ITHACA, N.Y. — Set up at tables along the walls at the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School gym Monday night, representatives from about 10 local community or activist organizations were ready to remind more than 100 attendees that action is the only way to right wrongs in the community.
A march, which kicked off directly before the gathering at the Southside Community Center, ran in conjunction with May Day (International Workers’ Day) by #BeyondtheMoment. About 125 people marched the route, carrying signs saying “Resist” and “We Are A Movement. Not A Moment.”
Speaker Phoebe Brown reminded people of the latter saying, “Our work does not end today.”
The idea was compounded by Laura Branca, of the Dorothy Cotton Institue, who described the evolution people of color from the social status of being slaves to mass incarceration caused in large part by the failed War on Drugs — a system often referred to as The New Jim Crow.
“This is Jim Crow law on steroids,” she said. “This is a tragedy to people and a tragedy to communities.”
Citing Beauru of Justice statistics made available in 2015 for 2014, Branca said 80 percent of people in federal prison and 60 percent of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.
Michelle Alexander, who authored ‘The New Jim Crow,’ wrote about the issue of the mass incarceration of people of color using the metaphor of a caged bird.
Branca illustrated the issues during her presentation saying that the bars of a birdcage represented the struggles faced by people of color. They’re more likely to fall prey to the school to prison pipeline, more likely to be searched by police or racially profiled. Then, they’re more likely to have inadequate legal representation and accept a plea deal as opposed to going to trial. Then, upon felony convictions, former inmates lose the right to vote and struggle to find work or housing.
But Branca said the entire system can be changed if people dedicate themselves to being involved in creating change.
“…a campaign needs to start some place,” she said.
Organizer Reed Steberger emphasized that communities can be responsible for helping launch those changes.
“So our emphasis today is taking action,” they said.
In addition to giving people time to get information about local organizations working to create change, they said another meeting will happen May 1, 2018 so people can hold themselves accountable to their commitments to be active.
For more information on how to get involved locally with the organizations at the event, which includes Standing Up For Racial Justice, the The Ithaca Youth Bureau, Prisoner Express, Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, The Village at Ithaca, Ultimate Reentry Opportunity, community radio station WRFI, and Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources of Tompkins County, visit the Multicultural Resource Center website here.
Correction: Steberger’s preferred pronoun is they/them/ their, not he as originally reported.
All photos by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice