I recently wrote that we are all in the same boat. But last night, at a small gathering of folks from Nebraskans Unafraid who met with David Booth from the criminal justice advocacy group, Black and Pink, I was reminded that we’re not there yet. Groups like Nebraskans Unafraid, Black and Pink, and others, have our own agendas — our own ideas — but we have commonalities, too, and that’s where we need to start. We need to work together, and not just from the safe space where we feel most comfortable.
We have witnessed this even within our individual organizations. Think about how you got where you are. As individuals, we get to a point where we realize that we cannot make progress on our own. When we join a group, like Nebraskans Unafraid, there is a certain amount of trepidation leading up to that first meeting. We are ashamed of our situation, and afraid that others will ridicule us and not accept us. We also understand that up until now, we have been at a standstill in our situations and we cannot make progress without help. We have to let ourselves be vulnerable. We listen, at first, to the stories of others. What has brought them to this table? We learn that although each member’s story is different, there is a thread — or many threads — of commonality with our own. Our fear begins to fade, and cautiously, we share our story. That sharing is all it takes to gain a seat at the table.
What works for us as individuals can also work for our groups. After the September 27 hearing for LR204, we at Nebraskans Unafraid feel triumphant. But now what? There are many local groups working on criminal justice reform issues. It is true, as David Booth told us last evening that, “each of our organizations serve distinct populations with distinct problems and we need distinct solutions.” But we cannot make the headway that needs to be made on our own. Change will happen, but we need to gather en masse. A coalition of agencies and groups must be built for real change to happen.
So in the coming weeks, when the leadership of your organization asks you to step out of your comfort zone, don’t shy away. Remember that you have been through this before. You did this all by yourself when you took that first step to attend that first meeting of your organization — and again when you sent an email or letter, or testified before the Judiciary Committee. Let’s do it again. Let’s put ourselves into uncomfortable situations: attend meetings of other criminal justice reform groups, listen to their stories, share ours. Let’s find the threads that bind us together in the struggle to reform our broken criminal justice system. Let’s not get too comfortable, because if we are too comfortable, we are not making progress.