Radio Response to the "New Jim Crow"
We can look at the mass incarceration of our population as a nation inside a nation – equivalent now in size to the country of Jamaica -- as the contemporary response to the gains of the Civil Rights movement.
Community-controlled radio presents itself as the modern-day equivalent of the civil rights Citizen Schools, a tool to break the back of the “New Jim Crow.”
In 1954, Septima Clark quietly began building a civil rights foundation by covertly setting up literacy schools throughout the segregated Deep South. The schools were local endeavors; One was led by a bus driver as he shuttled his neighbors to their housekeeping and service jobs over a patchwork of dirt roads and into downtown Charleston, SC.
With songs as curriculum, carrying out the class above the roar of the diesel engine, the classmates worked on doing the unthinkable: demanding to take South Carolina’s notorious voter literacy test, first written up in 1882, a direct challenge to their disenfranchisement. Along with poll taxes, fraud, white only primaries, and violence, the voting literacy tests were a direct response by southern states to the passage of the 15th Amendment.
Clark’s efforts paid off as her classrooms grew into “Citizen Schools,” which blossomed across the South and turned sharecroppers into voters. The schools became an important tool for the emerging Southern Leadership Conference.
Today, the prison reform movement has a unique opportunity to continue Clark’s dream in the face of the “New Jim Crow” mass incarceration strangling our communities. Local radio presents itself as the modern-day equivalent of Citizen Schools. Prison family members can become radio producers and broadcast through the walls of our nation’s prisons.
With the hard fought passage in December 2010 of the Local Community Radio Act, a limited window is emerging for thousands of new community-controlled local radio stations to be planted and grown across the United States. These new stations will deliver “low-power” broadcasting to local areas as far out as fifteen miles, and for the first time will be available in urban areas,
know this is an effective strategy from my own decade-long experience of
producing a weekly radio show,“Calls from Home,” on our local community radio
station, WMMT-FM. Each week we broadcast an hour’s worth of calls made by
prisoner family members and friends, who often cannot afford the cost of the
phone call or travel required to connect with their loved one.
For those who want to address the injustices resulting from mass incarceration, including the loss of voting rights and the creation of a modern-day caste system, access to radio is access to power. Just as the citizens of South Carolina worked together to create a school on a bus ride, we can work to bring our movement to the airwaves.
by. Nick Szuberla, media activist and director of Thousand Kites
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