We Don’t Leave Our Fighters Behind

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 Why

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.

May capitalism’s armed militias never capture you. If they do, may your people have your back like you had theirs.

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.

Remember that many protest arrests are of people knowingly risking their freedom to further ours.


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.

Transgress the Prison Walls

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.
Our next installment will cover prison escapes, how to live underground, and states that refuse u.s. extradition.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at desmoinesmutualaid@protonmail.com.


Yesterday I was struck by all the interconnected relationships among my friends at Des Moines Mutual Aid.

I was happy to see my friend Donnielle at Mutual Aid for the first time yesterday. She and I were part of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, September 1-8, 2018. A small group of native and non-native people walked and camped along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline, from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa (ninety-four miles). One of the main purposes of that walk was to create a group of people who began to get to know each other so we could work on issues of common interest and concern. That really worked and many of us have worked together in many ways since. One of the first things several of us did together, was to lobby Senator Grassley’s staff to support a couple of bills related to safety of Indigenous women. That was in 2018. The renewal of the Violence Against Women Act was just passed and includes those tribal protections. The photo below at the Neal Smith Federal Building was taken the day of the meeting with Senator Grassley’s staff.

Jake, the climate justice advocate from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) was also there. Two weeks ago, I attended a board meeting of the Iowa Energy Center Board, having been asked to take photos there. Jake organized a group of us to attend the board meeting to try to get MidAmerican to shut down their five coal burning plants. We have since learned our presence there has had some effect. He also asked me to write a letter to the editor about the same issue, which I did. Yesterday Donnielle asked Jake about an upcoming city council meeting where MidAmerican’s franchise with the city will be discussed.

Jade was at Mutual Aid, as usual. She organizes the prison letter writing project of Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America, which I have joined. A friend of mine in Indianapolis, a professor at the law school there, got me involved in Religious Socialism, part of DSA, hence the name of this blog.

And as usual, my good friend Ronnie was at Mutual Aid. I had told him about some transgender people who were looking for support. Yesterday we talked about that some more, and he gave me a couple of suggestions that I passed along.

My small Quaker meeting is also part of this networking. Some members have been supporters of ICCI for years. It is this meeting that is looking into how we might support the trans people. And I will be speaking about Mutual Aid during the annual gathering of Quakers this summer.

Other connections include supporting the Wet’suwet’en peoples as they try to stop the construction of the Costal GasLink pipeline through their pristine territory in British Columbia. In the photo below you can see Des Moines Black Lives Matter is helping us stand with the Wet’suwet’en.

The signs about Prairies Not Pipelines and #NOCO2PIPELINES was organized by my friend Sikowis, who also walked on the First Nation-Famer Climate Unity March.

Transgress the Prison Walls

I just sat down after taking two letters to prison pen-pals to the mailbox and saw the article Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022. I don’t like to include too many quotes in my writing, but this article touches on many things I’ve been learning, much which is about Mutual Aid.

Through a close reading of Black Communist trans prisoner Alyssa V. Hope’s legal efforts and writings, this article unearths how a pen-pal relationship transformed into a comprehensive abolitionist community. This case study provides an example of how abolitionists are grappling with the need to support the material needs of marginalized communities while still building otherwise possible worlds separate from a failing welfare state. Mutual aid projects, like the one formed by Hope’s supporters, showcase that otherwise possible worlds are not only possible, but they are being created right now before us.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

… it was not always this way, which proves it does not have to stay this way. 

What we have is each other. We can and need to take care of each other. We may have limited power on the political stage, a stage they built, but we have the power of numbers.

Those numbers represent unlimited amounts of talents and skills each community can utilize to replace the systems that fail us.  The recent past shows us that mutual aid is not only a tool of survival, but also a tool of revolution. The more we take care of each other, the less they can fracture a community with their ways of war

Ronnie James, The Police State and Why We Must Resist

The focus of the Transgress the Prison Walls article is on the writings of political prisoners, but much applies to prison pen-pal relationships with anyone who is incarcerated. I’ve become involved in the prison letter writing project of the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America. Not surprisingly, I found several of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends are also involved.

I wrote the following based upon a sample letter.

As abolitionist organiser and theorist Mariame Kaba writes, “The work of abolition insists that we foreground the people who are behind the walls… That we transform the relationships we have with each other so that we can really create new forms of safety and justice in our communities.” (Duda/Kaba 2017) This solidarity takes many forms such as written correspondence via pen-pal pro-grams

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

More than a one-way exchange of sympathy, abolitionist solidarity operationalises mutual aid as a foundational modality for community building. Abolitionist mutual aid recognises the necessity of meeting immediate communal needs while also addressing deeper causes of violence: mechanisms of control, management, and punishment that structure everyday life (Spade 2020, 9). Historically, mutual aid communities have taken many forms including the 1969 Free Breakfast programs of the Black Panther Party in the United States and the maroon communities formed by free and escaped en-slaved people (Nelson 2011). In the 1950s and 1960s, health providers routinely refused Black patients and relegated Black people to sub-standard facilities (ibid., 24). To protest this treatment and provide for their community, the Black Panther Party of Oakland and other chapters around the nation and world opened People’s Free Medical Clinics that provided quality medical services free of charge to Black community members (ibid., 79). Mutual aid work, like that of the Black Panther Party, is not top-down charity. Rather, mutual aid projects “are an integrated part of our lives… and [they] cultivate a shared analysis of the root causes of the problem.” (Spade 2020, 28f.) Even as the welfare state continues to crumble, communities work together to meet each other’s needs while creating new relations of accountability and care in the state’s absence.

Abolitionist Efforts to Trangress the Prison Walls by Jaden Janak, Hood Communist, March 10, 2022

So, I work with a dope crew called Des Moines Mutual Aid, and on Saturday mornings we do a food giveaway program that was started by the Panthers as their free breakfast program and has carried on to this day. Anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah.

So, I get to work and I need to call my boss, who is also a very good old friend, because there is network issues. He remembers and asks about the food giveaway which is cool and I tell him blah blah it went really well. And then he’s like, “hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”

Ronnie James, Des Moines Mutual Aid

Global Abolition and White Supremacy

For most of my life I understood abolition to mean abolishing slavery. I often heard about that in my Quaker community. The story is that Quakers were involved in the underground railroad, helping freedom seekers escape from where they were enslaved.

But my friend Lucy Duncan writes about myths and avoiding uncomfortable truths.

We White Quakers like to revel in our myths about ourselves. These include “we were all abolitionists”; “we all worked on the Underground Railroad”; and “none of us were slaveholders.”

Often there are kernels of truth in myths, but the truth is more complex. Myths exist to veil the complexity and contradictions of our history, to obfuscate the differences between who we think we are and who we really are and have been. Often we want to take credit for the courageous few among us in order to absolve us from the uncomfortable reckoning with our past and our present. These myths protect our sense of innocence and goodness, but at what cost? Our failure to interrogate uncomfortable truths keeps us from living up to the promise of our faith, one that centers uncovering truth as foundational to our communal religious life.

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

There are many stories of white Friends today refusing to reckon with our past, and what racial justice requires of us now.

Today abolition more commonly refers to abolishing police and prisons. I’ve joined in the work of Quakers for Abolition Network and contributed to an article about this in the Western Friend, https://westernfriend.org/issue/94. I participate in the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America’s prison letter writing efforts and am taking two courses related to abolition.

As I was praying about what to write today, I was thinking about the terrible abuses the Wet’suwet’en peoples in British Columbia are suffering from the heavily militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The state sanctioned violence to enforce construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their sacred and pristine lands and water. Yesterday I wrote about stopping the criminalization of Indigenous land defenders. And I realized this is another case that calls for the abolition of police and prisons.

That led to making the connection to the entire history of colonization of so-called North America to abolition. To the global colonization of Indigenous peoples. To the need for abolition of colonization and supremacy worldwide. Including repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Abolition is about ending systems of control over populations. That is why my friends and I are working to create Mutual Aid communities. Mutual Aid is about replacing vertical hierarchies with horizontal group structures. There can be no control from above if there is no vertical hierarchy.

“What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?” It would look like Mutual Aid.

What would it mean for us to take seriously and collectively as a Religious Society a call to finish the work of abolition, hand in hand and side by side with those affected  and their loved ones? What would it mean for us to stand fully with the calls to abolish the police and fully fund community needs instead? What would it mean to reckon with our past complicity with harm and fully dedicate ourselves to the creation of a liberating Quaker faith that commits to build the revolutionary and healing faith we long to see come to fruition? What would it look like to finally and fully abolish slavery?

A Quaker Call to Abolition and Creation by Lucy Duncan, Friends Journal, April 1, 2021

Des Moines Mutual Aid Networking

Yesterday I wrote about the Quakers for Abolition Network I am a member of. We will be meeting this afternoon, so I’m thinking of what I hope our network might do. There is so much that needs to be done.

My friend Jake Grobe, from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) was at our Des Moines Mutual Aid food distribution this morning. He doesn’t get to attend too often because of his organizing work. He told me about an upcoming action at MidAmerican Energy to demand that they shut down all their coal plants. Here is the story about a previous action.

Protesters gathered outside the MidAmerican Energy headquarters in downtown Des Moines today to demand Iowa’s largest energy company retire all of its coal plants in nine years. They were part of two groups: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) and the Iowa Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

They also want MidAmerican to invest in retrofitting homes for energy efficiency with a focus on families of color and low-income individuals.

Jake Grobe stood on a ledge wearing a bucket hat and a blue T-shirt with “REVOLUTION NOW” printed in all capital letters. He held a megaphone to his mouth, which was covered by a black and white bandana. (All the protesters wore masks.) Grobe asked the crowd who is most hurt by the effects of climate change.

“It’s Black, Indigenous, it’s poor working families that are unable to recover from flash floods, from droughts from wildfires. Climate crisis increases all inequalities,” he answered himself.

Environmental Activists Urge Iowa Energy Company To Retire Coal Energy By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio, August 18, 2021

One of the things I love about Mutual Aid is how we network about each other’s work. I hadn’t known about the MidAmerican actions, but now I hope to attend the next one. He said it would be good if I could take photos there. This networking lets us know who has skills, like photography, which can help each other’s work.

Speaking of photos prompted me to share about a recent action at Chase Bank in support of the Wet’suwet’en peoples fighting against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. He hadn’t been aware of that.

Support for Wet’suwet’en at Chase bank

That also reminded me of going to SUMMIT headquarters in Ames, Iowa, recently. SUMMIT is one of the companies proposing to build carbon pipelines in the Midwest. My friends Sikowis Nobiss and Mahmud Fitil know of my photography and asked me to attend the gathering there.

Jake and ICCI are also working to stop CO2 pipelines.

We talked about how bad the Iowa legislature is. He said we need our own socialist party. I told him about the Central Iowa Democratic Socialists of America’s prison letter writing project.

He asked what I had been doing. I described the Quakers for Abolition Network, which interested him. He had been arrested three times last year at direct actions and said you don’t really know how bad prison is until you experience it yourself.

our response and an invitation that we allow the Spirit to awaken our imagination to build a world where we can all be safe(r) and flourish without threats of violence.  

The call for the abolishment of police, policing and the police state is not a new call. For centuries, Black and Indigenous people have called for the end of violence enacted on their bodies and communities by police. They have been calling for other possibilities that move us from the appearance of safety to truly safe and whole communities. In the wake of continued high profile police shootings across the United States, many people in the church pushed for an Anabaptist-oriented response and resources that helped us to move as a church into solidarity with the pain and brutality being felt and witnessed on Black, brown and Indigenous people. This curriculum is our response and invitation that we allow the Spirit to awaken our imagination to build a world where we can all be safe(r) and flourish without threats of violence.  

Defund the Police? An Abolition Curriculum