A biweekly column in which various contributors from both sides of prison walls explore common ground for effecting change.
I organize because I have to. I organize because I believe that we are much more powerful together than we can ever be apart. I organize because I believe that individual power can change a moment, but collective power can change things forever. I organize because I am a Black man in America and to organize may be the only way that I can ever be free.
I organize against all odds in the direst conditions, not because I want to or because I believe that there is a pot of gold at the end of this journey. I organize because I have to! I am a currently incarcerated prison justice organizer, which means I organize inside of a system that has taken my vote, muted my voice, and disconnected me from the people I care the most about. And I still organize anyway.
I organize inside a prison, but I am not alone, nor do I believe that what I am doing is new. I cannot be a prison organizer without acknowledging the contributions of my forerunners: George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, Angela Davis, and all of the political prisoners who laid down their freedom and their lives to carve out the space in which I organize today.
The times are different, but the fight is the same. Until there is liberation for all there can be no liberation for anyone. Mass incarceration has ravished our community, stolen our fathers, killed our brothers, and built cages for our sons. The external enemy has organized around us to build these traps to enslave our Black bodies; the internal enemy has organized within us to enslave our minds.
The BRIDGE is our response to the times and a necessary response from the people who are most impacted by the oppression that has been forced upon them. The BRIDGE is the forgotten-about children that the bombs from the war on drugs landed on. I organize because the radiation from those bombs, wrapped in the organized tactics of laws and policies, has herded an entire generation of Black and Brown bodies into this modern prison industrial complex.
I organize because we have to stop this organized genocide inflicted upon us. I organize because I believe that the leaders of a generation have always come from that generation and each generation must fight for freedom all over again.
I organize because Harriet Tubman showed me how. If she can build a underground railroad to see our people free from the noose that enslaved them, then I must build a BRIDGE to see our people free from the cage that enslaves us. The BRIDGE is “The Fire Next Time” that James Baldwin predicted.
I will not attempt to add any urgency to the times. I believe that the hyperawareness that subjugation and oppression is real is for our well-meaning liberal friends — the political rhetoric of the times for them seems unfamiliar.
But not for us. For us the times are reminiscent of the stories our grandmas told us, revealing the unseen predator that our mothers warned us about. The times are reminiscent of the fear that our great-great-great grandfathers lived with every day. It’s the same fear that we all live with every time one of our children leaves the house to travel this dangerous land by themselves.
The urgency of the moment must be acted out in some intentional ways. Let’s be urgent to be kind to one another. Let’s be urgent to listen to each other and really hear the other person, not bringing any preconceived ideas to the conversation.
Let’s remember that racism and oppression are dispensed to vulnerable populations by institutions. Let’s keep our energy and efforts aimed at pushing for actual systemic change that will improve the lives of the people who need it. So let’s be urgent to be focused and do the work that the moment calls us to do.
I organize because it gives me a microphone in a quiet room to share my humanity with others. I organize because it gives me headphones in a noisy room to hear the humanity of others as well. I organize because I cannot do this work alone — there is too much at stake for any of us to work alone.
Over the last three-plus years the BRIDGE prison justice organizing has reached so many hearts and minds around the state and country, and we are grateful for every chance we’ve had to share our humanity with anyone who would listen. Now the BRIDGE is back home organizing and training some of the future leaders of tomorrow.
I organize because the power is with the people and the people have the power. To our core supporters we want to salute you for all that you have done on our behalf and thanks for all the love and compassion. For anyone who is not familiar with the work of the BRIDGE, and if mass incarceration and human rights are issues that you care about, please contact us.
I leave this moment with the same sentiment I came in with. My name is Kevin Reese and I’m a prison justice organizer, and I organize because I have to.
Kevin Reese is a participant in Voices for Racial Justice’s “Bridging the Gap” partnership. Reader responses are welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the organization’s work, visit www.voicesforracialjustice.org.