We are so pleased to honor Professor Angela Y. Davis on the occasion of the bestowal of the ethecon Blue Planet Award 2011. Professor Davis is one of the co-founders of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization committed to abolishing the prison industrial complex. She has been involved since the beginning of our organization and continues to be a dedicated supporter of our work on both the local and international levels.
Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the prison industrial complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure. As such, our work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness. Critical Resistance was formed in 1997 when activists challenging the idea that imprisonment and policing are a solution for social, political, and economic problems came together to organize a conference that examined and challenged what we have come to call the prison industrial complex (PIC). Held in Berkeley, California, in September 1998, the conference brought together over 3,500 activists, academics, former and current prisoners, labor leaders, religious leaders, feminists, gay, lesbian and transgender activists, youth, families, and policy makers from across the United States and from other parts of the world. Professor Davis was a key organizer of this historic and game changing conference, one that re-invigorated a movement in which she had long been involved.
With the support of leaders and activists like Professor Davis, our organization was formed out of that conference, and our national organizing now works through a structure of local chapters that are connected under a shared mission and organizing principles. Critical Resistance currently has chapters in Oakland, Los Angeles, Houston, and New Orleans. Our chapters are engaged in a variety of political work in their areas, working to link local organizing to the larger movement to abolish the PIC. We do this through rigorous and focused campaigns that build grassroots power to oppose the expansion of prisons, jails, and policing while also demanding the solutions to problems and the provision of basic needs that support and build thriving, self-determined communities.
In Oakland, California, Critical Resistance and our coalitional allies in the Stop The Injunctions Coalition are winning the fight to end the use of gang injunctions in our communities. A gang injunction is a court order that targets for potential arrest a person or group suspected of being involved in a gang who is living or spending time in an area identified as a “safety zone.” These “safety zones” typically are located in the poorest neighborhoods in Oakland, where the majority of residents are African-American or Latino, and gang injunctions essentially are used to racially profile individuals in these communities. Critical Resistance Oakland has mobilized thousands of people to attend community-based events, rallies, protests, city council meetings, and cultural events to show the people’s opposition to police repression, racial profiling, and the waste of public funds on increased reliance on policing and imprisonment in the name of “public safety.” Professor Davis has been a key supporter of this work and has joined us in speaking out against gang injunctions and for community-based solutions to harm and violence at rallies, events, and in the media. Her perspectives and expertise have been invaluable to the success of our fight.
In addition to the fight against gang injunctions, both our Oakland and Los Angeles chapters continue to fight the expansion of the California prison system and corrections spending through the statewide coalition Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). California has the largest prison system in the United States, currently imprisoning over 160,000 people in over 33 institutions. This does not include the hundreds of thousands of people in county jails, on parole/probation, in youth prisons, and their family and community members. All eyes have been on California as the US Supreme Court made a historic ruling requiring California to reduce the state prison population by at least 40,000 over the next two years. In response to the court ruling, the state is attempting to build more cages on the local level instead, so this year CR and our CURB allies are calling for a prison and jail expansion moratorium in California.
Critical Resistance is also on the ground in New Orleans, continuing to demand the provision of basic needs like affordable housing, healthcare centers, community centers, and employment opportunities. Along with our coalitional allies in the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, CR New Orleans also has been steadfastly fighting the expansion of the infamous Orleans Parish Prison. In February of 2011 we were successful in forcing a population cap on and decommission orders against the city’s expansion plans. We continue to see the PIC used as a disaster response tool in the gulf region of the southern United States, and in response we will continue to build people power and political consciousness towards growing self-determined communities and abolishing the PIC.
None of our work would be possible without the tireless work, generous support, and brilliant analysis of activist scholars like Professor Davis! She is incredibly deserving of the recognition of her lifetime of service as bestowed by ethecon through the Blue Planet Award. Her historical and current commitment to international movement building has created necessary and critical visibility for the fight against the PIC in the United States and the impact it is having around the world.
Congratulations and thank you, Professor Davis!