[Ppnews] Georgia Prison Strike Update

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 14 10:45:29 EST 2011

From: David Slavin <<mailto:dhslavi at emory.edu>dhslavi at emory.edu>
Sent: Thu, Jan 13, 2011 10:40 pm

The PRISON STRIKE has ended in 7 Georgia prisons but organizing is 
ongoing.  All 54,000 Georgia inmates work for "Prison 
Industries":  not a private corporation but the wholly owned 
subsidiary of the Department of Corrections.  In effect, PI employs 
more workers than Delta Airlines, Coca Cola, Home Depot or any of the 
largest corporate employers in the state.  Inmates are the largest 
single workforce in Georgia.  THEY ARE PAID NO WAGES.  To anyone who 
is familiar with Doug Blackmon's _Slavery By Another Name_, this 
forced convict labor system should come as no surprise.  It is part 
of the "New Jim Crow" mass incarceration system that reincarnates the 
Old Jim Crow in the first half of the 20th century.
This action by the inmates was a STRIKE, not a riot or a protest.  It 
was an action by workers TO WITHHOLD THEIR LABOR by refusing to leave 
their cells.  The risks they have taken are enormous.  Refusal to 
work gets you a "Disciplinary Report" which can affect parole and 
your "privileges" in prison.  The demands they presented were for 
WAGES and WORKING CONDITIONS (which in their case of course includes 
living conditions).   Since the work stoppage involved THOUSANDS OF 
INMATES, it is probably the largest strike / labor action in Georgia 
in decades.    Moreover, the inmates have firmly taken a stand of 
interracial solidarity, particularly crucial in Georgia where more 
than 1/3 of the inmates are white.

The importance of this interracial strike cannot be 
overestimated.  These men are taking a stand against conditions that 
violate human rights.  Five years ago at a forum on Abu Ghraib held 
in Atlanta, someone who then worked for the Southern Conference on 
Human Rights (speaking for herself, not the SCHR) remarked that the 
methods of Abu Ghraib had their origins in practices common in 
Southern prisons.  If this observation raises skepticism, see the 
photos in Blackmon's book showing "stress positions" very similar to 
those in the photos from Iraq.

The inmates' resistance brings to  mind Michelle Alexander's book The 
New Jim Crow, a book that this summer we studied at UUCA.  The vast 
majority of those in prison have been targets of a 30-year policy of 
white supremacist, mass incarceration.  Under cover of "the drug war" 
and mass felony convictions, a bi-partisan consensus emerged with the 
objective result of re-establishing second class citizenship status 
for most non-whites in the US -- the New Jim Crow.
Georgia has 54,225 male state prison inmates, according to 
dcor.state.ga.us/GDC/OffenderStatistics/jsp/ : 33,689 Black [61.1%] 
and 19,459 white [35.9%] with the remaining 4% Hispanics, "Indians", 
Asians.  Inmates' age distribution is fairly evenly divided, with 
2-3% of the population in each year of age from 19 to 50 years 
old.  There are 3579 women in Georgia prisons: women are 6.6% and men 
are 93.4% of the total.  Women are not broken down by race.  So far 
as I know, women inmates are [not yet] involved in the strike.

Figures compiled by the Sentencing Project show that in 2007 Blacks 
accounted for 900,000 of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in state 
prisons, six times the incarceration rate of whites.  One in six 
Black men is in the system at any time.  Moreover, higher proportions 
of whites are locked up in local jails (44%) than in state prisons 
(33%), and jails tend to be short term sentences.  The highest 
disproportions in prison populations are in Northeastern and 
Midwestern states.  In Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia [as Georgia's 
Corrections figures attest], however, the proportion of whites in 
prison [not jail] is around 33%, much higher than in other parts of 
the US.   Theodore William Allen, author of The Invention of the 
White Race, points out that where racial inequality has been most 
extreme, in the South, whites are the worst off.  The greater the gap 
between the white and Black worker, the less able white workers are 
to defend themselves as workers.  The role racial privilege plays in 
the social control of white working people, as well as Black, 
suggests why incarceration rates of whites are highest in the Deep South.

Working class interracial solidarity anywhere, anytime is of historic 
significance, and according to Bruce Dixon's report, it is being 
realized in this movement of inmates.  The prison population is of 
course quintessentially working class, and these workers have 
launched a strike for wages and improvement of "working 
conditions."  They have established interracial solidarity.  The 
political consequences of their actions could shift politics in 
Georgia and far beyond the state; thus the strike deserves solidarity 
from every corner.

The inmate demands recall those of Black Reconstruction: education, 
wages, decent food and medical care, the right to be in touch with 
their families, and a chance at a decent life once they are released 
by learning employable skills.   In this struggle may lie "the kernel 
and meaning of the labor movement" to use the phrase WEB DuBois used 
to characterize Black Reconstruction:
  "The South, after the war, presented the greatest opportunity for a 
real national labor movement which the nation ever saw or is likely 
to see for many decades.  Yet the labor movement, with but few 
exceptions, never realized the situation.  It never had the 
intelligence or knowledge, as a whole, to see in black slavery and 
Reconstruction, the kernel and meaning of the labor movement in the 
United States"
[WEB DuBois _Black Reconstruction_  c. 1935; Atheneum edition 1962 p. 
353 Ch. IX The Price of Disaster]

Although there have been inquiries from my friends around the country 
and demonstrations in several cities, so far white progressives in 
Atlanta and Georgia have taken few steps to support this strike.  If 
we continue to ignore the "kernel and meaning" of the progressive 
movement in our own backyard, we risk losing any relevancy we might 
have.   Especially egregious is the loss of opportunity to support a 
movement based on working class interracial solidarity.

As was the case in Iran, the cell phone has been used brilliantly as 
a tactical means to communicate with each other and the outside 
world.   When I was on the faculty of Villanova in 1992, I taught 
college courses in a prison outside Philadelphia (Eastern 
Pennsylvania Correctional Facility, Graterford PA) under a university 
program.  I learned first hand from my students the feeling of being 
cut off from society.  As one of them told me, "we feel like we're 
buried alive in here."   Cell phone contact has been crucial, but 
it's a slender thread.  Bootleg phones acquired from the guards can 
easily be discovered and confiscated, with disciplinary action taken 
against both sides to prevent recurrence.    Inmates need to 
establish their human right to contact with their families and the 
rest of the outside world.

The greatest danger right now is that the protest strike be cut off 
from unions and other progressive forces in Georgia and the rest of 
the country.  The article by Bruce Dixon lists the phone numbers of 
the prisons where the protest is taking place.  Dixon urges everyone 
to call the prison wardens' offices and tell whoever answers that 
you've read the protest demands and believe they should be 
implemented in the best interests of everyone associated with the 
prison system.   Inform them that you will be following events 
closely and expect the inmates to be treated with respect and not 
subjected to intimidation, discipline, or violence.

Other possible avenues of contact: The Office of Ombudsman of 
prisons, is a service set up to handle complaints from prisoners' 
families.  Phone is 404 657 7588 email 
<mailto:ombudsman at dcor.state.ga.us>ombudsman at dcor.state.ga.us    This 
suggestion comes from me alone, but sending an email to this address 
would require no follow up and hence would not interfere with the 
needs of families.  Directly communicate with Commissioner Brian 
Owens from an email send box at the website 
<http://www.dcor.state.ga.us>www.dcor.state.ga.us  "About GDC" on the 
home page tool bar, pull down "Contact Us"

Last Sunday, I spoke to Valerie Porter, one of the contacts for the 
prisoners in Americus GA,  who told me a support group has been 
formed called "The Coalition to Respect Prisoners' Rights."  This 
group, led by families of inmates, Elaine Brown [former national 
secretary of the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s], head of 
Georgia NAACP, Nation of Islam minister and several others, met with 
the governor's representative on Sunday 19 Dec at 3:30 PM.  I've 
asked someone who attended the meeting to come to the Humanists 
meeting and update us on what has transpired since.

Please familiarize yourself with the inmates' demands and read the 
Black Agenda Report article by Bruce Dixon

The most crucial support we can give is any action which prevents the 
prison authorities from cutting these inmates off from the outside world.
in solidarity,


    "Statement of Solidarity with Georgia Prisoner Strike"

hosted on the web by our free online petition service, at:


Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
415 863-9977

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