Originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 63, printed October 29. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
By Phil Wilayto
It’s an organization that was born in jail. Or, to be more specific, in a bus holding 26 people who were arrested May 31 while protesting the police murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
Some 250 people were arrested that night and charged with violating Gov. Ralph Northam’s just-imposed 8 p.m. curfew. They were held on buses, some handcuffed, for many hours. As the time passed, this particular group decided to stay in touch, to make sure everyone was eventually processed and released and then had legal representation.
And so the hashtag #rva26 was born.
“We wanted a way to stay connected,” explained Marwa, an RVA26 lead organizer and one of the group’s co-founders. “Some of us were already organizing on different issues, but we wanted to make sure everybody got out safe. So we made the hashtag #rva26, because there were 26 of us on the bus, and decided to stick with that name.
“Then about 10 people wanted to organize strategically, to work as one unit, one organization,” she said. “We were about half-Black, half-non-Black. We spoke with different elders and organizers, as mentors, and they were able to help us focus.”
One of the first things the new organization decided to focus on was inmates at the Richmond city jail.
“We thought that was the most appropriate,” Marwa explained. “We’re in touch with a lot of inmates. Right now we’re doing a mask drive for inmates, because they’re not provided the best kinds of masks. And we provide money for them to use at the commissary.
“And we do some on-the-ground actions,” she said. “We had one where we provided legal information with the Richmond Legal Collaborative. We’ve supported events at the Marcus-David Peters Circle. And over the summer we held discussions on a weekly or biweekly basis. Then there were our creative protests, about once a month, with Black artists, visual and musicians, some dancers. We’re a heavily creative group of people.”
The group also raises money for mutual aid.
“So far we’ve raised close to $15,000,” Marwa said. “We redistribute it to Black folks in Richmond, to any Black individual, prioritizing those who are in dire need. So far we’ve been able to give money to anyone who has reached out to us, like if they’re facing an eviction.
“And we collaborate with other groups, like Nolef Turns, which is a partner, to provide some of the funds that we might not have at the moment.”
Marwa said RVA26 raises its money mainly through social media, word of mouth and selling items like T-shirts that they silkscreen themselves.
“And we have a few artists who help by auctioning off their art for us,” she said. “We’ll be at the Black Farmers Market in November,” Marwa said.
(See the Community Calendar on page 6.) “And we’re planning to hold an exhibit in the spring of 2021, curating the experiences and stories of those who have been incarcerated.”
For anyone who wonders what concrete good came out of the Richmond Rebellion, RVA26 seems to be providing a good example.
Anyone who would like to support the organization can make donations through its CashApp account ($RVA26Funds) or Venmo (@RVA26Funds)
“We’re also always looking for people with particular skills or expertise,” Marwa said.
For more information, follow RVA26 on Facebook (rva26) and Instagram (@rva26_)
Categories: Community News