Describing itself as “a grassroots civil rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and [their] families,” All of Us or None (AUN) is a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), a nonprofit group based in San Francisco. AUN’s mission is to “build political power in the communities most affected by mass incarceration,” meaning “predominantly people of color” who allegedly suffer constant racial “discrimination” at the hands of criminal-justice authorities.
AUN was established in 2002 when LSPC program director Dorsey Nunn, who from 1971-82 was incarcerated for robbery and complicity in a murder, crafted a proposal he called “Save Our Selves”—a blueprint to help activists, prisoners, and ex-felons collaborate to increase their own political power. When “Save Our Selves” was implemented by LSPC, it was renamed “All of Us or None” in honor of the late Nate Harrington, an inmate-turned-prison-official whose favorite poem bore that title. AUN’s first meeting took place in March 2002. Soon thereafter, a statewide gathering of ex-inmates was held in Oakland, California, followed several weeks later by a national meeting in New Orleans. The organization currently lists nine affiliated chapters—seven in California, one in Oklahoma, and one in Texas.
Today, a prominent organizer with AUN’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter is former Weather Underground terrorist Linda Evans, who in 1987 was sentenced to 40 years in prison for using false identification to purchase firearms and for harboring a fugitive involved in the deadly Brinks) armored truck robbery of 1981; her sentence was commuted in 2001 by President Bill Clinton.
AUN is an ally of Critical Resistance, a group that seeks to abolish the U.S. prison system and what it calls the “prison industrial complex.” Like Critical Resistance, AUN characterizes criminality in nonwhite communities not as an outgrowth of any pathology within those communities, but rather as a result of the deliberate targeting of nonwhites by police and the courts.
One of AUN’s major campaigns is its “Ban the Box” initiative, which seeks to remove questions about an individual’s criminal history from applications for public employment, public housing, and other social services—on the premise that all ex-inmates should be entitled to the same public-assistance benefits as people without a criminal record. Eliminating “structural discrimination against formerly incarcerated people,” says AUN, would “contribute to public safety” and “promote stable employment” in “communities of color and poor communities” because “people with jobs and stable community lives are much less likely to return committing crimes in order to survive.”
AUN’s “Voting Rights for All” campaign, which is supported by the ACLU, is designed to overturn laws that in some states bar convicted felons, ex-prisoners, parolees, and/or current inmates from casting ballots in political elections. By AUN’s reckoning, such statutes amount to “the open suppression of Black votes” because African Americans are numerically overrepresented among arrestees and prison inmates. Statistically, convicted felons who have had their voting rights restored—as well as felons who vote in political elections illegally—are far likelier to vote Democratic than Republican.
Another AUN initiative is its “Clean Slate” program, which teaches ex-prisoners how to have their juvenile criminal records sealed and their adult records expunged, thereby making it possible for such individuals to circumvent employment-application requirements that they disclose any prior criminal convictions.
AUN’s Support for Lifer Families & People in Solitary Confinement program consists of informational town halls designed to address the needs of people “struggling for the release of their loved ones” who are serving life sentences behind bars. Moreover, AUN is part of a statewide coalition that supports California prison inmates confined to Secure Housing Units.
In an effort to cultivate a new generation of prisoner-rights activists, AUN has established a Freedom School geared toward helping people who have been “critically impacted by incarceration, policing, and the punishment system” to “develop and grow into community leaders.”
By AUN’s reckoning, the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011—which moves Californians convicted of “non-serious,” “non-sexual,” and “nonviolent” offenses out of that state’s prison system, and into county jurisdiction and county jails—is bad public policy. A far better approach, says the organization, would be to explore alternative interventions like drug treatment, rehabilitative programming, and county supervision.
AUN is strongly opposed to “gang injunctions,” which are civil court orders that allow police to arrest people using a lower legal standard than is normally required by the criminal-justice system—criteria like past convictions and gang-related tattoos, clothes, or signs. In 2010, AUN joined the Nation of Islam and the ACLU in rejecting such an injunction in Oakland, California, on grounds that it gave law-enforcement “the green light to continue targeting young people of color.”Over the years, AUN has received grants from the Akonadi Foundation, the Foundation for Change, the Fund for Nonviolence, the Liberty Hill Foundation, the Omnia Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Peace Development Fund, the Rosenberg Foundation, the Victor & Lorraine Hong Fund, and the Women’s Foundation of California.
For additional information on AUN, click here.