Minnesota Uprising Arrestee Support Accountability Statement
~ the money, the work so far and the work going forward ~
The work that eventually became Minnesota Uprising Arrestee Support (MUAS) started in response to the mass arrests during the uprising that followed the State-sanctioned murder of George Floyd. Since MUAS formed, we have brought arrestees together to organize with one another, to connect to resources, to facilitate meetings and legal education events, and to support folks facing the most serious felony charges.
During the uprising and the weeks that followed, The Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF) accepted over $30 million in donations. MFF is a community bail fund that had not dealt with protest support in the past, but decided to accept donations made to support protesters. When it became clear that arrestees from the uprising did not need significant bail amounts, the arrestees and organizers that make up MUAS worked with MFF to help them be accountable to the community by dispersing funds to protesters with financial needs due to their arrests. MUAS was given a fund of $300,000 with the understanding that this was a starter budget, and that we would have open access to the donations MFF had received once the initial fund ran out.
MUAS developed a finance committee composed of arrestees, organizers, and people with experience in accounting and other skills relevant to the specific nature of redistributing funds. Structural decisions were made with the understanding that the finance committee wouldn’t be holding large sums of money, but would be helping redirect funds held by MFF. The finance committee was originally able to cover the costs of all things related to an arrest. This included attorney fees, court fees, transportation to and from court, paid time off from work for court dates and incarceration, commissary fees, replacing property that was lost or stolen by the police during the arrest, attire for court dates, etc. These funds were made available to arrestees from the uprising and throughout the fall.
As the mass arrests continued and the volume of arrestees in need of attorneys and other forms of financial support grew, it became apparent that MUAS would no longer be able to sustain this level of work with only the original $300,000. The question arose of whether we would even be able to cover the cost of attorneys we’d committed to funding. MUAS made financial commitments to arrestees and their attorneys while in conversation with the now-former MFF Executive Director, who repeatedly promised that MUAS would continue to be funded by MFF.
In October 2020 we caught wind that the MFF board never agreed to the arrangement MUAS made with MFF staff and understood to be in place. MUAS subsequently pushed for MFF to provide continued funding and requested a meeting with the board members. MUAS finance committee members drafted a budget for how much funding was needed to cover attorney fees and other arrest-related costs we committed to covering for all arrestees from the summer, as well as support for ongoing protest arrests and ongoing commissary support for those incarcerated since the uprising. That budget totaled $3 million. After several meetings with the executive director of MFF and MFF board members, MFF committed to granting MUAS half of the requested amount – $1.2 million in addition to the original $300,000, totalling $1.5 million.
In anticipation of receiving these funds, the members of the MUAS finance committee decided to restructure and form a non-profit, the MN Solidarity Fund, in order to deal with the funds in an appropriate way and hopefully continue to provide financial support to protesters well into the future. Others working with MUAS decided not to form a non-profit, but to continue working to support protest arrestees in other areas. MUAS does not currently hold any funds – those exist completely under the purview of the finance committee. No member of the finance committee or anyone else within MUAS has received payment from these funds, and they have never been used for anything outside of the previously outlined parameters.
While we are now two different groups going down two different paths, we respect the work and the choices of one another deeply and plan to continue to collaborate into the future.
The Work So Far
In response to the mass arrests during the uprising, a small cohort of people with experience doing jail and legal support went to the jail to connect with folks as they were released. There were two main efforts. First, to provide immediate care and reduce harm caused to folks that were arrested. Second, to help facilitate arrestee self-organizing.
Harm reduction looked like calling the jail to track people and let officials know we were watching. It looked like meeting folks as they came out of jail with food, water, cell phone chargers, tobacco, and a ride to a safe place. It looked like collaborating to distribute hotel rooms to get folks a safer place, off the street, during curfew.
To facilitate arrestee self organizing we gathered contact information at the jail and invited all arrestees to a community meeting. Often in mass movements, organizing this task would be taken on by action organizers. We saw this need arise as spontaneous actions were emerging without an organizing core. We set a date for a meeting so that we could give it to people as they left jail, especially if they were reluctant to share contact information. We brought community resources we were aware of to these meetings including lawyers (many but not all from the National Lawyers Guild, Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, and the Legal Rights Center), financial resources from the Minnesota Freedom Fund, and local activists who had experience with arrestee organizing to share strategic and tactical lessons.
Our efforts were meant to be scalable and fractal. Scaleable in that we hoped the work and power could grow as more arrestees participated, but that it could still meet the needs of a small number of arrestees if that was all who showed interest. Fractal in that we hoped to win small victories that could build into larger victories, and those larger victories would support the individual victories. In that way, we both failed to meet many of our more aspirational goals, while being successful in smaller efforts along the way.
In that spirit, we successfully helped co-defendants, who hadn’t known each other before being arrested, come together in a community-centered space to collaborate. We helped these groups and other individuals access legal resources. We made extra effort to show up for folks in the most extreme situations to help build networks of support around them that foregrounded and centered their preexisting relationships with family and friends. We engaged in community spaces and the media to push back on narratives supporting the demonizing and criminalizing of arrestees. We went to LOTS of court dates. Most importantly, we engaged as comradely and collaboratively as we could with arrestees to support our shared vision for the future. At it’s best, MUAS was not just FOR arrestees but OF arrestees, in collaboration with each other and comrades. There was always more to do. Some of our shortcomings likely came from spreading ourselves too thin, for example, doing sporadic corporate media interviews without a complete strategy or a deep bench of folks interested in being media liaisons.
Perhaps our greatest failure was that the demographics of those we supported, those who asked for help, and those who participated in MUAS all skewed whiter and more class privileged than the pool of arrestees. We maintain that we are responsible for what we create and the ways in which it perpetuates white supremacy even as we aim to fight against such systems. The criminal legal system is one that is often intentionally inaccessible to communities that are systematically and historically oppressed, and it is our responsibility as people organizing around legal issues not to recreate the same systems that we are working against, no matter how many very real and very deep barriers there are to participating in this work. As time went on it became clear that due to many variables, including a lack of structure and transparent communication, the arrestees that felt most comfortable continuing with the group skewed white and/or class privilege as did the core organizers of our group. These skewed demographics and failure to develop transparent and intentional structure and communication lead to some core organizers experiencing anti-blackness within MUAS. The harm caused is not lost on us and we are reflecting deeply about how to not replicate this dynamic moving into the future.
We also failed to achieve one of our most aspirational goals: Many arrestees who were willing to demand court trials to pressure better outcomes for higher level charges had their charges dropped by the City and moved away from this work. Many arrestees with higher level charges were skeptical of the organizing. Only a few folks with felony charges involved themselves in the organizing side of MUAS. There never emerged a “pan uprising,” arrestee driven, mass strategy with a critical mass of arrestee participation amongst different groups of arrestees.
The Work Going Forward
So, what now? We are in the eye of the storm. 2021 has seen far fewer protest arrests. Some cases are resolving. Arrestees are moving on with their lives. Yet, the trials of the murderers of George Floyd are upon us. The National Guard is planning to once again occupy our streets. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, it will bring unrest and likely many more arrests. Members of MUAS want to be a part of keeping the community strong through this time. We want to improve on our past successes and act on the lessons of our shortcomings. To that end we humbly offer the following:
- To help facilitate BEFORE THE ACTIONS training and conversation, as desired, in legal issues such as: Know Your Rights, Legal First Aid, Legal Process, Jail Support, and Political Mass Defense so that folks taking action can better support one another and move together to meet their political goals.
- To continue to host webinars and discussions to help get folks access to resources and information after the fact.
- To offer a minimal amount (we are a very small group) of logistical support to assist arrestee self organizing. We are not able to be a one stop shop legal collective.
- We will continue with our current model of offering initial support in arrestee meetings and connecting arrestees in order to pass off the knowledge and ideas we have about arrestee organizing throughout the period of unrest associated with the trial.
- After this period, we will be taking a moment to collect ourselves, to work with a facilitator to help us imagine our work going forward as well as to address the failures previously outlined and to regroup under this new vision with clearer goals.
If you would like to collaborate with MUAS, are interested in any of the pre or post action training we mentioned, or to get more info you can find us at MNUprising.org, facebook.com/mnuprising, or on Instagram @mnuprising.