voice for activists if we’re sponsored by corporations. We are only sponsored by activists who donate chipping in a couple of dollars a month. If you’d like to be one of our supporters, you can go on www.njrevolutionradio, com Click on that Donate button. Even if you’re only $1 a month supporter, it really goes a long way to helping getting us out to more events covering more things, having more shows bringing you conversations that you may not be hearing other places. We appreciate you more than you can ever know the future is yours to create, go out there and create it