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B&P Leadership Changes

A Short History

The Black & Pink Free World Leadership Circle (LC) that we have right now came together in 2010 with about 5-7 people. In 2011, the Free World LC added an Incarcerated Leadership Circle of 10 people in prison. We did this to help meet our goal of basing our work on the experiences of people in prison. We had elections in the Newspaper and all members could vote, and everyone elected 10 people on the inside, and 8 people on the outside (the Free World LC).

The Leadership Circle was set up to have a 1 year term. In the Free World, there are not enough people to fill 10 positions, so there has been no need to chose another group of people. For members in prison, there are many people to fill 10 positions. The terms of the current members are done; we had planned to run elections again in 2012, but it seemed too soon at that time.

Where We Are Now

There are now 3 Free World members from 2010 still on the LC, plus 3-5 new people. We have 4 people left on the Incarcerated LC- Jenni, Shaylanna, Mystique, & Kelly. We lost incarcerated Leaders for different reasons: they stopped writing us, they were released, there was concerns of racism, they never provided any leadership input, and others. Through a combination of choices of Free World and Incarcerated members, the Incarcerated LC has not been functioning for several months now.

Communication Challenges

Making decisions with a Leadership Circle with people on the inside and outside has been hard. It is very hard to create a “consensus,” to hear everyone’s voice and come up with an agreement or compromise that works for everyone. Communication is difficult in/out of prison. The LC in prison can’t talk to each other. The Free World can’t talk face-to-face with anyone in prison. Decisions that were before being made in 20 minutes at a Free World meeting, instead take lots of coordination, many months of back-and-forth letter writing, and may never reach a decision.

Making decisions with a Free World & Incarcerated LC also takes time for the Free World to coordinate. It is a good use of time; and it’s also true that we do many things to serve the mission of the organization, and we often feel stress about having enough time to get everything done. (And as a result, sometimes don’t follow through on our intentions and projects).

What Could Have Been Done Better

There are a few ways the Free World LC has not done the best job: We haven’t provided a lot of resources for organizing and leadership in prison. We haven’t kept in touch as good as we should have. We have been using a “buddy system,” where each Free World person writes to 1-2 people in prison. But, when a Free World person leaves the LC, we often lost touch with their buddy. And individuals in the Free World LC did not always write their buddy regularly.

Who Has Power in B&P

The way things have been working, the Free World has chosen which decisions would be decided on by the Full LC (for example, choosing a bank, and choosing fiscal sponsor) and which would be only the Free World LC (for example, making the budget, and changing from NewsLetter to NewsPaper). The Free World LC has been making decisions that need to happen soon, which is most of them. And decisions that can take longer to make have been often put out to the whole LC. In reality, the Free World and Incarcerated LC does not have equal power: there is a real difference in power in the world between people in and out of prison, and this imbalance has been on our Circle as well.

Attempts at Changes

The Free World LC made a proposal in the May 2013 Newspaper to change from an elected group of 10 incarcerated people, to instead a “poll” or vote on each decision by all membership. Jenni, Incarcerated B&P Leadership Circle member in California, disagreed strongly. She wrote, “This is basically a unilateral action by the Free World LC to simply abolish the incarcerated LC.” She noted that it doesn’t work to expand decision-making power to everyone, especially if trying to use consensus (where everyone agrees, instead of a simple vote). As Jenni talks about, the Feedback Form does not give everyone “decision-making power” like the Incarcerated LC has. Instead, it gives a way for any family member to share thoughts. These thoughts are then considered by the Leadership Circle, who make the decisions. She proposed having another election for an incarcerated LC, and setting better standards and expectations before elections.

Accountability

We are guided by People, and by our Statement of Purpose and Analysis (which was written by the Free World LC in 2011 with only 1 person who had been in prison). Clearly, LGBTQ people in prison are a diverse group. We have many different opinions and politics. Sometimes the views of individuals match well with our official politics, sometimes they don’t. When it comes to making decisions that impact the group, the Free World LC has been prioritizing the voices of incarcerated members who have a similar vision as the one we set up. In this way, we are accountable to a mix of People- LGBTQ people in prison- and to Politics- the feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, queer liberation politics we hold.

And it’s true that these politics are created by the experiences of LGBTQ people who are or were in prison. For the Free World LC, we are queer. Some of us have been in prison. We have been reading your letters, hundreds every month, for years. We have been listening to other Free World prison abolition groups. We have been learning from the history of queer resistance to prisons, and other movements for justice against oppressive systems.

Moving Forward

If the decision before the LC is to change the Leadership Structure, then clearly we are not all in agreement. But it’s also true that, if the decision before the LC is whether we want to continue the current form of the LC, again we are not all in agreement.

Changes for Now

For now, the Free World LC has decided to change the Leadership structure back to what it was in 2010, with the addition of listening to everyone’s input through letters and the Newspaper’s Feedback Form. We feel that it’s not the best use of organizational resources to run a new election and maintain an incarcerated Leadership Circle at this time. We don’t have the ability to do a good job on this, and do everything else we do too. The reality right now is that our B&P Family has thousands of members in prison, and is coordinated by a small team of Free World members. We plan to use our time and energy to serve our members and our purpose in other ways, like improving our Newspaper & Penpal programs, and starting other programs.

We are open to new structures that help meet the goal of being lead by people most hurt by the prison system, and that help do work that serves our purpose and keep our projects going. One option is to create an Advisory Group in prison, which would have decision-making input, but not decision-making power. We will continue to listen to everyone’s input through letters and Feedback Forms, and follow our Statement of Purpose and Analysis. We will also aim towards having more formerly incarcerated people on the Leadership Circle. We know that not everyone may be in agreement with this decision. This is an open topic for talking about in prison, on the outside, and in the Newspaper.

We remain committed to creating a world of justice, to tearing down all systems of oppression. We work passionately to serve our Family and to create communities that are safe and healthy, knowing that once there were no prisons, and that day will come again.

Black & Pink Free World Leadership Circle

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