60 people gathered in Los Angeles for the SoCal Regional Stop Mass Incarceration Network Conference. There were people from the Antelope Valley chapter of SMIN and other SMIN activists, family members from Los Angeles, Bakersfield, San Bernardino and Denver; students from various colleges, members of the LA Revolution Club, artists and others who came because they heard about the conference and want to stop police terror and mass incarceration.
Opening remarks focused up the ongoing epidemic of murder by police, the significant national impact of Rise Up October, the crucial objective of challenging millions in society with Stop Police Terror ~ Which Side Are You On? - and the urgent need to now make the strategic step of bringing the movement to Stop Police Terror to the college campuses for that to happen. The conference watched the video of Carl Dix’s speech “We’re in a Genocidal Emergency and We Gotta Stop It!” In a sweeping talk taking up questions of revolution and resistance, the "new synthesis" of Bob Avakian, the historic and present day oppression of entire people's in the U.S., Carl spoke to the national plan for a No More Stolen Lives Tour to challenge students to uprise to stop murder by police and catapult this movement to new heights in the U.S. This vision includes the call for an April strike on college campuses nationwide focusing on stopping murder by police and mass incarceration. He said that the student movement of the 1960’s transformed the civil rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam war, and students are needed to play a similar role in the movement to Stop Police Terror today.
The question was posed to everyone at the conference: “What difference will it make if students take this up?” An actor responded with the experience of Kent State and Jackson State, where students protesting the war in Vietnam were shot by the National Guard. This horrible outrage sent shockwaves throughout society and galvanized student strikes and protests everywhere.
The challenge to spread and strengthen the movement to Stop Police Terror was underscored by Stolen Lives families. Family members spoke of their loved ones murder by police and told of fighting for years with no justice, of fighting to expose the lies told to justify murder by police, and of now stepping out in society to expose how widespread and systematic murder by police is. Chris Silva from Bakersfield told how he has persevered, sometimes alone, in fighting for justice for his brother, David Sal Silva, who was killed by Bakersfield police and California Highway Patrol in 2013. Chris rejecting advice to “let the lawyers take care of it.” You might receive money, he said, but how could you live with yourself without justice? He said we need to stand with families, and others, to expose what is happening, like at Rise Up October and now on the campuses. In addition to Chris Silva of Bakersfield, family members included Obdulio Oliva, father of Carlos Oliva killed by LA Sheriffs in 2013; Yohana Flores, daughter of Ernesto Flores killed by San Bernardino Sheriffs in 2015; Donna Wicks, mother of Kevin Wicks, killed by Inglewood Police in 2008. Gabriel Black Elk, brother of Paul Castaway, killed by Denver police in 2015, participated in the regional conference. His brother is one of numerous Native American's either shot down or murdered in custody by police in this last period - a continuation of the on-going genocide of Native American people in the U.S.
The conference also heard from one of the three April 14th defendants convicted on serious misdemeanor charges for protesting murder by police. He called out the nationwide repression and attempt to suppress the movement by charging and prosecuting protestors while the “justice system” continues to exonerate killer police. The three convicted protestors in L.A. are free but punished with large fines, hundreds of hours of community service and risk being jailed if they participate in an “illegal protest.” Seven more protesters arrested at the April 14th protests in L.A. face trial in coming months. It’s critical to support them and everyone arrested for protesting police terror so the movement can continue, grow and not be set back.
The breakout group on the “No More Stolen Lives Tour’ continued wrestling with the challenges of making the strategic step to the campuses. Why isn’t there more struggle spontaneously on campuses against murder by police? What’s the key link in taking this fight to the students? There were people in the breakout from more elite, full-time student colleges and students from “commuter campuses” where students work off campus, come to campus for class, and then leave. One view, looking at the commuter campuses, was that the tour should fit logistically into students’ schedules – they’ll come to the tour if we make it easy for them to do. But it’s not essentially busyness or scheduling that has limited struggle against murder by police on campus. As Carl Dix pointed out, last fall, starting with Mizzou, students came alive defying institutionalized white supremacy on many campuses. There’s a basis to unite with that spirit - and take it further. It’s a leap from protesting racism on campus to standing against the oppression of Black and Latino people broadly in society, including the genocidal program of police murder and mass incarceration. We have to go to students with the reality of the genocidal emergency going on and win them to see that there’s no neutrality on this and no solutions coming from the system - we gotta stop it, and they have a critical role to play.
There were students and others at the conference from UC Riverside, Cal State LA, Long Beach and Los Angeles City Colleges, and Occidental. The challenge is to fight through; to go to students, campus organizations, professors, and win them to take up the No More Stolen Lives tour, and work with them to make it happen. A No More Stolen Lives tour is scheduled for USC on March 3. There’s also a proposal to take the tour to Cal State Bakersfield in Kern County, the county with the highest per capita rate of murder by police in the United States. And the Antelope Valley chapter of SMIN is heading up outreach to Antelope Valley College.
A second break out group took up “Spreading the Message Society Wide.” Recognizing that social media is indispensable, people volunteered for a social media team to get the message out way out there. The group also discussed fundraising projects for travel and publicity expenses for the No More Stolen Lives tour, and other projects. Someone with fundraising experience emphasized the importance of aiming high; envisioning projects commensurate with the need for Which Side Are You On? – the murdered or the murderers? – to become a major social question and asking for the funds necessary to make it possible. The longer range major projects have to be further explored and planned, but right away the group decided on an online fundraising campaign for the tour and political defense of the A14 defendants and other projects. A 5-10 minute film from the footage of RiseUpOctober is urgently needed for this and other projects. The importance of face to face meetings for funds with a range of people in academia and the arts was discussed and planning begun.
A proposal for a Say Their Names ~ No More Stolen Lives week in mid-March was enthusiastically endorsed. Ideas percolated – protests at sites in neighborhoods where murders by police happened, posting selfies on social media with pictures and/or names of people killed by police, high school teachers teaching a class on the epidemic of murder by police that week, artists and others reading the names of people killed by police in the public squares, faith-based weekend of Say Their Names ~ No More Stolen Lives in churches, synagogues and mosques, all aimed at synergy with the strategic step to the campuses with the objective of putting the genocidal onslaught of murder by police in front of society in a huge way.
The leadership and the organization for this, and the decisions made, need to be fought through on. There are new things to learn, including people with little or nor experience leading and/or working together now teaming up and doing that! At a key juncture in this country, SMIN needs to play a dynamic role on the campuses and society-wide and this conference was an important step planning and organizing that.