Among all the keynote addresses given at Netroots Nation, the one that seemed the ‘least sexy’ (ie, I didn’t know any of the speakers), was also what ended up being my favorite.
The main exhibition room was kept so dark that it was hard to take notes, so I didn’t plan on writing about it, but I had a conversation today that changed my mind.
I was with the extended family today for my youngest cousin’s baptism and the topic — very surprisingly — came up. In the middle of one of my uncle’s rants against government (taxes are bad! government waste! /le sigh), I was mildly surprised and thankful that he moved off the Republican-fed script and onto how our country is putting way too many people in jail for stupid reasons, and talking about that in the context of the ultimate kind of waste: our too-slim resources and lives.
As a special education teacher, he knows better than most how unfair and unjust many of our laws are today; he railed that we spend $89k a year on the average prisoner in this country, and only a tiny fraction of that on the average student.
With over 2 million prisoners, more than Iran, Russia, China or any country, that’s a lot of waste… and ruined lives.
Then there’s the problem of prison privatization and elected judiciary positions in many states, creating a profit incentive for a “prison industrial complex” and a lucrative new sector for lobbyists to get in and try to ruin our country even more.
And these were just problems my uncle brought up.
Her part of the keynote at Netroots Nation started 12 minutes in. I recommend the whole thing, which touches on many aspects of racism in America, but at least check out what she has to say.
Issues Austin-Hillery brought up:
- NYC’s stop-and-frisk program.
- Ridiculous Mandatory Minimums that don’t make sense, offer no flexibility for circumstance and many judges don’t want.
- Unfair sentencing, racial prejudice and profiling.
- Laws meant to restore fairness at the federal level aren’t being fully complied with at the state level.
- National Criminal Justice Commission Act: It will look at the entire Criminal Justice System and identify problems plaguing the system.
- People who get out of prison may have their ‘right to pay taxes’ restored, but not their right to vote.
- Most importantly, “you have to tell the stories.” It’s not enough to know about these injustices, people need to talk to others about them.
- “Don’t just wait for the Treyvon Martin moments.” Talk about the smaller injustices so we get fewer bigger ones.
I was very glad for the opportunity to talk about the issue today among family, and even more glad to have someone like my uncle — an independent who often trends the wrong way — being every bit as vociferous as I am in discussing how ridiculous and unfair our system is today. Perchance, a mind or two was changed at our table today, and that’s a small success. Hopefully, everyone reading this will bring these issues up the next time they’re at a table filled with family or friends.