News
Getty Images

Getting Moms Out Of Jail For Mother’s Day

A Q&A with Mary Hooks from Southerners on New Ground

This Mother's Day, a group of incarcerated moms will get the best gift of their lives: freedom. The nonprofit organization Southerners on New Ground (SONG), along with a network of national black-liberation organizations, have put together a mass action called “Mama's Bail Out Day,” which has been raising bail money and gathering resources for incarcerated mothers for the past three weeks. Mary Hooks, codirector of SONG and the initial organizer of the action, spoke with MTV News about the inspiration behind the bailout, how the enthusiasm behind recent marches can help inform other kinds of activism, and how you can organize similar forms of resistance in your own community.

MTV News: What is the Mother's Day bailout?

Mary Hooks: The Mother's Day bailout is an action, it's an experiment, it's a dream made manifest: [It’s] an effort to bail out as many black mamas as we can in the week leading up to Mother's Day. And when we say “black mamas,” we're referring to black women, [including those who are] queer, trans, gender nonconforming. We want to be able to connect black mothers to resources. Because when the state comes for your life, when our people are put in cages, the collateral damage is insurmountable. When you go to jail and can't afford bail, you're made to sit there. You can lose your job. Somebody can take your kids.

We want to be able to call out this heinous system that's holding our people hostage for ransom. By law, they're innocent until proven guilty. They should be able to come home and work out the details of their case and be ready to stand before a judge. Instead, 98 percent of people plead out, [take] plea deals, and never get their chance to have their day in court, [are] never able to tell their side.

This is an opportunity for us to free each other, and also to highlight the harsh impacts that cash bail is having on our people and, in the broader context, mass incarceration. People are trying to get home and they don't have money to get out. We want to be able to call that out.

How did the idea for this bailout action come about?

Hooks: It was incepted in my soul, and I would say it was harbored by SONG. The team was talking and I brought it forward. We talked it over with our members and everybody just got juiced up about it. We were like, “We'll try it. We're going to see what's possible.”

Part of the inspiration was seeing 45 [President Trump] coming into office. Our vision of [prison] abolition, our vision of a world where people can have dignity and safety and no cages and no prisons, now seems a hundred years away. Even further away. Our people need hope right now. It's also a way for our people who have realized that we're in a long, long trajectory of struggle for liberation to embody our vision of the world we’re trying to create right now.

Since this idea has grown, what organizations have gotten involved in the bailout effort?

Hooks: Oh my, there are several. It started inside of SONG. Then it went to the M4BL Policy Table, which we sit at, and a lot of other organizations that are a part of that. The Brooklyn Bail Fund, Color of Change, the Essie Justice Group out of Oakland, the Texas Organizing Project out of Houston. You have the BLM chapter in Memphis. The BLM chapter in Minneapolis. The BLM chapter in Atlanta throwing down, and we have a coalition in Atlanta with SONG, Sister Song, and Women Watch Afrika. So there's a national coalition, but also, locally, people are organizing with service organizations. There's dozens: The Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Dream Defenders, Dignity and Power Now. The list goes on.

How do you feel about the overall response to this call to action?

Hooks: Honey, I'm excited because it has been overwhelmingly beautiful. This is an experiment. For people to feel emboldened in this political moment, in these times, to feel like, “Yo, y'all, let's go all in.” People are already carv[ing] out time, resources, and the capacity to make this vision happen together for our people. It signifies that there are more opportunities and ways in which we can be organizing and using our collective power to take bold, meaningful action that changes the material conditions of our people's lives.

We know that bailing people out doesn't resolve all issues with the court. But we're able to get our people out and get people the resources they need to get back on their feet and get connected with the legal resources that the movement has been organizing, like Law for Black Lives and other formations. How we gather our resources in terms of movement, and in the service of [our] collective vision, speaks volumes to my heart. I think it's a sign that our people want and need to be in formation. They're going to have greater impacts on the communities that we're all a part of.

How likely do you think it is that there will be additional bailout days, or similar actions with a national outlook and a local impact in the future?

Hooks: Harriet [Tubman] made 21 trips, I believe. It took two months from north to south. A round trip could be four months, easily five, and she did it 21 times. I feel like we also have an obligation to employ all the tricks that we have up our sleeves, [to use] any means necessary.

My hope is that this particular action can happen again, but other strategic actions that are leading and advancing our fight for liberation are going to keep growing. We have the homies in Chicago who are like, “How can we make this happen for Father's Day?” We're like, “Hey, let's do it on Juneteenth.” Why not? Turn up, if we've got the resources.

We've been intentional about the way we've been documenting our process and how we're collaborating and organizing ourselves. Also, [documenting] the methods, tactics, visuals and all the things we're using on the ground for whoever's doing the next one. We have to be prepared to put a bold ask out again on Father's Day or some of the [other holidays] that are coming up over the next few months, which I have no doubt that we could do. If 10 percent of black folks gave a dollar, that's 4 million dollars right there. We could shut down jails. We could clear the cages.

Is there a way that recent national momentum around marches can be translated into direct actions like the Bail Out day?

Hooks: When the allies, comrades, and other folks who have different levels of resources and exposure get on board and amplify [these direct actions], yes! I think people need to see what is possible. [Protest movements] didn't just stop with people in the streets. I think that's the amazing thing about movement building: This work ain't copywritten. Ain't nothing copywritten. If it works, duplicate it. Go ahead and do it. People just need to know that it's possible and they're able to make [the movement] stronger, make it better. We can report our lessons so we can also make the journey possible for other people.

How do people begin formulating ways to organize mass actions that have a direct and immediate outcome?

Hooks: One thing we know is that mass actions often happen because some people have that awakening moment. In the church they say you got saved. You got the Holy Ghost in the moment and you're like, “I'm gonna get off the couch and get out to the rally.”

At that point that's why it's so important that we have organizations. People have to join organizations. We're not going to win this online. [Online actions] help get the word out, but we literally have to sit in rooms together. We have to sit in parks. Invite people. Give people an opportunity to fight for themselves. SONG has a kinship network that we've been building for the 24 years we've been around. We believe that the thing that's killing us the most is isolation. It's critical [to] build relationships with people who may not look like you or who may not sound like you or who may not have grown up the way you grew up. Everybody has dignity and worth and has something to contribute to this movement, and being a part of an organization helps you understand where you fit into that. So if you can cook, come throw down and make some meals for the meeting. Bring some hot dogs out cause there's fixin' to be a rally. Or, if you're an artist, we need artists and musicians who are gonna work with movement and be the Nina Simones of our times to tell the true stories of how we're getting free.

This [bailout] mass action is an example of what happens when we organize in political homes and we [don’t] organize just out of anger. I think people want to see us in the streets when we're mad and angry, when we've lost a life. But being able to engage in transformative organizing practices makes your goose bumps come alive. And that can only happen when you do it from a place of love and desire. Because you love black people. Because you love your people, your family, and the next generation.

For more information and resources about fighting mass incarceration and the cash bail system, check out the M4BL Policy Table, SONG's organizing tools, and beautifultrouble.org.