Dignity and Power Now (DPN) is a grassroots organization based in Los Angeles that fights for the dignity and power of incarcerated people, their families, and communities. In doing so DPN wages a fight for everyone because the prison industrial complex forms an imaginative limit on everyone’s capacity to envision freedom and liberation.
Dignity and Power Now has several projects including an activist coalition, an artist collective, a zine, a research and wellness group, a leadership institute, and a reentry program inside a state prison. Immediate campaign focuses include establishing comprehensive and effective civilian oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and allocating the money from the two billion dollar jail plan into mental health diversion programs and community health centers.
In 2011 the ACLU launched a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for abuses in the jail system. Having read the the 86 page report, Patrisse Cullors decided to create a performance art piece that highlighted her brother’s story of being abused in the county jails while dissolving the disconnect between the conditions inside custody and the community outside. That piece became STAINED: An Intimate Portrayal of State Violence. After a year of touring the piece around Los Angeles County it became clear that audiences wanted to do more than watch the piece – they wanted to change the county jail system. The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence project was born.
The coalition immediately began organizing formerly incarcerated people, survivors of sheriff violence, and their loved ones throughout the county to give their testimony to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence and the County Board of Supervisors, demanding civilian oversight of the sheriff’s department. When it first began the coalition was the only community voice calling for civilian oversight. Within a year’s time they had secured two votes amongst the county supervisors in support of civilian oversight. Momentum was building.
It became clear that taking on mass incarceration meant building a multifaceted movement, a movement that understood that incarceration is traumatic and sheriff violence doesn’t just harm our loved ones in custody, it harms families and communities that become containers for that trauma once loved ones are released. Expanding the organizational, psychological, and motivational capacity to end state violence meant developing five other projects that used art, research, resilience practices, and leadership development as center pieces in the work. Dignity and Power Now was created to be the principle organization for a multifaceted, trauma informed, healing, motivated movement to end state violence and mass incarceration.