The 'Friends of Marcia Powell' are autonomous groups and individuals engaging in prisoner outreach, informal advocacy, and organized protest and direct actions in a sustained campaign to: promote prisoner rights and welfare in America; engage the Arizona public in a creative and thoughtful critique of our system of "justice;” deconstruct the prison industrial complex; and dismantle this racist, classist patriarchy...

Retiring "Free Marcia Powell"

As of December 2, 2010 (with occasional exceptions) I'm retiring this blog to direct more of my time and energy into prisoner rights and my other blogs; I just can't do anyone justice when spread so thin. I'll keep the site open so folks can search the archives and use the links, but won't be updating it with new posts. If you're looking for the latest, try Arizona Prison Watch. Most of the pieces posted here were cross-posted to one or both of those sites already.

Thanks for visiting. Peace out - Peg.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friends of Marcia Powell: Veterans' Day.

Hey all - sorry this is so late after Veterans' Day - it's creeping into Friday morning already. I've been waiting on some photos of the parade, and have been hopelessly behind in my sleep, emails, snail mail, family business, and my other blogs.

We had a good day out there, all in all - except that the Phoenix parade is the longest in the country, and took at least two hours just to get started. Thanks to Liz from AZ Code Pink and Ian from The Rusty Spoke and Conspire - and just about everywhere else, I suppose - for their support. Liz guided me in for a landing there, and Ian did a lot of the chalking and came up to give me encouragement when I was standing alone.

Inge, with the AZ Death Penalty Forum, visited awhile as well and took our photos. It's embarrassing to admit after all my posturing about being ready for any kind of action, but my video camera is more of a prop than anything useful - except for the still shots it can put on a chip. My Canon is just a 35mm, which I operate manually, and I haven't developed this roll since getting back from Nevada. So, the whole disposable camera idea up there is real. I have one of those, too, packed in with the FMP set-up (the blue rolling backpack), so you know it's there if you ever find yourself needing it. I just can't figure out this computer-controlled equipment; I have no idea how I ever learned how to handle these blogs.

Anyway, I'll give my video camera to whomever volunteers to take on the responsibility of learning how to use it and coming out to take footage of Marcia's Friends in action. You need to get Copwatch-trained, though. They're pretty good - I've done so many of the stupid things they say not to do, just because I've been in too many situations where I was the one calling the cops or signing complaints as the agent of my institution - usually on angry black men or people who were experiencing psychotic symptoms and just needed to go to the hospital. They always had to cuff them like criminals when they put them in the car, even when they were suicidal and begging for help.

So, that's my confession: I did outreach to the streets and jails, supervised a homeless shelter, and developed and ran a supported housing program in my past life. I was in cahoots with all the people doing things "in the best interests of" others, and screwing up their lives in the process.

Okay - it's not quite that cut and dry, and I finally wigged out in the field. We did a lot of good, but I'm not sure we ever really got this whole prison industrial complex - just pieces of it. It's like being a prison abolitionist who settles for "life without parole" over the death penalty because that's all we think we'll "realistically" get for those we advocate for - a long, slow execution by incarceration, as their loved ones live and die out of reach around them. That's the favor we do people whose voices we overwhelm with our authority and credibility when we settle for less than what we really believe is justice. We do them harm.

It's not even a sure thing that if you have evidence of your innocence you're entitled to clemency or a fair trial anywhere in this country. Georgia doesn't give clemency (especially to black cop-killers), and some Supreme Court justices don't think proof of innocence is a legitimate reason not to be executed - much less imprisoned - after you've had your original trial and appeals. As long as the records don't show evidence of misconduct, malfeasance, incompetence (which isn't established with proof an attorney used coke or slept through your trial, by the way), then sooner or later the state will take you out back and kill you, then put a picture of your head on a stake in the public arena so everyone else learns from your unfortunate lesson: you don't have to be guilty in America to go to prison, and often what we mete out as punishment is way out of proportion to their crime.

As for the parade, I'll report back more on Veterans Day stuff later, but I think the Governor acknowledged our "No More Prisons" sign, and the AZ DOC folks seemed to catch it - I figured there would be a few there because they employ so many veterans. We wanted to show some solidarity after making a connection...

Do other people out there really talk that way, or am I just reading too much leftist literature?
Anyway, to pretty much everyone else we flashed "Remember Veterans in Prison", "Remember Homeless Veterans", "9% US Prisoners = Veterans", and of course, "Free Marcia Powell". Plenty enough veterans marching yesterday remembered their comrades in prison that they made the whole escapade worth it - smiles, nods, and thank-yous came our way pretty steadily.

For the Guv, Arpaio and Thomas - and maybe Goddard - I don't remember now - we included "Arizona: Your Prison System Kills" and possibly for a few we threw in "Will Work for Prison Abolition." We chalked up the sidewalk with much of that stuff too, and handed out a few Real Cost of Prison comic books to folks who came up to talk.

Boy, did Arpaio and Thomas ever get booed by my side of the street - but the entire left wing of Phoenix seemed to envelop me for awhile in anti-war banners waiting for the "Veterans for Peace" and "Women in Black" et al to come by.

I know where I stand - it's somewhere with them, maybe hovering a little off-kilter to the side. But I also watch my old man's back, and get riled over the treatment of soldiers and veterans - not by the peace activists, but by the rest of us. We really use and abuse them.

It's hard sometimes. I struggle with Veterans' Day and the whole military parade thing - I think it's one of the most blatant and insidious methods of indoctrination we have: mixing patriotism with entertainment, God and family. But that's how it works pretty much everywhere. I'm straight with my politics - always learning more and open to conversation, but I know who I am.

Still, I hear the sound of soldiers marching and echoing their sergeant, and - like mortar or machine gun fire on the range - it brings up this bizarre sense of familiarity and comfort with these symbols and images that herald immense violence and devastation - a dynamic which doesn't really even register until I find myself talking about it, like this, in a letter late at night or something - never to be seen by anyone, of course.

This one goes up, though.

It's kind of disturbing. I hated the US Army with a passion, and was a pretty sad child. They were my evil step-parent. They abused and neglected us all - though my Dad would adamantly defend them. He knows how precious his retirement benefits are, and they did "take care of us" growing up: they fed and clothed us, and sent us off to exotic places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Dix, New Jersey, and the real swell experience we had at Fort Buckner in Okinawa - which lasted all of three months.

They arranged new housing - usually - I only had to stay at my uncle's twice because of moving in the middle of the school year. That's not much, considering I went to thirteen different schools before I finally got my high school diploma - dropping out on the way of my own volition ,and getting thrown out towards the end.

We also had the best health insurance coverage one could get at the time - the government's CHAMPUS covered more psychiatric hospital days when I was a kid than Blue Cross. Those kids always went home before me - I think they got 45 days. I would have been criminalized long ago, otherwise. I was pretty self-destructive and out of control. Still a little wild, I guess, and getting more radical with age, instead of settling into my maturity. I think I did that part first - grew old - then regressed.

Dad was a career officer who lived and breathed the Army like he played Rachmaninoff, when it all came down to it. With all his heart and soul. I guess he also did it kind of the way I live and orchestrate these blogs and actions - not to mention all the relationships I suddenly have in my life to negotiate again: I'm way too intense for some people. Really: we have a mission, we've been well-briefed, lives are stake, and its past time for hesitation or doubt if you're on the team. Grow up already - when we move out you're aboard or we move on. We also can't afford to have good intentions that don't produce good results.

Dad wasn't quite so curt - nor am I, really - but he was definitely focused on something other than us and our relationships. Starving and dying children followed him for years after he came back from his second trip to Vietnam, like my own ghosts have followed me, wondering what we could have or should have done differently.

As far as his own kids went, God knows Dad tried just about every self-help and professional intervention he could think of for us. He's a good man. He just never understood how toxic the military was to his family - I still don't think he does. This isn't a post I could ever share with him.

Anyway, the gist is that I'm sorry if I've been short with anyone or inappropriate, but if you're not with us, at least be quiet or commend our efforts and wish us well. I don't need to hear anything more than that just now, unless it's a useful idea for what to do next. We have a good composition and enough musicians that we can pull off a symphony here. That's pretty damned amazing considering that we're poor, unemployed, and still lacking a college degree. I am, anyway.

Plus, I'm technically out of my mind. So give us a break.

We've learned a lot about organizing and resistance from those who blazed trails before us, but we're also making some of this up as we go. It's still the North Star and we move in similar ways, but we need a new route. This one's become a dead end - it's like a fake road or something.

If you have a map to freedom off the beaten path, help us out. I think there'd already be an exodus, though, so in the meantime we're just going to try to reconstruct our communities with what we know and have, and get as many people home alive as we can - helping them stay safe - then demolish the thing: the prison industrial complex, of course. Bottom up.

Off that track onto something lighter: we got an interview with an internet TV station at the parade. I was totally caught off guard; it wasn't great, and bad press can hurt some causes more than none. But it hasn't shown up on their site or under Google, and may not. The "station" is actually a PR front by some health care provider network, which is a little creepy as it is. I had no idea who they were at the time, but I liked this guy and he gave me 30 seconds or more to say whatever I wanted about Free Marcia Powell.

Anyway, they appear to do their thing live and don't seem to have archives to dig into - it's really not worth it, given how I stammer when I have to speak aloud. If anyone wants to hunt its . Let me know if you find anything.

The point is that we all need to be prepared with a 15-second sound byte that has some depth and meaning, if such a thing is possible. It really needs to be loaded - it has to hush a room and turn all heads to the accused for a response. It has to be concise and condensed, with little room for ad-libbing - all that does is give them more of what you say to decide what to delete. That's how things get taken out of context: usually because we say too much, not too little.

I'm pretty good at packing stuff tightly when I write and dropping it strategically, but I'm hardly concise, I obsess over small details, and sometimes I just don't get it together at all - which my correspondents and professors know best. I can't memorize the four turns I take each week a few miles to my friend's home - I sure can't remember a paragraph like that under pressure. I can maybe handle a sentence or two, though, before I ramble.

See how I did that? There's more yet to come...

That kind of covers my parade notes - I may have a few more, but they have to do with veterans in prison and all that the day made me think of more than they have to do with the parade itself. Think on that last bit though, about the sound byte, and help me out. Start with what we've already posted. Maybe you all can also come up with some new signs.

I'm talking to anyone out there who's reading this, by the way - however you ended up here and wherever in the world you are, I don't care. Now you're here for some reason. There's no membership forms, meetings (yet) or dues - it's just up to each group and individual to do their thing, and let us show the world.

Dig deeper into this and you'll find what you need to know to get yourself or a group started. It's just dense to get through at first. There's a lot that's gone into twisting Arizona into this shape; a lot has been happening here, and we're hardly touching the white supremacy, capitalism and patriarchy that compose the roots - I just rail about them once in awhile.

It's not going to be an easy process, talking about all that here - in Arizona, that is. Getting that far is already part of the community discussion many have been involved with around Joe Arpaio's fiefdom, anyway. It's not like any of us has all the answers, and it's going to take most of us agreeing on the solutions to implement them, so we have a lot of work to do.

We know we can't just yell at people or wave signs and expect them to get it - not even if we have an awesome sound byte - though Americans are real suckers for those. Sound bytes are mainly to force the people who get it already to either fess up or outright deny it and face the truth of the lived experiences in their prisons and jails, and their streets and shelters. Our prisoner allies and their family members, parolees and even some "insiders", when riled and backed into a corner, will bury them in truth. That's our most powerful weapon -we just need to learn how to load, aim and fire without getting knocked on our collective ass.

Wow, listen to all my bellicose references - I think it was the holiday, but the Army's vernacular is pretty ingrained. I say things I got from my Dad all the time: "hold down the fort", "hold 'em in the road" - everything is framed in the context of a battle or maneuver of some kind or another. Life itself is a war. It gets kind of exhausting, actually.

So, we need everyone to be able to either articulate themselves on these issues better than me or defer to someone else who can. You can't use a canned answer for that part - that's going to require that you do your own research and heavy thinking about the spiteful, vindictive, prison planet we're bequeathing to future generations - with all the violence and war that comes with it - and what you're prepared to do about it once you see what's really going on, if anything.

We also still need actions and evidence of them, though: take sidewalk chalk with you everywhere you go - or a sharpie. I carry both at all times, clear packing tape, blank paper to whip fliers up on, and my still-shot and video cameras. Whenever there's a good juxtaposition of images I can frame, or an opportunity to catch a candidate in public, "Free Marcia Powell!" is quick and easy, and can be even be caught by a disposable with a 35 mm roll of film.

That's speaking from a place of relative privilege, I realize - to have time to spend and resources to get those things together, and use of a car to get around in, too. I feel strapped often, and I'm behind in bills. But I know people who do a whole lot more with much less - many of whom are also Marcia's Friends, or would be if they didn't have to work so hard to get through this life themselves.

But I think that personal experience is one of the most critical things that drives them to be there to give others a hand who are in similar straits - "lifting as we climb". That was the motto of the National Association of Colored Women when it was founded in 1896, in the context of rampant lynching, the Jim Crow South, the exploitative North, and extremely precarious geo-political and socio-economic terrains. A lot of people still fought for freedom long after the last battle of the Civil War - still do. Really, when it comes to it, if you're a slave or a prisoner (the 13th amendment turns prisoners into slaves of the state, actually), it may well be that the only ones who have anything remotely akin to your interests "at heart" are your peers and comrades trying to save themselves, too - not your keepers...

Gees - I am never going to finish this unless I just stop. That's the problem I have with sound bytes - here I'm telling others to be quiet, and I can't shut myself up once I get started. That gives me people problems too, but they're more forgiving than video is...

That was just going to be an intro to the post that follows, but I want the next post to hang prominently out there for Googlers and blog crawlers to touch on a few times, so it's coming separately, and greeting everyone on its own in the morning. You'll actually see it before you see this one. Just know that this is something pretty awesome coming up in December. We're going to rock this town from now until then getting people ready.

I don't think I'll make it down to the Pinal County Dem event for Terry Goddard's fundraiser (or whatever it is) Saturday, in Maricopa by the way. I'm sure they'll be heartbroken. All I was going to do was find a visible public spot nearby and set up a few things for a silent vigil; something somber that will make people look twice as they head into the lot, and notice the name of Marcia Powell.

I didn't get as far as making a headstone or anything like that, but I have all the signs and supplies at my place, so email if you need them. Anyone else is welcome to go instead. I have some other things to take care of these next few days, and may not be back to this site until Sunday - except for posting what's coming up next.

Keep thinking about good actions for the Thanksgiving holiday - I'm thinking indigenous (including Latino) and migrant solidarity. I'm a descendant of the Mayflower, myself, for those who may have missed it. I think that gives me a lot of potential ammo. I just have to be careful not to take out my mother and grandmother at the annual Mayflower Society Thanksgiving meal, to be held imminently - I believe - in Sheriff Joe's hometown.

Doesn't it sound delicious?

I won't do the whole friendly fire scene, though, so I need help coming up with something at least as good. We just need to think of my family as being under cover in a way - they do their own thing to make a difference from within the beast, and I think it matters for the better. Someone has to deal directly with the Pilgrims and their assorted cultural descendants - the Anglo-Europeans, or whatever we are now - because they're here to stay. We still have to civilize our people, so to speak - re-educate them, really - which takes tact and diplomacy, and time to cultivate trust in order to build a foundation which can support an intelligent, informed debate. Or we have to brainwash them, but I think conviction is deeper, and that's what people need to develop based on evidence - not more fear or illusions. Working with the right like that (the middle, out here) is one of the things my elders do, and they do it far better than me.

Back again in a few days.



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