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Activist Toolkit roundup: Prison edition

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On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, CeCe McDonald was released from the Minnesota mens' prison where she was serving a 41-month sentence. The transgender woman was sentenced to three and a half years in jail after defending herself from a violent, transphobic attack outside a bar in June 2011. If you aren't familiar with McDonald, check out the Support CeCe website. It looks like the site may even be updated by the activist in the next few weeks. 

CeCe McDonald's case proves that prison justice activism is still a crucial cause in which to engage. In honour of McDonald's fight and more than two years spent in jail, this week's Activist Toolkit round-up focuses on prisoner rights and the prison justice/abolition scene.

The best place for newbies to start is PrisonJustice.ca. This site holds an amazing collection of material, with everything from history and definitions to an events listing and remembrance page.

If you're looking for ways to support trans prisoners, check out the super cool Prisoner Correspondence Project that matches incarcerated queer and trans folk with a "pen pal."

And on the topic of prisoner rights, this awesome Toronto organization called PASAN is a great source of health information. The community group works to support prisoners, ex-prisoners, and youth with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and with other harm-reduction initiatives.

Of course there are many activists for whom this type of education and solidarity is expected, easy to provide, and not nearly enough to keep their activist brains a-whirling. So far the tools haven't been overwhelming focused on prison abolition and its place within the prison justice movement, but the Prison Activist Resource Centre (PARC) is a great place to engage with that aspect of prison activism. While PARC is involved in many of the same projects as the above organizations (correspondence, educational tools/curricula) they are a little more vocal about the end goal of their organizing. While the organization is U.S.-based, if your aim is to "expose the prison system… as an engine of race war and genocide that all people of conscience must work to dismantle," then you should hop on over to PARC to fill your activist needs.

If you're working on some aspect of prison justice activism yourself (or any other activist issue or cause!), considering checking out the tool on building a focused but engaging media release. It's way too disappointing to put in a ton of work and have the mainstream media glaze over your requests -- make them impactful! Think about "writing like a soap opera" and selling your main message. Important: be sure to reach out to alternative media outlets, as they're generally much more interested and open to telling the important stories that aren't told anywhere else.

Although the rest of this week’s tools aren't directly related to prison justice, they still show some links to the "prison edition" roundup, at least in my mind. Can you think of a group that is stigmatized along the same lines as prisoners and ex-prisoners in today's society?

I'm thinking of the one BILLION women on this planet who will have an abortion in their lifetime. Is that number surprising to you? It's all the more reason why it's so important to have programs like the 1 in 3 Campaign. One in three women will have an abortion. When I stumbled upon this tool, I couldn't look away. The site shares stories from women who've had abortions, and it's chock-full of fabulous stigma-reducing tools and resources for all of us to take away and promote in our everyday lives. 

Another good addition to your morning reading line-up is OrganizingUpgrade.com. This site reminds me of rabble in the way that it brings together news, current events, activist organizing and discussion. The site is built for activists, and this tool highlights a few of my favourite pieces that merge popular culture with activist organizing.

A quick and easy tool to use and implement is this one dealing with smart browser tricks. This tool details a Chrome update (and an alternative Mozilla program) that tracks when a site open in your browser is playing music or using your webcam. Turns out my friends who have duct tape over their webcams might actually be on to something…

Finally, two of my favourite (unrelated) tools added to the Activist Toolkit this week:

-A quick workshop on how to "cut" down a broad social justice issue into manageable steps and goals.

-Tips for having a "beauty-free" conversation with a younger girl. Surprise, surprise -- it IS possible to strike up a chat or offer a compliment without making it about her appearance!

That last one is close to my heart -- it's so frustrating to see how differently boys and girls are still treated in society. Boys can have dreams and ambitions, but young girls should be concerned with dolls and hair barrettes. After the holidays I saw chocolate "kits" on sale at the drugstore -- the blue kit contained four tools, for the handyMAN in your family, while the pink version sported makeup brushes. Right, because women never use tools, and boys never touch makeup. No more how "innocent" they claim it is, these things just don't sit right with me… and I'm guessing it wouldn't feel right to any of you (or CeCe McDonald) either.

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