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How Prison Abolitionists Acquired a Former Baby Store in Oakland's Temescal District | KQED Arts
“On the corner of 44th Street and Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, amid the upstart cafes and yoga studios of the Temescal district, a longtime baby shop is becoming a center for prison abolition.

Where months ago the building’s blue facade advertised toys and car seats, now murals and slogans promote a world without incarceration. An image of a white dove ascends from brown hands, and a woman blows the word “Libertad” from a conch shell. Window banners mark local campaigns against police conferences and gang injunctions, and lettering above the 7,000-square-foot corner storefront’s entrance announces the new occupants’ intentions: “Building People Power.”

This will be the new national offices of Critical Resistance. The prison abolitionist group, cofounded 20 years ago by the activist and scholar Angela Davis, recently acquired the $3.3 million real estate through a young supporter who’s vowed to “radically redistribute” her inherited wealth, and is building offices and gathering space to share with allied groups. It’s an improbable fate for commercial property in an area synonymous with the city’s influx of young professionals.

And the unlikely deal required even more surprisingly interlocked interests: The Cabellos, who ran Baby World for decades, sold the building to Critical Resistance after rejecting offers from developers and corporate retailers (including one they blame for helping drive them out of business). They wanted to mitigate gentrification in North Oakland, and were endeared to the nonprofit’s politics by their harrowing experience of the United States-backed coup in their native Chile.

“I’d just seen Black Panther,” recalled Dania Cabello, the business owners’ 36-year-old daughter, of helping solicit Critical Resistance, where her brother once interned, to buy the family property. “So I was like, ‘How do we bring a real-life Wakanda Institute to Oakland?”

Abolition, Not Reform

The acquisition means stability for Critical Resistance, which faces steep rent increases in its downtown Oakland offices, and a more conspicuous public presence at a time when its once-fringe ideas are going mainstream. “Look at the headlines—you have people proudly calling themselves abolitionists, the popularization of ‘abolish ICE,’” said communications director Mohamed Shehk. “It shows chipping away at state violence is an achievable reality.”

Critical Resistance has several full-time employees and chapters in Los Angeles, New York City, Portland and Oakland. Part of its strategy is to dismantle the infrastructure of the prison-industrial complex, and then try to redirect public resources away from policing, surveillance and incarceration. Locally, for example, it participated in a successful coalition-based campaign against Urban Shield, a law-enforcement exposition criticized for promoting police militarization with emergency preparedness funds.

Building on the momentum of the recent San Francisco youth jail closure, Critical Resistance is working with Supervisor Matt Haney to shutter the county jail on Bryant Street. There’s broad political support for closing the seismically unsafe facility; Critical Resistance wants to go further and see that it isn’t replaced. “The idea is to reduce the incarcerated population, implement bail reform and divert people into services that make a new jail unnecessary,” Shehk said.

“Oakland Power Projects,” an ongoing campaign, shows another side of Critical Resistance’s work: community-based alternatives to policing. For one project, organizers canvassed Oaklanders and then developed literature about addressing health emergencies without calling the cops. Tahirah Rasheed, an Oakland native recently hired as building project manager, said the Temescal center will make these resources more accessible. “It will be a hub for racial justice and social justice organizing—especially pushing back against gentrification,” she said.

At a time when criminal-justice reform has widespread support, even from conservatives such as the Koch Brothers, Critical Resistance is leery of its ideas being co-opted or diluted, and often assails progressive-seeming ideas that entrench incarceration. In 2016, for example, the organization opposed a California proposition to repeal capital punishment and resentence death row prisoners to life without parole, arguing it enshrined “the other death sentence.”

Lately, the group has similarly challenged liberal outrage at privately-run prisons: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, the theorist and Critical Resistance cofounder, recently stressed her critique of the reformist referendum on private prisons in a New York Times Magazine profile, saying they play only a small, parasitic role in mass incarceration. “We don’t believe the system is broken, so we don’t want it fixed,” Critical Resistance organizer Rehana Lerandeau explained to KQED. “We want it abolished.”

Philanthropy as Redistribution

Rachel Gelman grew up in what she called a wealthy, owning-class family in Washington, D.C., struggling to reconcile her sharpening social-justice convictions with her privilege. Her family’s fortune, she said, derives largely from investments that benefit shareholders and executives at the expense of workers. “So, I was confused about my role in the movement,” she said.

Gelman, 29, is program director at Jewish Youth for Community Action, an activist and leadership training program in Piedmont. She moved to Oakland six years ago and discovered Resource Generation, a nonprofit that encourages wealthy young people to back leftist and progressive causes. Members of her family are philanthropists, and she considers their giving well-meaning and inspiring. But old-world charity, she said, can be “top down” or prescriptive, and it almost always entrenches status. Gelman doesn’t want her name on a theater.

Resource Generation, by contrast, recasts philanthropy as redistribution, stressing donations as a way to diffuse instead of bolster one’s own power. Now Gelman thinks of giving as a way to help upend the forces of capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy that underlie her inheritance. “I believe ending this economic system that creates such drastic wealth inequality is necessary for all peoples’ humanity and dignity, including my own and that of my family,” she said.

Gelman was supporting Critical Resistance when the organization approached her about the Temescal building. She knew Critical Resistance was struggling with rising rents, and saw an opportunity to offer the group stability while removing property from the speculative market with her $3.3 million purchase. The company she formed to hold the building, which Critical Resistance is considering placing in a land trust, is named for an Arundhati Roy quotation: Another World Possible.

Critical Resistance shifted Gelman’s view of incarceration. She had gone from from being disgusted at its profiteers to embracing the idea that “any system that cages people is fundamentally inhumane,” she said. The multimillion-dollar donation to an organization that in 2017 had $373,000 in revenue reflects her optimism about the prospect of abolition, and she agreed to be interviewed in order to send a message to people with backgrounds similar to hers: “Invest in a world that benefits everybody.”

‘Bittersweet’
Aldo and Cristina Cabello listed 4400 Telegraph Ave. for sale in 2017, as business at Baby World declined. Dania, their daughter, pointed to online competition and also to displacement: The family-run business, founded more than 30 years prior, found the intergenerational continuity of its customer base severed. So it was “heartbreaking,” she said, to field offers from “condo developers and mega-corporations—the antithesis of the community we want to serve.”

Selling to Critical Resistance, though, appealed to the Cabellos’ abiding quest for justice. They came to Oakland as political refugees from Chile in 1973 after Augusto Pinochet, with United States government support, seized power in a military coup. A hit squad known as the Caravan of Death had executed Aldo’s brother Winston, and they feared for their lives. “My father was actually taken in on a couple occasions and released alive,” Dania said. “That was rare.”

Living in North Oakland with Dania’s two elder sisters, the Cabellos started selling refurbished electronics and baby accessories at the Coliseum Flea Market. “My memory is bleaching used toys in the backyard,” Dania said. The hustle led to small storefronts and, in the 1990s, the property on Telegraph Avenue. All the while, Aldo and other exiled family members researched the role of Armando Fernandez Larios, an officer in the Caravan of Death, in Winston’s slaying.

The effort culminated in a 1999 civil lawsuit against Larios, who was then living in Florida as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors regarding other assassinations. Four years later, a jury found him liable for torture, crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killing, and awarded the Cabellos $4 million in damages. (Dania called the figure “symbolic,” saying they don’t expect to ever receive the money.) According to the Center for Justice and Accountability, it was the first time a Pinochet operative was tried in the United States for human rights violations.

The United States’ hand in Pinochet’s coup, particularly training Larios through the School of the Americas, instilled in the Cabellos a sensitivity to abuses of power that easily dovetails with prison abolitionism. Dania’s brother interned with Critical Resistance, and her activism ties enabled the acquisition. She hopes it inspires more wealthy people to support collective ownership, and beamed that Critical Resistance commissioned muralist-activists Leslie “Dime” Lopez and Dominic “Treat U Nice” Villeda to “spread messages of strength and freedom” from the building.

Still, it’s “bittersweet… [more]
prisonabolition  criticalresistance  angeladavis  daniacabello  chile  oakland  philanthropy  temescal  mohamedshehk  urbanshield  kochbrothers  ruthwilsongilmore  rehanalaerandeau  2019  resdistribution  rachelgelman  inequality  resourcegeneration  aldocabello  cristinacabello  pinochet  justice  restorativejustice  prisons  incarceration  armandofernándezlarios  police  policing  sanfrancisco  bayarea  us  activism  capitalpunishment  integrity  canon  prison-industrialcomplex  arundhatiroy  reform  samlefebvre 
4 weeks ago by robertogreco
Don't Just Sit There, Do Something | Tricycle
“Ever since Western converts began adopting Buddhist traditions, their community has sought a balance between the quest for personal peace and tranquility and the sense of social engagement that has sometimes expressed itself, most recently on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, with the well-worn activists’ phrase No justice, no peace.

That seemingly irreconcilable conflict made itself felt when several generations of Buddhists came together for the 2014 National Gathering of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (or “BPF”). That noteworthy group, now 36 years old, congregated during Labor Day weekend at the East Bay Meditation Center, housed in a low-slung, two-story building in Oakland, California’s economically revitalized heart. At the gathering, the fellowship’s newest, post-Occupy incarnation seemed to carry a message for its more solitary, meditation-oriented elders: Don’t just sit there, do something.

The relatively small size of the event, as well as its modest setting, stood in sharp contrast to that of well-attended, corporate-funded mindfulness conferences such as Wisdom 2.0. In a private conversation the first evening of the gathering, I told Thai Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa (addressed “Ajahn [teacher] Sulak”) of my own written criticism of that conference, and of the “engaged Buddhist” teachers who privately thanked me for “saying what needed to be said” but refused to support that position publicly.

“If they can’t say publicly what they feel privately,” said Ajahn Sulak, “we call that ‘being a hypocrite.’ I’ve experienced that myself, many times. Teachers or abbots tell me ‘I agree with you, but I can’t say so publicly.’ That means they have economic interests that prevent them from speaking up. Even Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a friend and whom I consider a teacher, is reluctant to speak as freely as he did before he ran such a large institution.” A good spiritual friend (kalyana mitta), Ajahn Sulak continued, speaks the truth: “That’s why I admire the American Quakers. They tell the truth, no matter what the consequences.”

Western Buddhists have at times been reluctant to speak truth to power. Some Buddhist organizations and entrepreneurs have, instead, unabashedly cozied up to it, hoping some prestige would rub off on them. That practice was perhaps best exemplified by an admiring (some might say “fawning”) interview of Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s “Darling Tyrant,” at the 2014 Wisdom 2.0 conference. Kagame's practice of mindfulness was apparently so inspiring that it allowed his audience to ignore his administration’s involvement in, according to the Spanish government, “crimes of genocide, human rights abuses, and terrorism,” as well as his government’s suspected involvement in the murders of Rwandan dissidents and threats to the journalists who reported them.

Corporate-sponsored “mindfulness” seems to be a growth industry. The Quaker “Religious Society of Friends,” in contrast and as a result of its practices, has “never become large . . . or powerful,” Ajahn Sulak told me. “But they tell the truth. All Buddhists should learn from the Quakers.”

The following morning’s meditation was followed by a plenary session on the “Future of Engaged Buddhism,” with perspectives from “five veteran BPFers”: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Susan Moon, Mushim Patricia Ikeda, Martha Boesing, and Donald Rothberg. For the morning breakout session I chose Rothberg’s workshop on “Keeping Cool in the Fire: Becoming More Skillful with Inner and Outer Conflicts.” Drawing extensively on the work of Norwegian conflict resolution expert Johan Galtung, Rothberg may have been unaware how quickly he was to be drawn into a conflict of his own.

The primary goal of Rothberg’s presentation, which included graphic representations and other practical tools, was to offer guidance on how to bring two sides of a conflict into agreement—preferably in a “win/win” scenario. The presentation was engaging and extremely useful. But it quickly drew objections from some of the young activists in the crowd, for reasons I could easily understand.

“This doesn’t apply when there’s a severe imbalance of power between two forces,” said one. My heart was with them—especially since, as Rothberg himself had said, Western dharma practitioners “tend to be conflict-avoidant.”

The conference’s keynote speakers, Ajahn Sulak and American Buddhist writer Joanna Macy, had touched on the same point during their opening addresses the night before. “Western Buddhists . . . are very suspicious of attachment,” said Macy. “They feel they need to be detached . . . so don’t get upset about racism, or injustice, or the poison in the rivers, because that . . . means you’re too attached.”

This causes some difficulty for me,” she continued, “because I’m attached.”

She added: “I think one of the problems with Westernized Buddhists is premature equanimity. When the Buddha said ‘don’t be attached,’ he meant don’t be attached to the ego.”

During our private interview, Ajahn Sulak emphasized many of the same points. “Anger arises,” he said. “That’s okay. But you must learn to translate that anger into change.”

“Some people want to be ‘goody-goody Buddhists,’” Ajahn Sulak continued, “saying nice things all the time and never challenging power. We believe in nonviolence, but that means we cannot ignore the long-term harm caused by structural violence.”

Or, as BPF’s literature says: “The system stinks.”

While the urge to avoid confrontation is strong in some sections of the Western Buddhist community, many of the leaders it reveres have been unafraid to speak bluntly. They’ve even been unafraid to use terms that border on the politically forbidden. The Dalai Lama, for example, has said he is “not only a socialist but also a bit leftist, a communist. In terms of social economy theory, I am a Marxist. I think I am farther to the left than the Chinese leaders. They are capitalists.”

Ajahn Sulak’s teacher, Buddhadasa, said, “If we hold fast to Buddhism we shall have a socialist disposition in our flesh and blood … [an] ideal of pure socialism which must be acted out, not just talked about for political purposes or for selfish, devious gain.” Ajahn Sulak told a group of Japanese Buddhists that “unless we stand united against consumerism and capitalism, we will not be able to create Dhammic Socialism.”

The Peace Fellowship’s Gathering ended with a refuge ceremony. Experienced dharma practitioners will understand that, by this action, everyone who participated became a Buddhist (or renewed their Buddhist vows). It could also be said that the people in attendance took refuge collectively, as a sangha, as a beloved community.

But there was more to come. A smaller group gathered that evening at a park in downtown Oakland. Their purpose was to demonstrate against the Urban Shield conference, which was about to take place. Urban Shield is, in effect, a trade conference for our cities’ increasingly militarized police forces—and for the vendors who profit off their purchase of heavy weaponry, drones, and other tools for the imposition of violence and the removal of personal privacy and autonomy. It was a good choice for protest, sitting as it does at the intersection of violence and capitalism.

A group of demonstrators planned to block the entrance to the Marriott Hotel, where many attendees were staying, while the rest were there to show their support. The Buddhists gathered before the watchful and slightly skeptical eyes of the park’s denizens: urban families, skateboard-wielding teens, and a homeless person or two. Protesters raised their signs: “Make Peace, Disarm Police”; “Marriott, Evict Urban Shield”; “Urban Shield = Urban Warfare.”

After a few minutes of planning and debate the group—a mix of laypeople and monastics—began its several-block-long walk to the Marriott. Accompanied by the monks’ drumming and chanting, the group passed curious pedestrians and drivers honking horns in passing automobiles, the Wells Fargo Bank glittering in the sun’s final late-evening rays. A giant flag waved atop the Oakland Tribune building, but no reporters emerged to cover the demonstration.

Once at the hotel, a dozen protesters unfurled a sign that read “Evict Urban Shield.” Then they blocked the front entrance and sat in lotus position as supporters cheered them on from the sidewalk.

I found myself moved by these young faces, some of which I now knew by name, as they sat before the hotel doors, their faces serene and their meditation posture largely impeccable. That’s Katie, in the white t-shirt. She’s one of the organizers. And that’s Dawn, her colleague. I think I saw that man, the one next to Dawn, in one of the breakout sessions…

I found myself kneeling before them, ostensibly to take their pictures.

They chose not to get arrested that evening, and the demonstration began breaking up as night fell. I walked away through the now-darkened streets of downtown Oakland. I felt a sense of parting, of separation from a community, as I walked back to my car. Outside the Oakland City Center office complex I passed a bicycle, still locked to a pole but stripped of its wheels and gears.

Driving home, I found myself lost in some back streets, passed bars filled with partiers (that’s right, it was a holiday weekend), and made my way back to a borrowed apartment. Once there I thumbed through the pictures I had taken on my phone.

Don’t just sit there, do something. At the close of this gathering, these demonstrators had resolved that generations-old conflict. There, outside the Marriott Hotel, they had done both."
2014  buddhism  richareskow  religion  individualism  socialjustice  activism  mindfulness  sulaksivaraska  thichnhathanh  quakers  truth  truthtopower  corporatism  equanimity  confrontation  socialism  marxism  politics  urbanshield  detachment  attachment 
november 2014 by robertogreco

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