In response to recent interest in the organizational structure of Bend The Bars, we would like to clarify the organizing group and individual roles within it. We believe in collective process, and therefore, our group has no leaders, and remains a non-hierarchical set of individuals who were drawn together by nothing more than a shared desire to support prisoners in struggle.
As the conference organizing group, we’ve tried to take our cues from the self-organized struggles of prisoners. These struggles, initiated on the inside, are the clearest and most important challenge to the American prison system. Not only are prisoners best-positioned to formulate demands and organize directly against those who cage them, these struggles are central in yet another way to our broader movement for a world without prisons: it is through these struggles that prisoners transform themselves, each other and a poisonous, carceral environment designed to spread racism and social cannibalism.
The history of prison struggles confirms this: there is a direct correlation between the strength of prisoners’ movements for freedom and the suppression of predatory violence. The uprising at Lucasville, Ohio in 1993 required a peace agreement between formerly warring race-based gangs. Men Against Sexism was a group of prisoners in Walla Walla, Washington who wiped out prison rape and homophobia in their facility in the 1970s in order to strengthen the struggle against the prison authorities. Instead of relying on our sick society’s solution to violence – which is simply a mix of isolation, stigmatization, and more violence – we look to the power of collective organization and struggle as a means of self-transformation and communal improvement.
Thus, we defend our decision to extend solidarity to prisoners in struggle (including those convicted of murder) and to include in our organizing group individuals who’ve harmed others in the past but who have been transparent and self-reflective regarding that harm. Candor and collective responsibility are the building blocks for self-transformation, not a model based on shame, stigmatization and isolation that mirrors the criminal justice system.
We welcome questions and insights, and ask that they be directed to us via email at bendthebars (at) riseup (dot) net so that a constructive conversation can be continued.
Down with prisons!
For the creation of new, empathetic and equitable human relationships!
-The Bend the Bars Organizing Committee