Introducing: Illinois Community Justice

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #10 in October 2010]

Think about this statement. We already know everyone we need to know to change the world. Our world has an abundance of incredible intellectual-workers, artist-creators, researcher-organizers, truth-sayers, and community builders. We have the hearts, the hands, and the heads to make the world we want. Naomi Klein once said, “there isn’t a crisis of ideas … there’s a crisis of confidence in those ideas.” We need to build our confidence in our ideas. We also need to coordinate, make accessible, and extend our ideas. In order to do that we must learn how to align our efforts.

How can the hearts, hands, and heads of the world better coordinate with one another? That is the question that led to the creation of the Illinois Community Justice project. We are beginning to answer this question with the creation of a new website, one designed for prison activists, reformers, educators, survivors, abolitionists and anyone who cares about transforming the prison system as we know it. This site——is for those of us committed to changing the Illinois prison system, dramatically and forever, and to making communities so strong that they can handle daunting problems and resolve serious conflicts. We believe this future is possible. We know that it won’t be easy and that it won’t happen over night. And we know that figuring it out requires an unprecedented level of collaboration and cooperation across our state. More than electing a single politician or winning one campaign, this is about changing the entire approach to public safety in Illinois. And to do that we must create new ways of working together.

Sure, transforming an entire system seems overwhelming. Yet there are incredible workers out there who are ready, willing, and able—people who have discovered ways to dissect and confront the toughest realities of our time. Too often these folks work in relative isolation. Like Hercules fighting the Hydra, they cut off one of the monster’s heads only to watch two more grow back in its place. We work on cases, issues, single prisons—we react—and these reactions matter because people matter. Yet we must also build the networks and political communities required for our work to gain real traction, and for our efforts to have real staying power.

So what exactly we seeking to accomplish? Illinois Community Justice has three primary goals: 1) to identify opportunities for strategic cooperation among all those who realize that punitive justice does not create safer streets, 2) to connect and build our own information base, as workers, people affected, activist scholars, and grassroots gurus, and 3) to create an online information hub which can help all of us reach a deeper understanding of the Illinois criminal justice system and its impact.

To achieve these goals we are building a website that requires your participation. On this open source, wiki-based platform, you will be able to share the organizing work you are doing, your experiences with the criminal legal system, research you are working on, papers you have presented, and questions that you are grappling with. More than that, you will be able to find out what others are doing too. We can share knowledge, cross-pollinate, and begin to reframe the very meaning of justice. Built through user-generated content, this site offers a space for you to contribute your perspective to the collective wisdom of those working for a new era of peace and safety in our state.◊


IL Community Justice is a network of writers and activists working around community justice and alternatives to incarceration in Illinois. This introductory text was collaboratively written by four of those people (Frank Edwards, Ryan Hollon, Alice Kim, and Erica Meiners).

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