I hope this note finds you as well as possible. As I write this letter people around the country, and people around the world, are talking about the protests that took place during the inauguration and the Women’s marches that occurred all across the country. The Women’s Marches that occurred on January 21st were some of the largest marches to ever occur in the U.S. While people like to debate the exact numbers, the point is clear, millions upon millions of people are inspired to rise up and fight back. The big question now is: how do we harness all that energy? How do we welcome new people into the movement? How do we make sure we are not securing some people’s liberation at the expense of others? How do we build from the bottom and from the margins? How do we get people to go from one march in the street to the difficult work of organizing? How do you answer these questions? What messages should people be hearing from inside prison walls?
In the days leading up to the protests in DC and the Women’s Marches in cities and towns around the country, I was stuck in bed fighting off pneumonia. I was very disappointed not to be in the streets with the many others who were doing all they could to force attention to the real issues. There were leaders of the Movement for Black Lives who locked down at an entrance to the inauguration, forcing those trying to get by notice that the fight for Black liberation is not going away. There were climate change activists blocking another entrance, refusing to allow the day to go by without acknowledging the violence fossil fuels are causing our suffering planet. There has been a lot of discussion about the Black Bloc protesters who were smashing windows, turning over trash cans, and even punching a right wing racist in the face on national television. Given that I was mostly stuck in bed, I found myself having conversations on social media about strategy and tactics. What is okay for protestors to do? What is the right way to fight fascism? Which tactics are good? Which tactics are effective? What is the larger strategy? How are we going to win, and when will we know that we have won? When it comes to our work, the work of our Black and Pink family as well as the larger movement for abolition, these are questions we must wrestle with to.
For me, it’s helpful to break some of this down and define what we are talking about. Tactics are generally understood as the actions people or groups take to get something done. Tactics include phone calls to congress people, chaining oneself to a building, holding a protest in the street, smashing windows, and countless other actions. Tactics are usually part of a larger effort or campaign to get certain demands met or changes made. This can include getting government officials to support certain legislation, getting prison officials to close solitary confinement cells, or getting corporations to stop mining. Most campaigns include lots of different tactics and these campaigns fit within certain strategies. Strategies are the roadmaps, intentionally created, that put many tactics (and often multiple campaigns) together to achieve a larger goal. Often, multiple strategies are being used at the same time. Sometimes there is an insider strategy, trying to make change from within the system, and an outsider campaign, forcing change from the outside. These strategies can get in the way of one another; it’s one of the things that makes social movement work so tricky. One of the key parts of a group creating an effective strategy is for that group to have a shared set of values or a shared theory of change.
This is one of the things we have been for Black and Pink. You may remember when we printed our updated values for Black and Pink. In order for us to have be clear about what work we should be doing, we need to start with our shared values. At our next national gathering, in August, we will be defining more clearly what our strategy is as Black and Pink. We have great tactics with pen pals, newspaper, chapter building, and healing. We have some strong campaigns as we fight solitary confinement and build other campaigns. We have some clear short term goals, and our long term goal of abolition is very clear. With your vision, your wisdom, we can have a clearer strategy for change in these uncertain times. Let us discuss, challenge each other, take greater risks, and keep fighting knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.
In loving solidarity,