Panelists advocate dismantling prison system
Seattle University Spectator
Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Every conversation starts with a question. For students, faculty and community members that gathered on Monday night in the LeRoux Room, the question was "How is the policing of borders connected locally and globally?"
For the "Borders + Prisons = $$$" panel, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) invited four activists to Seattle University, each with unique perspectives and life experiences that lead them all to devote themselves to the same goal: prison abolition. The panelists shared their stories about why they believe the private prison system should be dismantled and opened the space for thought and dialogue about the issues.
Christina Roberts, an English professor at Seattle U, was an advocate for social justice in solidarity with First Nations people and spoke about the ideas of historical and modern-day colonialism. According to Roberts, the policing of borders is an example of how one country asserts dominance over another and can suppress the world views of others. She urged her audience to cross their own mental borders and explore other cultures in order to gain broader understanding of the issues that affect others.
"I know how I think," said Roberts. "What I don't know is other people's world views."
Walidah Imarisha, an active prison abolitionist on both coasts of the United States, connected the prison-industrial complex to slavery and drew parallels between the Black Codes legislation of post-Civil War culture and the War on Drugs legislature in the 1970s. Both acts were laws directed specifically towards black people, labeling them as criminals and imprisoning them. Corporations could then exploit and essentially re-enslave these populations by paying the states a relatively cheap fee to have prisoners do labor.
Criminalizing a certain population for profit connected seamlessly to the experiences of economic refugee and activist María Guillen Valdovinos.
"No human being is illegal," Valdovinos declared to introduce her topic.
She explained how border policing and laws that target undocumented immigrants criminalize these populations to imprison them and feed into the prison-industrial complex.
"People are dying at the border, people are still escaping their homeland," Valdovinos said. "If there is a benefit, it's a benefit to the corporations that are investing in it, it's a benefit to the banks that are investing in the prison-industrial complex. We never see that money given back to the people, we never see that money go back to the community."
Dean Spade, professor of law at Seattle U, expanded the issues past the North American continent. He went on a solidarity tour of Palestine and Israel in early January and shared his experiences in an effort to raise awareness about the effects of Israel's state policy on Palestinians. He described how a wall separates Palestinians from Israelis and how militarized checkpoints in the country affect the ability of Palestinians to work and travel.
The panelists represented various aspects of human rights advocation and demonstrated how the issues all have common themes that tie to prison abolition and border policing.
"Depending on our experiences, identities, activism, communities, we often will think about single issues and fight on particular planes," said Sabina Neem, associate director
of OMA. "The interest is to connect the dots so we see how our liberation is really connected to the liberation of all of us."
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