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By Robin Yeamans

Across the U.S., people are fighting the court system, often as it tries to take their children or drag them or their loved ones into the prison industrial complex. They learn:don't go through this alone! Banding together, especially to do court watch, is a major tactic used to try to avoid the catastrophe that court can inflict on victims.

In Silicon Valley, California, a community group called DeBug's Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project pulls together activists, victims, legal workers, and family and friends to deal with cases, mostly criminal. But they also support and encourage people with other types of cases, such as a civil suit when a family member is killed by a law enforcement taser.

DeBug meets weekly and helps each person make a plan for the next week regarding the court case. As the court action threatens to engulf one like a huge wave sweeping them out of their life as they knew it, DeBug helps them remain on their feet and take steps one week at a time to keep on fighting. Read more about this Justice Project at Jayadev, an organizer for the project, reports, "By bringing a community organizing ethic to the courtroom, we learned we candramatically change the outcome of cases, keep families together, and change the landscape of power for our loved ones entangled in the criminal justice system." In Michigan Rev. Pinkney does court watch every single week.He began court watching in 1999 and says, “I didn’t know about the court system back then and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Now I know that every person they can put in jail this system will.”

Although a U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, requires all prosecutors to turn over to the defense all exculpatory evidence—which might tend to prove one's innocence—withholding evidence is not uncommon, and the prosecution gets to choose when before trial they’ll reveal the evidence. In states like California, at the first court appearance the prosecution gives the accused a "discovery packet" with a copy of the police report and perhaps other items. But in Michigan this doesn't happen; one must demand the information to get it. Rev. Pinkney says, "Don'tplead guilty until you see your police report!" With his guidance more than 175 young people have been saved from becoming fodder for the prison industrial complex.

Also, when Rev. Pinkney court watches, he pays $15 to buy the recording of the entire day—all the criminal cases heard that day. This can be of extreme importance in assuring that the recording will not be tampered with later.Unfortunately, in California they don't use recordings but use human court reporters, and it would cost thousands of dollars to buy even one day's transcripts.This leaves the record open to being altered, and with computerized stenographical machines, there is not even a paper trail, just readily altered electronics.

Rev. Pinkney works in the community to educate people about what’s happening even before they’re arrested. People are cautioned to assert their 5th Amendment right to remain silent, not to talk to the police.People who follow this standard advice tend to do better in their court struggles.

From the Editors

Every day we see economic crisis, cutthroat competition for markets, the rise of fascism, and the drive toward war. What is going on? And how do we divert resources from war-making to human needs?

The world’s markets are shrinking as technology replaces labor, wipes out jobs and the ability of consumers to buy. The competition among the giant corporations for shrinking markets is increasingly vicious, and will lead to more poverty and war.

Resistance by the world’s people is gathering, and the capitalists seek to crush it by instituting fascism. Poverty, fascism and war go hand in hand under capitalism. The threat of world war—that could destroy humanity—looms on the horizon.

When the NATO ministers gather, they will talk about how to use their military alliance to crush any resistance to the aims of global capital.

The world’s people have nothing to gain by fighting one another in the interests of capital. Humanity is ultimately fighting for a world where the people own the technology of production to cooperatively produce everything we need for a civilized life. The immediate demand is “Money for Human Needs, Not War.”

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Chicago artist Chris Drew was arrested for selling his art.
He was then charged with a felony for audio-recording his
own arrest. Photo/donated

[Occupy Rogers Park (Chicago) presented artist Chris Drew an award for his fight for free speech, and for his work for many years organizing community artists and giving them the skills and opportunity to express themselves. As reported earlier in The People’s Tribune, Chris was arrested for selling his art patches without a peddler’s license, a charge that was dropped when the police discovered he was audio recording his own arrest. Instead he was charged with felony eavesdropping, with a potential sentence of 15 years. This interview is excerpted from his remarks.)

What do you mean by “change-art”?

Chris Drew: Art for [social] change vs. art for art’s sake: Art is always both, because the act of art is self-expression, which is the act of expressing the self in flux – in change.The economic system that developed around art – art for collectors, for curators and art as an investment -- separated itself from art for change when desirable. “Change art” being feared by the moneyed classes had to be discouraged during its dangerous lifetime. . . Community art keeps rearing its beautiful head, generation after generation, by different names, movements and artists.

Explain the connection between first amendment rights and the Right to Survive by Art.

CD: We are talking about the real First Amendment right to survive by selling our art in public spaces that is required for change art to exist and build a public audience. This is the right above all that should be defended by our very lives. It’s the most important right. In Chicago and too many other locations it has been abandoned as useless, a move that has marginalized artists and dwarfed our art scenes in public. [See Chris Drew’s blog (]

You have said you are looking for a core of workers to reawaken the Art Patch Project. Can you elaborate on this?

CD: Please use the Art Patch Project to make Chicago Change. Bluntly put, I am dying* and the Art Patch Project needs new energy. . . We must teach citizens of Chicago to stand up for their rights and demonstrate the central role art has in this process . . . Using art we have changed the eavesdropping law. Let’s extend this to artists’ rights and set an example of using art to fight for First Amendment Rights.The Art Patch Project is a win-win concept. Artists submit designs and are encouraged to promote their art on line on the art patch. The Art Patch Project promotes artists’ rights on line on the patch. Volunteers print and give away the many flavored art patches over time educating the public to the variety of artists missing in public. The movement regenerates an art movement to sustain its needs in public. Activities take place in low-tech one or two day a week activities sustainable by a core of dedicated artists at costs affordable to a volunteer movement that takes place in public.. . . These patches are sewn on clothes, pinned up in a creative variety of ways. They have a life that goes on promoting your voice. This is a solution.Artists have been using the Art Patch Project to protect our stolen rights with growing awareness, establishing a foundation to build on. The fact is we have less right to survive by our art in Chicago in public than most places of the world. And we have a first amendment guarantee in this right. And we are not fighting for it. We have given it up. We have given up our most basic right. It is your duty to change this.

How does your work relate to the Occupy Movement slogan “It’s not one thing. It’s everything” ?

CD: What most people see is small and unconnectedness. But it is connected. It’s about the whole thing, and art is the key . . . to our freedom. We use the art patch to illustrate how to fight for freedom, demonstrate that [artists] have tools to fight for that freedom. *Chris was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 800-691-6888
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