A READING GROUP
in two sites:
Danville Correctional Center, Danville, IL
Mess Hall, Chicago IL
on the topic of:
poor people’s movements
Sarah Ross (on behalf of the Danville Prison Reading Group)
Amy Partridge (on behalf of Mess Hall)
& in the spirit of the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor (MRCC)
Two Mess Hall comrades, Sarah Ross & Brett Bloom, have been participating in a reading group with 10-12 men in Danville Correctional Facility, located 150 miles to the South of Chicago. Sarah & Brett began teaching art history and humanities courses at the prison through a local community college. Both felt that they knew little about the history of prisons in the U.S., and wanted to know more about the policies that shaped what is now known as the prison-industrial-complex and how mass incarceration impacts the communities prisoners call home. In 2008, they started a reading group called “Prison Impact” with the goal of addressing some of these questions. The group lasted for just over a year, when they decided to take the group into the prison. Eighteen months later, the group still meets once a month and has read a stack of books and watched several films. These have ranged from What’s Class Got to Do With It, edited by Michael Zweig, to Race Matters by Cornell West and Twilight by Anna Devere Smith. Most recently, we have read the 2009 Movement Reader from the Boggs Center website, Regulating the Poor by Francis Fox Piven and Discipline and Punishment by Michel Foucault. Members are now requesting books on historical and contemporary social movement successes both in and outside of the U.S. Having read so many stories of struggle, group members are interested in stories of people overcoming and/or mobilizing around that struggle. For more info on what we have read, please see: http://prisonimpact.blogspot.com
In practice, this has meant that Brett and Sarah typically spend up to $150 a month out of pocket for the group’s books. This is no longer a sustainable expense. Recently, we, at Mess Hall, have discussed other ways this expense might be met–book drives, fundraisers, etc.
During this same time period, some of us at Mess Hall were discussing the formation of a Chicago-based reading group on poor people’s movements, as an antidote to the feelings of helplessness brought on by the economic crisis and worse still it’s “resolution”–the new raw deal that is the “jobless recovery.”
Then it occurred to all of us that these should become ONE BIG PROJECT; we should form a reading group on the outside whose members each sponsor one member of the Danville reading group. We should collectively create a list of books on poor people’s social movement successes and read these together, comparing notes across prison walls that are built to keep us isolated from each other and to make us invisible to each other. After all, building a vibrant & vital economic justice movement strong enough to take on 21st century economic restructuring and all its dire effects will require all of us.
When: Our plan is meet once a month for 6 months, from January to June of this coming year (2011) on the fourth Thursday of each month (i.e. 1/20; 2/24; 3/24; 4/28; 5/26; 6/23) from 7:00-9:00 pm. The Danville group will meet the week before, on the third Thursday of each month.
Where: Mess Hall
Book Circulation & Membership Commitment: Each member of the Chicago-based reading group commits to buying 2 copies of each title we read–one for their own use & one to be donated to a member of the Danville-based group. For this exchange to happen, we have to plan 2 months out as Sarah will need to distribute the books to the prisoners one month in advance.
We decided to read the classic Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed and How They Fail (Fox & Piven, 1978) in preparation for our first meeting in January and to watch the beautiful 2007 film Living Broke in Boom Times produced by the Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign (see trailer: http://skylightpictures.com/films/lbibt/).
Assigning two members of each group to write a letter to the members of the other group in response to the readings each month, as proven a workable mechanism for communicating our thoughts on the readings over & across the prison walls. We are posting these exchanges on the Prison Impact Blog (http://prisonimpact.blogspot.com/)
Reading & Research Questions:
- What are some examples of successful “poor people’s movements”?
- How have (poor & non-poor) people come to care about the issue of poverty?
- How do folks without much money or “political capital” get their voices heard?
- What tactics have worked? When & how have poor people seized power?
- What can we learn from movements in other countries?
- Is a poor people’s movement possible in 2010?
- What organizations are currently working on economic justice issues?
- What do we need to achieve economic justice in the 21st century and what does it look like? For us? For people in prison?
JANUARY 20: Francis Fox Piven, Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed &
How They Fail (1978) & FILM: Living Broke In Boom Times (2007)
FEBRUARY: Ronald Casanova, Each One Teach One: Up & Out of Poverty Memoirs
of a Street Activist (1996)
MARCH 24: Marta Harnecker, Landless People’s Movements: Building a Social
APRIL 28: Ben Dangl, The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in
MAY 26: Dan Georgakas & Marvin Surkin, Detroit I Do Mind Dying (1975)
JUNE 23: Wes Moore, The Other Wes Moore: One Name Two Fates (2010)
JULY 28: Kari Lydersen, Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover,
& What it Says About the Economic Crisis (2009)
PORTIONS OF EACH MONTH’S READINGS NOW AVAILABLE AS PDFS BY REQUEST TO email@example.com.
& Then . . :
Of course, the reading group need not be our only engagement with these issues. Several Mess Hall keyholders are working on various kinds of programming–“teach-ins,” “report backs,” exhibitions, lectures, discussions, etc.–on past and present examples of poor people’s social movements for 2010-2011. It is possible that some members of each reading group will go on to produce materials which address lacunae we encounter in the historical record or which offer accounts of current & ongoing organizing. Others might decide to set up other prison reading groups along this model. Still others might decide to formulate an action plan and ultimately kick off a new, grassroots poor people’s movement built 21st century tough. Any or all of these outcomes would be great.