• John & Vivett Dukes

Personal Reflections From The D.C.Millions For Prisoners' Human Rights March by: Vivett Dukes

At first, I wasn't going to go to the March. Part of me wanted to attend, but, aside from financial and transportation challenges, I couldn't help but think about what my marching was really going to accomplish. It seems like we've been marching for decades and things are not improving nearlyas rapidly as I think they should. A lot has changed since Jamestown, VA, circa 1619 and since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's; yet, the fact still remains slavery in the United States is very much alive and kicking. We are far from being a post-racial society, that's for sure. Doubt and anger were getting the best of me, especially given the deadly rally in Charlottesville just a week ago. 

I was having an internal values conundrum. To go or not to go, that was the question. My mind was racing. I needed to quiet it, so that's exactly what I did. No sooner than my mind settled, this thought fluttered into my mind and ultimately made the decision for me to in fact attend the Millions for Prisoners' Human Rights Rally and March on Washington: The plight of humanity rests in us all actively taking part in restoring it. It's not a Black issue. It's not a White issue. It's about the condition of the human heart. My heart for my fellow man, the love I have for my husband John as a human being that propelled me to go and visit him as my friend in prison after almost two decades of not being in contact with each other, the inhumane treatment I see and experience while now doing this bid with him -- all of these factors reminded me of why it was imperative that I be a part of this event.  

Soon after thinking these thoughts to myself, I saw a post on the March's FB page from a fellow activist whom I'd met via his comments on my blog a few months prior, stating that at the last minute a few people had canceled driving down with him and that he had room to take a couple of people who still wanted to attend. That was all the confirmation I needed! I reached out to him, we spoke, and by 6:15am Saturday morning, we were on our way to this historic event -- the first ever of its kind for the cause of protesting to legally abolishing slavery via the amending of the 13th amendment exception clause in the U.S. Constitution. 

I have so many thoughts and feelings about what I experienced as a participant in the first Millions For Prisoners' Human Rights March. Never before have I been around so many people at the same time (outside of when I visit John in prison, that is) that understand and are compassionate towards what my husband and so many others who are incarcerated aka enslaved in this country's prison industrial complex endure on a daily basis. I met political prisoners from the Black Panther era who were behind the wall for over four decades, as well as the spouses of those from that era -- wives, mostly -- who are still languishing in prison. I spoke to two men who were wrongfully incarcerated for I believe 13 and 27 years respectively -- who, despite targeted lies and persecution, are alive to tell their stories and encourage everyone under the sound of their voices. I met two other men who went to prison broken individuals and are now a published author and poet, and a pastor with a Doctorate degree. I met fellow wives whose husbands are incarcerated who continue to hold them down. I met men, women, and children from a diverse range of socio-political, socio-economic, racial, religious, and gender classifications who all agreed that people in prison have the inalienable right to be treated as human beings AND that their human rights are, under the exception clause in the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, being violated because the prison system as it currently stands is enslavement. 

Many of the people with whom I interacted had up close and personal experiences with this oppressive system of modern-day slavery; however, and more astounding to me, just as many people present at the March were not being directly impacted by the prison system at all. They didn't wait for the issue to arrive at their front door to support the cause, like so many of us tend to do when our brothers' and sisters' rights are being threatened. This impressed me deeply. To be amongst people actively standing up for injustice empowered me. It reminded me that the root word of activism is active. It endowed with an even stronger conviction to be the voice for those whom incarceration has rendered voiceless. As I listened jointly on the phone with my husband calling in from prison to hear the speeches,testimonies, and calls-to-action of the men and women who took to the stage at the rally, I became acutely aware of how necessary it is for me and all of us to, in the words of the Honorable Robert Nesta Marley, "Get Up, Stand Up! Stand up for our rights!...Don't give up the fight!"  

Thank you Krystal Rountree for being the driving force behind the organization of the Millions For Prisoners' Human Rights March. You exemplify Black Girl Magic. Thank you Stephen Figurasmith, Lamont Carey, Jimmie C. Gardner, Dr. Mark Hubble, Yusef Abdus Salaam, and all the other activists who John and I had the honor of interacting with and learning from at the March.  

Slavery masked as the prison system must be eradicated from our society once and for all. The message that the Millions For Prisoners' Human Rights clearly put forth is that a feat of such magnitude is not going to just happen. It requires each of us strategically and collectively getting involved on every level of our local government and putting pressure on the elected officials to erect laws that are in the best interest of humanity, not corporate America. May we remain actively engaged in the deconstruction of the prison industrial complex and the pursuit of humanity for all -- even the least of these. 

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