Hana Abdur Rahim will speak at the “Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March” and rally to abolish legalized slavery
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as the punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
So states the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery since 1865 for everyone but those deemed criminals. And, as argued by everyone from grassroots activists to the 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary “13th,” African-Americans have been disproportionately — and unfairly — imprisoned in the years since.
To support that argument, 13th amendment challengers cite myriad examples from 19th-century “Black Codes,” or laws permitting African-Americans to be arrested for minor infractions and committed to involuntary labor, to 20th-century mass incarceration of people of color, driven in part by severe penalties for drug-related crimes. Given the benefit corporations receive from prison labor, some argue the prison system has intentionally replaced plantation slavery.
With this growing awareness, organizers are demanding the “enslavement clause” be removed from the 13th amendment. And on Saturday, Aug. 19, the national iamWE Prison Advocacy Network will voice that demand by hosting the “Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March” and rally in Washington, D.C.
Columbus activist Hana Abdur Rahim was chosen as one of the event speakers.
“This is going to be a one-of-a kind march, and the first-ever march that focuses on abolishing slavery as we know it,” said Rahim, who expressed concerns about racial profiling, expensive bail amounts, excessive plea deals and limited career options available to felons. “It's all about capitalism and keeping us in and out of the system.”
According to San Diego-based iamWE organizer Laila Aziz, the idea for the march and rally came from SJ, a “political prisoner” on the East Coast, and other inmates. This new action comes almost a year after tens of thousands of U.S. prisoners participated in a coordinated nationwide labor strike.
“Why is slavery still legal in the United States when it's not legal in any other industrialized nation?” Aziz said, referencing article four of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which reads, “Slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”
“That's the question that we're asking people to really think about,” she said.
Aziz also mentioned iamWE selected event speakers based on influence and work in their local communities. “Hana, of course, was one of those people,” she said.
If you're not familiar with Rahim, specifically, you are likely familiar with the Columbus-based initiatives and actions in which she has played a role. For example, though she wasn't present, she co-organized the Columbus Pride protest which resulted in the June arrest of the “Black Pride 4.” As a member of the criminal justice reform group People's Justice Project, she helped organize the February rally at the Columbus Police Department in support of Jaron Thomas, who died following an encounter with the Columbus Division of Police.
Additionally, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio, she is suing CPD, alleging police used excessive force on her during the Jan. 30 protest against President Trump's travel ban.
Rahim said she was compelled to become an activist following the police-involved killing of 13-year-old Ty're King last September.
“I can still see myself waking up that morning and reading the headline,” she said. “I was just devastated. … [I said], ‘I don't care what I have to do. I'm going to do something about this.'”
That included joining demonstrators who took over a City Council meeting on Sept. 26 to protest King's death. The Columbus Dispatch published a photo of her standing on a desk raising a fist.
“No one knew who I was,” Rahim said. “I was just a tired black citizen. I'd never organized anything.”
Now, Rahim also makes an effort to console the families of the victims of police-involved killings, often attending press conferences, vigils and funerals. “This work is hard but it's worth it,” she said. “You hear the wails … and the cries of family members. You can't do much but be supportive of them and let them grieve and hold that pain inside of you so it can be released into you. You can let it go later because no mother deserves to lose their child at the hands of a police officer.”
Rahim said she will speak about the role of police brutality in the prison system at the D.C. march and rally, which both she and Aziz said is not getting enough media coverage. However, with over 100 organizations supporting the event, there should be a nice-sized crowd, Aziz said. There will also be solidarity marches in cities throughout the U.S.
Looking back at her five years in Columbus, Rahim, a New York native, admits she has come a long way. “I was just working, minding my own business,” she said. “And now that all of these events have happened … this continuous oppression of my people, I feel like it's a duty for me to be here [and] to help lead the movement for black lives.”