During an informative event organized by the Bellarmine Forum hosted an online panel as an opportunity for students to learn more about how to work toward transformative justice and help communities suffering from the effects of incarceration.
Andrew Dilts, a political science and international relations professor at LMU, facilitated the Q&A between the speakers and students who attended. The event welcomed two leaders of the JusticeLA coalition to join a panel of experienced advocates.
Eunisses Hernandez, the co-executive director of La Defensa, and Ivette Alé, the senior policy lead at Dignity and Power Now, provided their personal experiences and knowledge on combating the injustice of our statewide justice system through abolitionist values and strategies. According to JusticeLA's website, they "work to reduce the footprint of incarceration by stopping jail expansion and reclaiming, reimagining and reinvesting dollars away from incarceration and into community-based systems of care.”
Proceeding from the success of Measure J, a campaign that JusticeLA pushed to pass in this year’s general election, the coalition is motivated to continue their momentum by searching for new members who are interested in short-term or long-term volunteer work. Explaining their roles in the process of introducing volunteers, Alé said, “we don’t just activate folks in the street. We move our folks into those decision making spaces within the county — within the state legislature.”
LMU students first listened to the panelists’ personal experiences from growing up and beginning college that inspired them to get involved with transformative justice and abolitionist advocacy. Since some aren’t completely familiar with the beliefs of abolitionist values, the panelists also expressed their personal definitions of what it means to be an abolitionist. Alé stated that “it’s working to dismantle systems of oppression … while we build different systems that actually support our communities.”
The panelists listed specific ways that LMU students can become new volunteers and advocates through JusticeLA. First, Alé and Hernandez introduced the coalition’s virtual actions which are held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays every week. Virtual actions are communicated through online Zoom meetings or automated text messages to provide links onto rapid response opportunities. The panelists mentioned a second option to join the coalition as a member, which would include attending their orientation sessions and selecting a specific committee to be a part of. These two outlets are free ways that college students can use their virtual space to create change within California’s criminal justice system.
JusticeLA's volunteer opportunities give students the ability to become directly involved, whether they have plenty of spare time or only have a few hours. While explaining the positive impacts of virtual actions, Hernandez expressed that “submitting that public comment is a really great step in making sure that we can move forward in this advocacy because it gives us people power.”
To become involved in this issue through smaller organizations, the panelists also mentioned many groups that are connected under JusticeLA's coalition and are dedicated to transformative justice, such as Survived & Punished, Essie Justice Group and Dignity and Power Now. All of these organizations provide additional virtual events, donation opportunities, educational media and transformative justice initiatives for anyone to take part in.
All in all, this panel taught LMU students about the negative impact of incarceration on disenfranchised communities by introducing the personal perspectives of abolitionist advocates. From this virtual experience students were—and still are—able to make their voices heard through virtual opportunities. Encouraging students at the end of the Q&A session, Hernandez asserted that “it’s a long fight with many moving pieces, but you just gotta have hope.”