The Human Right to Divest

Via Medium | By Amanda Aguilar Shank

Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that human beings are “endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of [siblinghood].” Today we celebrate that since the Declaration was drafted 49 years ago, people have used it as a tool to develop the field of human rights so urgently needed in the United StatesThe Declaration was drafted well before the for-profit prison industry exploded on Wall Street, but we apply it to our fight every day at Enlace, an international multiracial alliance of working people that organize for self-determination. For the past 9 years Enlace has impacted the field of human rights in the US through our Prison Divestment campaigns and earlier this year, we achieved an enormous victory in Portland, Oregon. Our aim with the public was to bring to light the fact that profiting from the separations of families of color including immigrants, violations of human rights, and general pain caused by prisons is inhumane and unacceptable.

We want people to also understand they don’t have to wait to vote in order to reject Trump and Wall Street as they conspire to take our pain to the bank. Since Trump was elected President, rival private prison companies GEO Group and Core Civic have seen their stock prices rise 63% and 81% respectively. In April the federal government awarded a $457 million contractto GEO Group to build an immigrant prison in Texas. And the White House has requested an additional $1.2 billion in the 2018 budget to increase detention capacity from 34,000 to 48,000 detainees a day. Still there is hope, as communities across the country have led campaigns that have won divestment of $4.1 billion in the past year alone. But the reward goes beyond divestment.

In April of this year, I sat at the edge of my seat as the Portland City Council voted to end investments in all corporate securities. As I looked around the room packed with Black and Brown leaders and white allies, I flashed back to the transformative work of our dream team — the Portland Prison Divestment Coalition. We came together and organized for more than five years, led by those directly impacted, and with the belief that our work to divest from prisons, fossil fuels, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Israeli occupation of Palestine — could transform us and our communities. At the beginning of our campaign Wells Fargo was seen as a “partner” valued for high-visibility donations in so many areas of the City. By the end of our campaign, the conscience of City Council members was transformed and they understood that Wells Fargo was complicit in the suffering of so many constituents. Portland committed to divestment totaling $539,000,000, and to conduct a feasibility study to create a municipal bank. We won because we held true to our values and made sure we were led by those most impacted.

Enlace members met Paulino Ruiz at a barbeque his family hosted to celebrate his release from detention in 2012. Paulino talked to us about how during his two years in detention, he channeled the pain of being mistreated and separated from his family to organize fellow detainees to start a hunger strike to protest conditions and to demand an end to all deportations. The two-month strike Paulino helped start, spread to GEO facilities across the country. When it came time for Paulino to testify in the divestment campaign, he told the Council he believed in Enlace’s work because, “[Taking] on prisons, detention, and corporations at once — can help us all look at each other as human, as brothers and sisters, as we confront injustice. Prison divestment lets us get on the same page, to take on and break the vicious cycle of immigrant and criminal systems by going after profits.”

Together with our affiliate network, partners, and allies across the country, Enlace is building on the divestment blueprint we started nearly a decade ago with renewed clarity: we must divest and we must repair. We will thrive together, or not at all: Black and brown communities, women, queer and trans people, gender nonconforming people, Muslims, people with disabilities, people with criminal convictions, the poor and the most vulnerable. Here are five of our core practice principles.

  1. We follow. Our work involves directly impacted people daily and is in coordination with and in service of the truth of those who are most directly impacted by injustice. There are no shortcuts to building a base or building trust.
  2. We examine our history. We make space to decolonize together, confronting anti-blackness and internalized colonialism in all its forms, naming the ongoing occupation of native land, distilling the dominant values we grew up with, choosing the ones we want and deliberately discarding the others we know don’t serve our freedom and humanity.
  3. We research. Through Enlace’s Integrated Organizing Approach (IOA), we combined research capacity with base building and ally development to create a context where everybody understood the direct role that finance plays in causing this harm. Recently, we partnered with In the Public Interest (ITPI) on a report that also identified the top finance institutions holding up private prisons.
  4. We transform our fear. It’s scary to demand things from powerful institutions that have harmed us, but also liberating to speak our truth.
  5. We collaborate. We scale up campaigning by coming together with small organizations to meet enormous challenges leading with root cause solutions. We allow for our work, vision and goals to be examined and revisited so we can adjust them together, in a trusting environment.

Like Paulino, many of us in this movement have witnessed and experienced violence that should never have taken place, but we are transforming and channeling our pain toward justice. Across the country, we will continue to confront corporations that harm us with innovative human rights campaigns — we believe that we will win. Join us.

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