About the Defenders

as a small goup of individuals, some of whom had incarcerated relatives in these institutions, were concerned about physical conditions in the Richmond City Jail and state prisons. As we worked on these issues, we learned more and more about the connections between jails, jobs, poverty, racism, sexism, class, war and political representation. We began to organize to address these broader issues as well.


The Defenders now focuses on learning, analyzing and disseminating information about these issues through the following mediums:

  • Our members meet monthly to discuss issues and plan actions.
  • We work in alliances and partnerships with many other progressive organizations locally, nationally and internationally and are a founding member of the Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN) and the Virginia People’s Assembly (www.RichmondJwJ.org) which works to help unite all the progressive struggles in the state.
  • We are principal organizers in an ongoing campaign to preserve and properly memorialize Richmond’s rich Black history, by reclaiming the city’s long-neglected Burial Ground for Negroes and fighting to stop the development of a commercial baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom, site of what once was the largest slave market in the United States.
  • We formed Defenders Publications, Inc. (DPI) in 2003 and produce a quarterly newspaper, The Virginia Defender (formerly The Richmond Defender), with a press run of 15,000 distributed through more than 250 distribution sites in Richmond, plus 12 other Virginia cities. DPI will soon offer a growing range of publications including new editions of The Story of Gabriel, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Criminal Arrogance and other helpful pamphlets and books. In December 2008 we published our first book, “In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey through the Islamic Republic.”  (See www.DefendersFJE.org/dpi.)
  • Our weekly radio  program, DefendersLIVE!, reaches most of Richmond’s population (Mondays, Noon – 12:30 p.m., on WRIR, 97.3 FM; also available via live stream at www.wrir.org

To learn more about our activities and how you can get involved, click on the buttons on the left of this page.


Thanks for visiting – we hope to hear from you often.



We believe in Freedom.  We believe that all people must be free to develop to their full potential as human beings.


We must be free from hunger, from preventable diseases, from homelessness, from ignorance. We must be free to work and to provide for ourselves and our families. We must be free to pursue our education and to develop ourselves culturally and spiritually. We must be free from fear of the arbitrary use of police power and from the physical and cultural attacks of white-supremacist organizations. Women must be free from physical, cultural and emotional oppression. Children must be free from dangers like lead poisoning, asthma and sexual exploitation. Our youths must be free both from police harassment and the mindless violence of the streets. We must all be free from unjust wars fought in the interest of the wealthy few at the expense of the struggling many.


We believe in Justice.  We believe that every human being has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


And we believe that these rights are meaningless unless we also have the right to a job at a living wage, to decent housing, to adequate health care, to a meaningful education. We believe that all people have the right to stand equally before the law, to equal and fair treatment by the police, by the court system and in jails and prisons. And we believe that the death penalty is the ultimate exercise in injustice.


We believe in Equality.  We believe that for any one of us to be free, we must all be free. We believe that for any one of us to have justice, we must all have justice. We believe that equality for anyone is impossible without equality for everyone.


We live in the richest country in the world. But it’s a country that owes its tremendous wealth to the barbaric oppression of Black labor on a historic scale, as well as the theft of American Indian and Mexican lands, the cruel exploitation of Asian labor and the labor of waves of poor European immigrants. This country does not belong to the wealthy few who have claimed it for their own and yet ask the rest of us to believe that we own it. As human beings, we all have an equal right to its resources. As descendants of those whose blood, sweat and tears paid cruelly for its development, we have a right to collective reparations. And as people who struggle every day with ongoing inequality, we have the right to affirmative action.


As members of The Defenders, we pledge ourselves to defend our community, its men, its women and especially its children, from all forms of oppression. We pledge to fight for a world where all people can live in dignity, freedom and peace.





While supporting and learning from each other, we have focused on effecting change in our community by bringing attention and action to issues, small and large, which affect us all. These include:


  • Working to improve the filthy, unsanitary conditions in the Richmond City Jail, including organizing an ongoing citywide petitioning campaign that called for an independent community inspection of the jail. As virtually the only organization questioning the administration of the jail, we believe we helped lay the basis for the change in administration that took place in January 2006.
  • Initiating a Court Watch Project to support the family of police shooting victim Verlon Johnson. The Defenders have worked closely with organizations like the Virginia State Conference NAACP and Youth for Social Change to keep a public spotlight on the issue of police misconduct in Richmond.
  • Helping to revive the memory of Gabriel, the great Virginia slave rebellion leader who was executed on Oct.10, 1800, in downtown Richmond. One result is the state highway marker that now stands downtown at 15th and East Broad streets. Unveiled by the Defenders on Oct. 10, 2004, the marker is the city’s only official physical commemoration of Gabriel’s Rebellion. It is also the only official recognition that Richmond’s African Burial Ground lies abandoned and disrespected under the privately owned parking lot just north of the marker. Reclaiming that burial ground is another priority for the Defenders.
  •  Working with United Parents Against Lead to pressure the city administration to save federal funding for the Lead-Safe Richmond program, charged with preventing lead poisoning in the city’s children. The Defenders and UPAL were able to obtain an audit of the program by the city’s assessor’s office, But despite the fact that the audit verified our criticisms, we were unable to convince city officials there was a problem. Months after the audit, HUD canceled the city’s funding. Lead abatement work is now being coordinated by UPAL.
  • Joining and working with the Virginia Alliance for Worker Justice to fight for a raise in the state minimum wage and to oppose legislative attacks on local living-wage ordinances and state unemployment benefits.
  • Hosting public meetings to discuss the U.S. war on Iraq and the impact of U.S. foreign policy on domestic budget decisions.
  • Helping to launch the Virginia Anti-War Network (VAWN) on Jan. 8, 2005. VAWN is now in its third year.


To learn more about these and other activities, please click on the links in the column on the left.