The Black Bird Legal Collective: Portland, Maine

By Paul

The Black Bird Legal Collective, a NEAN affiliate, was started in the summer of 2007 in Portland, Maine with the goal of organizing the Portland community to challenge the injustice system, continued gentrification of Portland and abuses by employers. We have seen time and again that the legal system does not represent the working people, but only the moneyed elite. Only by the people coming together, sharing resources, experiences, tactics, and standing together can we defend ourselves and community against the inequalities in the US legal system and challenge the forces of oppression that uphold it.

The Black Bird Legal Collective works to build community resistance in Portland and throughout Maine. We do this by organizing community defense workshops, offering support to prisoners, raising awareness of political prisoners in the US and working to support them.

We seek to include not just the activist community, but the Portland community as well, raising radical ideas in non-radical circles and seeking to build coalitions to make effective change.

We have a continuing campaign to stop torture in detention facilities throughout Maine, inspired by the national call put out by the San Francisco 8. We have been collecting petition signatures for a people’s referendum to addresses the heinous acts happening inside Maine jails and prisons. In conjunction with this campaign, we are supporting Deane Brown, a Maine state prisoner who was exiled to one of America’s most dangerous prisons in Baltimore, Maryland. He was a key source in exposing torture occurring in Maine State Prison in Warren, and – after refusing to stop reporting – was sent to isolation in a prison in Maryland on Maine Governor Baldacci’s order. He was the most important source in Lance Tapley’s award winning pieces that were printed in the Portland Phoenix. We are working to gather support to have Deane returned to Maine to be closer to his family and loved ones, and prevent any other retaliatory measures from being taken against him.

In January of this year we organized the first statewide meeting of all prison advocacy groups that took place in Belfast, Maine. It was a great success, with many groups now aware of one another and networking. The Black Bird Legal Collective was able to raise some radical concepts about the use of prisons as the frontline of class war and white supremacy not only in Maine, but across the United States. At the end of the conference the groups came together to form an umbrella group called Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition that continues to work on the issues of prisons in Maine and justice for prisoners.

The Black Bird Legal Collective was recently invited to the National STOPMAX meeting put on by the American Service Friends Committee, with the goal of creating a national network based on shutting down all super maximum security prisons across the United States. From this event we will hopefully be able to network on a national level to gain support for shutting down super max prisons not only in Maine, but across the nation.

In March of this year, we held an event in support of the MOVE 9, who were up to be paroled. We showed the explosive documentary called “MOVE Confrontation in Philadelphia” by Karen Pomer and Jane Mancini and had Ramona Africa call from Philadelphia to speak about MOVE and their continued resistance against the oppressive American system. Afterwards, we wrote letters to MOVE’s parole board, and that sparked a group of people to form a Friends of MOVE and Mumia Abu-Jamal group here in Portland. Though the MOVE women’s parole was denied, we continue to support their efforts to gain freedom and be acquitted of the baseless charges they were convicted of.

At the end of March we held an event called “Challenging the US Prison System, From Activism to Uprisings,” which explored the efforts of inmates in America’s prisons. We showed the documentary Attica, which showed stark footage from inside and outside the prison during the uprising and some lessons learned from it. This event took place on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus, with the featured speaker Ray Luc Levassuer, a member of the United Freedom Front and of the state branded “Ohio 7.” The campus pigs attempted to shut down the event by demanding $300 so extra officers could be on duty to keep us “safe” from potential protesters. These protesters (who never showed up) were rumored to be Portland police officers and other state and county pigs. The event went on, without us paying a dime for the two pigs who stood around and attempted to intimidate those who approached the event table. The Black Bird Legal Collective even made the local news amid rumors that the police were going to protest the presence of Ray Luc.

In early April, a Black Bird organizer felt the bite of a careless system, and the effects of gentrification of rent in Portland. This member, a single parent, was going to be evicted because they could not make rent. The collective came together and organized our first rent raiser, to support our fellow community member and prevent them from being evicted. Another member allowed her apartment to be used, we had a local DJ donate his time, got a keg with some more booze, had some food and spread the word. It was amazing how many people in the community showed up who we did not know. Everyone was speaking about the high price of rent, the increasing gentrification of Portland, and landlords who could care less about their tenants. In the end we raised over $400 and our community member was able to keep their apartment. Since then, two other rent raisers have been held in Maine to support community members in need.

In mid-April we had the honor of co-sponsoring an event with Victory Gardens, Common Ground Relief, and the Coalition to Free the Angola 3. We had two amazing guests who shared their experiences on the continuing struggle against the racist American prison system, super max conditions, the fight for New Orleans’s environment and its people. We had Robert King Wilkerson, a former member of the Black Panther Party who has spent 29 years in solitary confinement after being framed in the death of a prison guard and who is fighting for the freedom of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodcox, the other members of the Angola 3.

We also had the honor of hosting Malik Rahim, co-founder of the Louisiana Black Panther Party and Common Ground Relief who has been working endlessly to bring the story of post-Katrina New Orleans to the world. Malik spoke about the continued struggle in New Orleans to give housing back to the residents, the oppressiveness and open brutality of the New Orleans police force and Blackwater, and how we as activists in Maine can help that. Robert spoke about the continuing work to free his comrades Albert and Herman, and some small successes they have had in their battle for the freedom of the remaining two members of the Angola 3.

We are continuing to build community resistance and action here in Portland and plan to use the tactics and knowledge we gain from attending the STOPMAX campaign to continue the struggle for prisoners’ rights and to shut down the super max in Warren, Maine.

Fire to the prisons, banks and bosses. Contact lookingforward |AT| riseup dot net.

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