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.
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
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
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.
Sending radio waves
through prison walls into Appalachia’s prison gulag has resulted in powerful
grassroots victories. I’ve listened as mothers of the incarcerated have
harnessed the power of radio and demanded legislative reform and basic human
rights for their loved ones inside.
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
Get involved with our radio activism work.