Abolition action at the Milwaukee county board

Audio version.

Ryan Clancy, Milwaukee’s openly abolitionist county board member, has been busy. First, he’s introducing two resolutions that, if passed, will significantly reduce the harm of incarceration in the county jail and HOC. Second, he’s getting county board members to read and discuss Mariame Kaba with the public.

The first of Clancy’s resolutions will give 75 minutes of free phone time and 75 minutes of free video visitation time available to everyone held in either facility. The second will cap commissary prices, requiring that people held in these facilities be charged either the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or only 125% of the typical price at a chain store in Milwaukee County.

The resolutions go before the Judiciary, Safety, and General Services committee (JSGC) on Thursday September 9, at 1:30. You can sign up to testify at the online meeting at the county board website. At time of publishing, committee chair Anthony Staskunas hasn’t released the agenda or opened public online comments. When he does, you can submit one here. Alternately, you can email him and other committee members directly, especially if you live in any of their districts:
anthony.staskunas@milwaukeecountywi.gov, sylvia.ortizvelez@milwaukeecountywi.gov, patti.logsdon@milwaukeecountywi.gov, Steven.Shea@milwaukeecountywi.gov, priscilla.coggsjones@milwaukeecountywi.gov,

The two resolutions are what Critical Resistance would call non-reformist reforms. They reduce the economic and emotional strain incarceration causes in relationships with family and friends. One purpose of incarceration is to sever such connections, to isolate people and make them more vulnerable to future oppression. Eroding that purpose moves us toward abolition. Limiting the prices and profits that corporations can gain by exploiting Milwaukee county captives reduces another incentive to incarcerate.

The Bayview Compass published an article called Profiting from Punishment by supervisor Clancy describing additional problems he hopes to address.

The first hurdle these resolutions need to pass is the JSGC. The committee is chaired by Anthony Staskunas, a lawyer and former democratic state assembly representative from West Allis. His district includes West Allis and Greendale, which are whiter and more conservative than most districts in Milwaukee county. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez is vice-chair of the committee. She’s a former real-estate broker from the southside. She’s on the advisory board for United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), but is also often one of few democratic co-sponsors to bad republican bills and bootlicking compromises in her role as state assembly representative.

Getting these moderates to care about criminalized people and reduce the harms caused by the county jail and HOC might require a lot of public testimony. Hopefully, the agenda and comment form become available soon. The hearing itself will overlap with our SHUTEMDOWN day of visibility. As we know from previous testimony opportunities, the timing of these committee meetings is unpredictable, but some of us might try to call in from the rally itself.

County Book Club

Supervisor Clancy has been working with the DSA’s abolition working group and Devin Anderson from the African American Roundtable to create an opportunity for county supervisors and the public to read Mariame Kaba‘s We Do This Til We Free Us together. County board chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson loved the idea, and thus we have elected officials participating in an abolitionist book club.

Discussions start Tuesday September 14, they are organized via this facebook event so get yourself a copy and start reading! According to the event page:

Participants can attend any or all of the sessions; each one will address different sections of the book.
Part one: September 14th, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Part two: September 28th, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Part three: October 12th, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm

As anarchists, we’re generally hesitant to celebrate activities relating to electoral politics. We are familiar with the adage: “electoral politics is where movements go to die” but we also recognize that this sort of death seems unavoidable. Every movement surge spawns a new set of willing state collaborators, who gladly and effectively assist in co-optation and counterinsurgency. We are curious what happens when anarchists and other radicals anticipate this eventuality, and rather than withdrawing in bitter surrender, continue an uncompromising engagement.

Democracy is a relatively novel form of governmental oppression. It has proven more robust than previous forms. It seems clear that overcoming it requires innovation and experimentation. Can we fight to carry conflict forward into electoral spaces? Does yelling at politicians serve a purpose beyond catharsis? County board members reading and discussing abolitionist texts in public seems like a good chance to find out!

An agitation from crimethinc’s critique of democracy.

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