Another article in the recent zine, We Gather Here Today in Disservice of the State, from Des Moines Mutual Aid (DMMA) is “Court Solidarity: How and Why, or We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind.”
Des Moines Mutual Aid is an Abolitionist Mutual Aid Collective made up of varying radical and revolutionary tendencies in what is currently known as central Iowa.
Even though I’ve been engaged with DMMA for two years, I continue to learn of the many things our collective does. My experience is with the food giveaway project, and I know about the work to help the houseless. I also know about the bail fund. But not the full extent of Court Solidarity.
Des Moines Mutual Aid is the best community organizing group that I know of. Besides putting together and distributing the boxes of food on Saturday mornings, I look forward to hearing what my friends have been up to. And look for ways I can help. By offering to take photos at events, for example.
The injustices we face are commonly perpetrated and enforced by the state. Which means our demands for justice often require agitation against the state. The state criminalizes the exercise of civil liberties with laws that are themselves often unconstitutional. But this is how the state attempts to quell resistance, by arresting and incarcerating us.
The basic reasoning of why this tactic [court solidarity] has developed is that the state uses isolation as a tool for intimidation and compliance. The state relies on you feeling powerless once they have you in their grips… When we know our communities have our back, we are less likely to be coerced into decisions detrimental to ourselves and our communities and more willing to fight back.
A Brief History of Des Moines Mutual Aid Court Solidarity
When the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd began, Des Moines Mutual Aid understood we needed to organize a bail fund to keep our fighters out of jail and get them back to the streets. This was also during the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and jails are an extremely dangerous hotspot for virus transmission.
As expected, the state responded viciously to the protests and began making mass arrests. We put a call out to the community and they responded rapidly with donations. We set up a hotline that is monitored 24/7 to alert us to arrests and typically have bonds posted within hours. We managed to bail out every protester in Des Moines since the Summer of 2020 and continue to do so at the time of this writing at the beginning of 2022.
This reminds me of my training for community organizing as part of the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013. Everyone participating was told to write the phone number to our bail support team on their skin.
But the court solidarity of DMMA goes far beyond that.
After bail was paid and the person was leaving jail, they were interviewed to see if they had any immediate needs and to obtain their contact information so the court solidarity team could monitor court filings and work on finding pro bono lawyers and mental health professionals as needed.
As the street protests cooled down and the trials began, we put out a call to build a Court Solidarity crew. We used information from the defendants and public court records to keep up to date on court scheduling and made sure we showed up to court dates. This also served as a movement building tactic. Many different orgs are represented on these days and we use this time to eat together, organize further, and strategize about upcoming cases
Once arrested there are two things that need to be done right away.
- Assess the immediate needs of the person arrested, and of those who depend on them.
- “Needs such as injuries, time-dependent medications, pets, children, dependent adults, immigration status, etc.”
- Determine their bail and get it paid quickly
- “The longer someone is in the hands of the state the possibility of something very bad happening increases.”
Once the ransom is paid, or the defendant is denied bail and must wait in a cage for trial, the next step is to find legal representation.
This is also the time to organize defense committees for the defendant or a group of defendants, with their consent. The defense committee’s roles include raising funds for legal costs and dependent care as well as popular support, as deemed appropriate. They often work hand in hand with the lawyers to make sure neither is creating roadblocks for the defendant’s goals. The defense committees should have one or more individuals that keep track of the defendant’s mental health and arrange for therapy or other means of relief.
All of these processes are traumatic to the defendant.
Once the trial starts, fill those seats! There are few feelings of isolation like sitting in a courtroom inside a building completely filled with people that have your worst interests in mind, many of them armed. When you have a few dozen people sitting with you it can give the little extra courage needed to complete this on your terms. There is evidence to suggest that court support and character letters, which we will come back to, have a positive effect for the defendant during sentencing.
If the defendant is feeling it, have the whole crew eat together during lunch breaks, and rest somewhere together while waiting on the jury to return its verdict. This can have the effect of keeping the defendant’s morale up, as well as that of the defense committees, many of whom may be defendants themselves. The stress of state repression during times of increased resistance can, and all too frequently has, fractured relationships and solidarity.
These are important moments to nurture those relationships and maintain the strength we built together in the street
In the case of a guilty verdict or acceptance of a plea, continued support is needed. Character reference letters can be sent to the court prior to sentencing. And funds need to be raised. crowdfunding is commonly used.
In the worst case scenario money will be needed for commissary.
Letter writing can be very helpful, not only to those who are incarcerated, but as a way those outside the prison walls to learn of conditions in prisons. And organize ways to address conditions. I’ve written about the prison letter writing group I’ve been involved with. That is organized by one of my Mutual Aid friends as part of the work of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America.
This is a very broad overview of Court Solidarity. Many of the important details will differ based on the laws of your state. Looking up state code and talking to lawyers, law students, or paralegals will help you get a handle on that.If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next installment will cover prison escapes, how to live underground, and states that refuse u.s. extradition.