It is very rare to hear talk of revolution in the same space as talk of voting. Especially rare is sincere talk of revolution -- literally meaning flipping the relation between exploiter and exploited. Every election cycle, we hear talk about the necessity of voting. It could be said that Former President Barack Obama’s statement at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia encapsulates the liberal tone around electoral politics -- “Don’t boo. Vote!” Vote for who? Vote for what? The bipartisan deportation machine lead by the Obama administration? Black youth are shamed for being pessimistic around elections. And who should blame them? Especially in retrospect considering Obama himself refuses to sign a Community Benefits Agreement around the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side.
In the 2016 election, Black youth (ages 18-30) were about 30 percent less likely to support Hillary Clinton as compared to Black folks overall. And this is no surprise. Black millennials know the 2008 recession. We know that over half of Black folks ages 20-24 are out of work. And in 2016, for the most part, we wanted something more. All of this is to say that the fault is not with Black people not voting. The problem is in the power-relation. Voting is a tool. Not the end-all be-all. In contrast to the liberal formulation, the point is to boo. And vote. And boo even louder.
That is where Take Back the City comes in. On August 4th, the Take Back the City alliance (LetUsBreathe, Chicago Votes, SEIU Black Caucus, and CAARPR) launched it’s campaign at the Breathing Room. The point of the effort is to target 11 predominately Black wards in the city of Chicago. Two wards in particular, (the 24th and 37th wards) ought to be of keen interest to any and all organizations and persons that consider themselves prison abolitionists.
For those that don’t know, Cook County Jail (2700 S. California) sits in the 24th Ward. In 2015, the incumbent, Michael Scott Jr, won by a little over 2000 votes. The population of the ward is over 54 Thousand. That means Michael Scott Jr. is tangibly supported by about 4 percent of the total constituency. Is that democracy?
Now why is this important for abolitionists? In Cook County Jail alone, there are at least 5000 eligible voters. If all 5000 of those voters register to vote in the 24th ward where they are held captive in cages, they can decide the fate of their oppressor. That is to put things bluntly. Michael Scott Jr. voted in favor of allocating 95 million dollars of city dollars to he construction of a Police Academy in the 37th ward. I would bet my next paycheck that the majority of that 5000 person voting block would rather see that money spent on re-entry programs in their neighborhoods. I would bet they’d spend that 95 million dollars on mental health facilities, job training, schools -- things that actually keep them safe and make prisons obsolete.
Imagine this: Prisoners, who come from the working-class households like those the Housing Choice Voucher program ostensibly serve, are at the forefront of taking state power in the City of Chicago. A revolutionary prospect indeed. And a prospect whose time has come. This is to say, in a phrase, Take Back the City.
How does that Kirk Franklin song go? “Do you want a revolution?”