2023: A turning point in the people’s struggles

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Introduction

The transition between years is a period in which we set goals and make resolutions for the coming year. Achieving those objectives and fulfilling those resolutions requires a sober appraisal of the past, which produced our present and will influence our future.

Our appraisal of the past, evaluation of the present, and potential paths for 2024 require some metrics. The two yardsticks by which the Indianapolis Liberation Center can do any of these three things are our mission and vision. Our mission is to function as a physical and virtual hub to advance the causes of all oppressed and exploited people in Indianapolis and beyond by building unity, threading different struggles together, and training a new generation of popular educators, empowered citizens, activists, fighters, and organizers. Each task requires working to overcome the divisions imposed on us by the oppressing classes. Our vision is admittedly vague because it can only be produced collectively by the masses as a whole, but it is of a truly liberated world and city free of oppression, exploitation, war, and dispossession.

It is not only a question of what we did during 2023 that heightened the level of activity and struggle in the city; it is a question of how that level was channeled in a liberatory direction and how it helped unite various sectors of our city, country, and world’s oppressed. Of course, we can’t cover every one of the events and struggles we led this past year or even some major developments in projects like Hope Packages. What originated as a joint project of PSL Indianapolis and Indy10 Black Lives Matter is now an independent organization in the Center that is “neither charity nor mutual aid,” but is guided by a collectively written 10-point program

Although we confine ourselves to some of the most qualitatively significant turning points of the last year, please take the time to reflect with us, find what struggles you were involved in, what ones you want to be involved in or leading in 2024, and what areas of struggle need more attention. 

As a young and growing organization—that is now officially a 501(c)(4)—we are amazed and proud that during 2023 the Center led, organized, hosted, or supported in a substantial way over 100 events, actions, campaigns, and initiatives. The most rapid shift in the people’s movements came with our new physical Center, which holds public hours, is populated by a growing number of volunteers and organizations, and hosts various events for allied organizations. As an all-volunteer run and donation-funded Center, we need the community to keep us financially sustainable. To support our continued work in the 2024 year, come to our public volunteer workshop on Jan. 9, donate now, and become a sustainer for our center for $120 a year, or just $10 per month.

Don’t donate or support us because of the numbers mentioned above, as numbers communicate little on their own. Sometimes, one or a few small protests can spark a massive new anti-war movement, just as sometimes a massive demonstration can lead nowhere; it’s about quality, not quantity.

Expanding and extending our collective capacity

In more direct terms, during 2023 the Liberation Center officially welcomed two new member-organizations: Arte Mexicano en Indiana and Free Shaka Shakur. What matters the most are the dynamism that each group brings on their own and, more importantly, how collaborating through the Liberation Center opens up a new realm of experiences and knowledge to every group and person who works in, with, and through the Center and how that collectively magnifies the overall state of the struggle in Indianapolis (and we will announce an exciting new additional member-group later in January!).

Arte Mexicano en Indiana joined the Liberation Center in September and quickly launched us into the crucial but neglected realm of cultural and artistic resistance. We created an Arte Mexicano Art Gallery in the Center that features different exhibitions each month and the city’s only social justice gallery that is unique not only because of its focus, but because each month it highlights political artworks and features artist talks and panels by those in the political struggle addressed in the exhibit. As a member-organization of the Center, Arte Mexicano en Indiana is playing a more prominent role in the cultural revolution we’re building, one where the workers can unify and support the diversity of artists living right here in Indianapolis

Through our collaboration, we intervened in our city’s “First Fridays” monthly event when Indy engages in and celebrates a variety of cultural practices. In November, we officially launched our new series: “Liberation Center First Fridays: Unleashing the Creativity of the Masses.” We are putting into practice a sentiment Stephen Jay Gould expressed when he wrote in The Panda’s Thumb that he is “somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

The first event, “Uniting Voices for Immigrant Rights,” unveiled a curated show of political artwork from the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, Cosecha Indiana, and the Alliance for Immigrant Justice, bringing together the diverse voices united in the struggle for justice in a world divided by imperialism. 

The December event, Alejandra Carillo’s “Struggle for Indigenous Liberation,” occurred just after the Newfields’ Board of Trustees fired—or forced the resignation of—the now-former CEO, Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, who they hired only 15 months prior. Again, because of our role as a politically-independent community organizing hub, in the meantime we released our own reports and analysis of the latest example of the systemic racism underlying the institutions of Indianapolis (and the U.S.) and worked with our partner Wildstyle Paschall to organize a “Lights Out at Klufields” protest to demand her reinstatement.

Building an anti-imperialist movement

Our artistic events and series are thus timely and relevant and engaging events that forge a cultural community of resistance by drawing different movements together. The first of our 2024 series on January 5, “Artists against apartheid,” is a curated exhibition of works that demonstrate art’s capacity to broaden our sense of the world as it is now and the world as we can make it, thereby expanding our horizon of possibility.

Our ability to organize this exhibition is, again, the result of the collaboration we facilitate between different causes groups, like that our member-organization ANSWER Indiana has done consistently since their founding in 2017. In 2023 they led the Center in again displaying our unwavering support for and solidarity with the Palestinian and all national liberation struggles.

After the heroic Palestinian counteroffensive of October 7. Quickly, ANSWER Indiana, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Middle Eastern Student Association at IUPUI, and others.

A potent example of the new level of activity we reached by pursuing different avenues of struggle at the same time is the three-day period between November 3-5. On November 3, hours after our inaugural First Friday event, we boarded a bus the Center chartered to enable our city’s participation in the National March to Free Palestine. This was a massive undertaking and a huge financial risk, but because we believe in the spirit of our people, we quickly organized the bus to the largest pro-Palestine demonstration in U.S. history, with around 500,000 people gathered together to tell the people of Palestine that we too, like the vast majority of the globe, stand with them. The bus returned to Indianapolis on November 5 and, hours later, we were at the Center making placards for the Protest for Palestine that day at 4:00 pm. We managed to accomplish these significant events in such a short time span only through our unity.

Protesting, just like studying, is insufficient on its own. Thus, after a series of almost non-stop protests and rallies, PSL Indianapolis’ monthly Liberation Forum focused on Palestine and included three presentations to analyze the struggle’s history and origins, developments, present state, and future possibilities and an even more impressive collective discussion afterward.

We also helped defeat the desperate fear-tactics the Zionists are resorting to as they lose the propaganda battle in the U.S. by working with and hosting a solidarity statement endorsed by dozens of student organizations at universities and colleges in and around Indianapolis, participating in events hosted by the Democratic Socialists of DePauw, and others. We have them on the defensive and now is not the time to back down because if we retreat, they will advance. They are retreating and so we must keep advancing. This requires not a technical manual of “security measures” but rather the strength of our numbers, our belief in each other, and our ability to meet the people where they’re at instead of falling behind the mass sentiment expressed in support of Palestine.

We amplified the words spoken at protests, produced local analysis showing how the current iteration of the Palestinian struggle is a lynch pin in the entire struggle against U.S. imperialism, created a living archive of local and global resources on Palestine’s struggle and, moreover, engaged in international solidarity trips to one of the most fervent and consistent state supporters of Palestine: Korea. One of our members organized the 2nd annual Peace Delegation to Chongryon (The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) in late November. Another member participated in Nodutdol’s Korean Education Exposure Program in August, traveling to the southern part of their homeland and building with progressive unions, parties, and groupings resisting imperialism in what is effectively a colony of the U.S.

Assessing this frenzy of unprecedented protests, rallies, car caravans, direct actions, discussions, forums, and other tactics, we determined that our inaugural 2024 First Friday must extend these tactics into the realms of art and culture, which are vital weapons in the international struggle for a liberated Palestine and world. This will further introduce different segments of our class to new topics and new approaches to struggle.

Liberating oppressed nations in the U.S.: Building unity across prison bars

When the latest phase in the Palestinian resistance struggle erupted, we were already engaged in a months-long struggle to win justice for Gary Harrell, a 41-year-old Black man Douglas Correll, a violent cop with a documented history of racist attacks, killed by shooting him in the back on Aug. 3. What enabled us to not only continue this struggle but help build a new coalition centered around families and survivors of cop violence?

One factor is that fighting state repression is a consistent priority of the Center, which helped organize the first and, so far, only large protest for IMPD victim Herman Whitfield III in January. We organized one of the national protests against the lynching of Tyre Nichols and tied it to Whitfield III’s murder less than a month later, again receiving media coverage.

Indy10 BLM, ANSWER Indiana, Jesse Brown for Indianapolis, and the Black Liberation Party, held our first protest on May 16 outside the Community “Justice” Campus where Eric Huxley, one of the three cops who brutalized Vaughn for the “crime” of speaking loudly in public faced state charges. 

Once the Judge got word of the protest, he moved the hearing to an online format, just one of many tactics used in an attempt to reduce public attention, such as postponing his hearings at the last minute. On May 15,, Huxley pleaded guilty in federal court. Huxley acknowledged that he knew “there was no legitimate law enforcement reason to use hard strikes, including foot strikes, against the head or face of a person who is handcuffed, under effective control by other officers, and physically unable to harm others” when he attacked Vaughn. Nonetheless, we stayed in the streets to demand Huxley serve the maximum time on federal and state charges, that his two accomplices be arrested and jailed, to continue spotlighting this routine violence. Our May 16 action received local news coverage:

We kept our commitment to demand Justice for Jermaine, even holding a protest nine days after the first protest for Harrell.

Our consistency was one of two primary factors, the other of which was a theoretical understanding that the military carries out the same functions overseas that the police do at home; Harrell and every Palestinian are victims of U.S. racist imperialism. In one official statement, “Until Palestine is Free, and There’s Justice for Baby Gee,” PSL Indianapolis backed this theory up with evidence, such as how the Israeli government adopted the NYPD’s racist stop-and-frisk policy while the Israeli Occupation Forces have hosted schools training cops with their latest methods and technologies of racist profiling.

A third factor was tying the racist propaganda used to turn victims of police terror to the racist propaganda used to turn victims of imperialist occupation into monsters, and the real criminals into innocent victims, we cut through both shields. In our actions in support of Harrell, we led chants to Free Palestine that were overwhelmingly popular. In our actions for Palestine, we had leaders of the police coalition speak.

It is no coincidence that it was at this precise juncture that we welcomed Free Shaka Shakur into the Liberation Center as a member-organization. Shakur, a political prisoner of Indiana held in captivity on trumped-up charges since 2002, was transferred to Virginia to try and repress his organizing, an attempt bound to fail. With the latest group to join the Center, we’re uniting one of the greatest physical, psychological, and ideological divisions amongst our people: between those behind and outside of bars.

Because our new group multiplied our capacity and added a tremendous amount to our collective knowledge, we initiated a 3-part weekly series of events, “The Path To and Beyond Mass Incarceration.” After a book talk on Eugene Puryear’s Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America, we finally held a screening of “They Stood Up: The Story of the Pendleton Two” and a panel featuring the filmmakers, TOO BLACK and THEKINGTRILL. Our third event on December 21 was a press conference in which the story of an elderly Black man brutalized and falsely arrested by County Officers was told publicly for the first time. With the Center behind him, that victim, Taylor Bey, is now a fighter, and we wanted to conclude the series with the beginning of a new campaign that will ramp up early next year. Again, despite a relatively small turnout, Bey’s story is now part of the public record, particularly with this Indianapolis Recorder coverage.

Yet what demonstrates the great strides we made toward enacting our mission this year is the fact that Bey contacted the Liberation Center after watching news coverage of a small protest for Gary Harrell we organized with his family on October 28—another example of how a small protest can manifest something much larger and significant.

Before that press conference, Randal Taylor announced his resignation. We immediately moved to offer a precise analysis of a concrete victory the people won and which the Center has been demanding since 2021. Yet we also accounted for various other factors because it was both more and less than a victory. Without downplaying the significance of the victory, we asserted that Taylor’s resignation will not change the state of police violence in Indianapolis; only the organized people can. The important thing is how we understand, frame, and use the victory to help others experience our power as a united movement.

At the conference, we released a statement by the police coalition on behalf of the families of Gary Harrell and Frederick Davis, which is exclusively available on IndyLiberationCenter.org and that came to the same conclusion:

“The problem with policing Indy’s streets will not change because Taylor is stepping down. The government is no longer by the people, nor for the people. It is a government that preys on the people. Taylor stepping down will not solve this systemic problem. Looks like it is on us.”

Such consciousness doesn’t arise spontaneously; it’s the result of protracted struggle and study. That requires organization, collective knowledge, and true collaboration that enables durability, all of which the Center facilitates. When struggles erupt, new leaders and groups spring into action only to subside or collapse when the slowdown comes because they’re on their own.

Fighting for a people’s democracy and real democratic institutions

2022 concluded with an important victory in the people’s fight to take control of our public library: Gabriel Morley, the CEO choice of the leading clique of the IndyPL Board of Trustees, was forced to decline the offer he received for the position due to the overwhelming opposition to his embarrassing public presentation and the massive and justified public support for Nichelle Hayes. Despite this support, which took the form of protests and months of packed board meetings, 2023 isn’t ending with Hayes as CEO. That doesn’t mean we won’t be writing something different in next year’s assessment, however.

The year started with the people forcing multiple resignations from the board, and hopes were high, especially after the City-County Council appointed Dr. Eugene White before the March 27 meeting. White never explicitly voiced support for Hayes, but he told the IndyStar’s Ko Lyn Cheang that “his first priorities will involve asking questions about what happened during the CEO search, why Hayes was not offered the CEO position, and why, after Morley declined, she still was rebuffed.” Indeed, as ANSWER Indiana Co-Coordinator wrote in BlackIndyLive, the board only offered “misleading and self-contradicting, and they continue to change in a flagrant and desperate effort to avoid giving Hayes the job.” We appealed to White’s character, showing up with signs asking him to stand by his word. However, it’s clear the anti-democratic faction of Hope Tribble pressured him because, in an about-face, Dr. White sided with the board members he had previously questioned. This, along with the appointment of Luis Palacio to the Board of Trustees, ultimately culminated in a closed-room appointment of Greg Hill as CEO at a May Board meeting announced at the last minute at 5:00 pm on a Friday. In other words, the current CEO didn’t even apply or interview for the job!

The anti-democratic faction of the Board viewed this as their final victory and continued trying to consolidate their power. After waiting a few months for the public’s anger to die down, they tried advancing a measure to further limit public comment at future Board of Trustee meetings per person and with an overall time limit. Because the community demonstrated against the measure, it did not pass.

The people won valuable and hard-fought victories in this protracted and unfinished struggle. In 2021, we forced racist CEO Jackie Nytes to resign after a summer of her refusals to quit. In 2022, we forced the illegitimate Board’s handpicked CEO to decline their offer. On top of forcing several resignations throughout 2023, we got a third advocate for the people, former library worker and organizer with the Indianapolis Liberation Center Stephen Lane, appointed to the board. We also won the solidarity of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, who announced on January 6 they were boycotting the city and were canceling their planned 2023 conference in the city.

We exposed the truly anti-democratic, anti-people, and corrupt nature of Hope Tribble and her faction while showing the love our people have for our long-standing board advocates Dr. Patricia Payne and Dr. Khaula Murtadha.

These victories and this struggle have built solidarity between library patrons, workers, unions, religious and community organizations, and a broad cross-section of the masses. They prove our strength when we collectively organize for a common goal and our openness to struggling on multiple fronts. After Hope Tribble deployed armed guards during the February public board meeting, without consulting a single other board member, we started connecting the library and police struggles. When asked about how much money she was spending on hiring armed cops as her personal security, she had no response. Later, she revealed it was to the tune of $80 per officer per hour.

As Tribble was using public funds for a personal armed security force at a public meeting, we started calling for a truly public library system.

Our foes haven’t won; we forced them into a temporary stalemate. The lessons we collectively learned, the strong relationships we built, and the experiences of struggle we went through together place us in an even stronger position to resume the fight against the Tribble-dominated Board faction when the time is right. These lessons and these strong relationships have put us in a strong position to challenge this board again in the future.

If anything, the struggle for a public library and against racist and anti-worker developments at Newfields prove the real force of history aren’t individuals or politicians. Only the organized and bold actions of the community working together can bring about the necessary changes needed to root out racism on the boards and leadership of our cultural and educational institutions in the city, including the IMPD and County Sheriff’s Department. Incubating these ingredients that make history is the purpose of our existence.

Hope Packages Assembly

Wildstyle at Klufields

Gary’s little sister Missy speaks

The foundations of our progress in 2023: Our belief in our power and our new Center

After reading this assessment of the Center’s involvement in community organizing, it may be surprising to learn of our humble beginnings. For our first two years, the Liberation Center was housed in a small, 115 square foot, closet of an office in the A&P building on State St. The Center was tiny; it had no windows; and yet, it proved itself to be a space that our community desperately needs.

As our activity and our community’s awareness of and belief in the potential of the Liberation Center grew, we quickly outgrew our old space. For a year, our activities increased but our community base remained relatively stagnant. Finally, in October 2023, we opened the doors to an exciting move to a larger, more accessible, and centrally-located space at 1800 N. Meridian St. Our new Center has a large common area, three separate offices, 24/7 access, and the ability to incorporate more volunteers and, this next summer, multiple student interns.

This move—commemorated by the Grand Opening Community Celebration—was made possible by the donations of our member-organizations, supportive groups, and donations from individuals in the community who recognize the sanctity of the Center: a space that is truly dedicated to the freedom and liberation of all oppressed people. It’s a physical place with a growing number of different member-groups joining and other groups holding events at the space.

Other key factors behind our move were the ability to identify a need for a truly grassroots, politically-independent organizing space and our willingness to take a risk by moving into a space we wanted and needed but couldn’t—and still can’t—afford for the long-term. We took that risk because of our fundamental belief in the power of collaboration and unity.

The Center’s magic derives from its availability to all peoples and their struggles. Liberation Center volunteers, community members, and leaders all fight side by side for a better tomorrow using the Center as their base of operations. If you are called to help us continue this work in 2024, volunteer with us, make a one-time donation, and/or become a sustainer. Help foster a sense of collectivity and revive our community’s long-standing belief in the possibility and necessity of creating a new, better world today!