From Bail Fund To Solidarity Fund
In the course of the George Floyd Uprising, people across the US and the world recognized the importance of bailing out protesters. As awareness grew, many bail funds went from reserves of a few thousand dollars to having large sums at their disposal. Towns everywhere now have an organization running some kind of bail fund, and some have several! The growth is inspiring, but it has happened in response to unprecedented repression against social movements. This calls all such projects to approach our work seriously, with high standards and a clear vision of what it takes to counter state repression.
For this reason we present solidarity funds as a model. We hope it offers ideas to other bail organizations who want to orient themselves in solidarity with popular movements. We also hope to encourage people everywhere to hold their existing bail funds to the highest standard of accountability and principle.
A solidarity fund prioritizes supporting protesters and others targeted for involvement in social movements. This can differ somewhat from a traditional community bail fund, which seeks to bail people out of jail only based on very broad criteria. Traditional community funds are a worthwhile endeavor. Abolition of the carceral state is a critical component of any movement against white supremacy, and ultimately nobody should be held on bail. Unfortunately, the number of people currently held on bail is overwhelming and bail amounts are set absurdly high. It’s impossible for any bail fund to say with confidence that if any community member is arrested, they can count on support from the fund. The grim reality is there simply isn’t enough money to bail everyone.
Whenever social movements threaten this system of police, prisons and pay-to-play justice, movement frontliners are targeted with repression. Repression is a strategy to crush movements and defend mass incarceration. By prioritizing the targets of repression, a solidarity fund empowers efforts to end bail and mass incarceration for everyone.
A solidarity fund can also play the role of a community bail fund, but it should be able to say with confidence that if a protester is arrested, they will be supported. This promotes a culture of solidarity and resistance. It helps people who are poor, POC, trans, queer or otherwise vulnerable feel confident that standing up against the powerful is an acceptable risk, because they are guaranteed support if they become targeted.
A solidarity fund should include a jail support effort, meaning a team of trusted people who are prepared to rapidly respond when protesters are arrested, and work to get them out of jail. This helps avoid a situation where a pool of money exists to aid protesters in theory, but in practice it’s unavailable in the moment of need.
Jail support must have clear public channels for protesters to request support, and these channels should be actively monitored. For example, a phone hotline, a public email address, and social media accounts which are regularly checked for messages.
Jail support should have organizers present on the ground during protests to announce and distribute information about how to get support in case of repression. An effective jail support team is accessible to movement organizers, and ideally includes people who are also active in movements.
No “Bad Protesters”
A solidarity fund supports all movement participants regardless of the charges they face. This is for two reasons. First, police routinely lie about what protesters have done and assign trumped-up charges for political reasons. Support must be independent of the police narrative. Secondly, the authorities use controversy around tactics to stoke division within movements. The role of a solidarity fund is not to weigh in on how movements conduct themselves, but to provide consistent, dependable support to any protester facing repression. It’s this principled reliability which builds a culture of solidarity.
More Than Bail
A solidarity fund takes a holistic view of state repression: While the primary priority is getting protesters out of jail as soon as possible, when more resources are available they should be used to address other ways protesters are harmed by repression. Recommended efforts include:
- Providing access to lawyers
- Assisting arrestees with court dates via reminders and transportation, and organizing supporters to attend court
- Coordinating political defense efforts, as detailed by the Tilted Scales Collective
- Providing prisoner support for protesters who stay locked up long-term
- Educating the public about anti-repression strategy and history
- Providing pre-emptive legal consultation for activists being threatened by authorities (but not arrested)
As with any organization which is entrusted with a lot of money, a solidarity fund must earn the trust of donors and movement organizers. To manage money responsibly, a solidarity fund has clear and objective standards for which types of costs are covered. It establishes reasonable limits on expenditures to ensure the long-term viability of the fund. It conducts formal accounting of money coming in and out, for example using a dedicated bank account and a well-maintained ledger. Multiple people must oversee the accounting process, to prevent mistakes or theft of funds.
Many liberatory organizations unravel because of disputes around money, especially when large sums are involved. A solidarity fund avoids this by insisting on integrity and formality in its operations.
We Can Help
We want to see solidarity funds everywhere social movements are happening. We want a world where those who fight against injustice are honored and protected, not punished. If you’re interested in starting an initiative in your area (or developing an existing one), get in touch to see how we can help.