<html>
  <head>

    <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
  </head>
  <body bgcolor="#FFFFFF" text="#000000">
    <div id="container" class="container font-size5">
      <div style="display: block;" id="reader-header" class="header"> <font
          size="-2"><a
href="http://theinfluence.org/a-call-to-action-against-slavery-why-were-about-to-see-the-largest-prison-strikes-in-us-history/"
            id="reader-domain" class="domain">http://theinfluence.org/a-call-to-action-against-slavery-why-were-about-to-see-the-largest-prison-strikes-in-us-history/</a></font>
        <h1 id="reader-title">"A Call to Action Against Slavery"—We're
          About to See the Largest Prison Strikes in US History</h1>
        <div id="reader-credits" class="credits">Jeremy Galloway</div>
      </div>
      <div class="content">
        <div style="display: block;" id="moz-reader-content">
          <div
xml:base="http://theinfluence.org/a-call-to-action-against-slavery-why-were-about-to-see-the-largest-prison-strikes-in-us-history/"
            id="readability-page-1" class="page">
            <div class="entry-content">
              <p><em>August 9th, 2016</em></p>
              <p>On September 9, a series of coordinated work stoppages
                and hunger strikes <a
href="https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2016/04/01/announcement-of-nationally-coordinated-prisoner-workstoppage-for-sept-9-2016/"><span>will
                    take place</span></a><span> at prisons across the
                  country. Organized by a coalition of prisoner rights,
                  labor, and racial justice groups, the strikes will
                  include prisoners from at least 20 states—making this
                  the largest effort to organize incarcerated people in
                  US history. </span></p>
              <p>The actions will represent a powerful, long-awaited
                blow against the status quo in what has become the most
                incarcerated nation on earth. A challenge to mass
                incarceration and the <a
                  href="http://criticalresistance.org/about/not-so-common-language/"><span>prison-industrial
                    complex</span></a><span> in general, the
                  strikes will focus specifically on the widespread
                  exploitation of incarcerated workers—what the
                  Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC)
                  describes as “a call to action against slavery in
                  America.” </span></p>
              <p>The chosen date will mark 45 years since the <span><a
href="https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2011/sep/15/remembering-attica-forty-years-later/">Attica
                    prison uprising</a> (pictured above)</span><span>,
                  the </span><a
                  href="http://www.talkinghistory.org/attica/"><span>bloodiest
                    and most notorious</span></a><span> US prison
                  conflict. The 1971 rebellion—which involved 1,300
                  prisoners and lasted five days—and the state’s brutal
                  response claimed the lives of dozens of prisoners and
                  guards. The events left a lasting scar, but have
                  inspired a new generation among today’s much larger
                  incarcerated population. </span></p>
              <p>Tomorrow (August 10), information campaigns, speaking
                events, and solidarity demonstrations will take place in
                Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia,
                Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota,
                California and elsewhere.</p>
              <p>The organizing coalition includes <a
                  href="http://wearetops.org"><span>The Ordinary People
                    Society</span></a><span> (TOPS), </span><a
                  href="http://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com"><span>Free
                    Alabama Movement</span></a><span> (FAM), </span><a
href="http://www.prisonradio.org/media/audio/uhuru-rowe/free-virginia-movement-159-uhuru"><span>Free
                    Virginia Movement</span></a><span>, </span><a
                  href="http://freeohiomovement.org"><span>Free Ohio
                    Movement</span></a><span>, </span><a
href="https://freealabamamovement.wordpress.com/category/free-mississippi-movement/"><span>Free
                    Mississippi Movement</span></a><span>, </span><a
                  href="https://newundergroundrailroadmovement.wordpress.com/"><span>New
                    Underground Railroad Movement</span></a><span> (CA),
                </span><a href="https://ficpmovement.wordpress.com/"><span>Formerly
                    Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families
                    Movement</span></a><span> (FICPFM), and </span><a
                  href="https://iwoc.noblogs.org/"><span>IWOC—</span></a><span>which
                  has chapters across the country and with which I’ve
                  been involved for several years. </span></p>
              <p>FICPFM has scheduled <a
href="https://ficpmovement.wordpress.com/2016-ficpfm-national-conference/"><span>a
                    national conference</span></a><span> September 9-10
                  to coincide with the main strikes, which have also </span><a
href="https://www.nlg.org/news/announcements/nlg-stands-prisoners-struggle-endorse-iwoc-national-prison-strike-september"><span>been
                    endorsed</span></a><span> by the National Lawyers
                  Guild.</span></p>
              <p>These widespread and coordinated actions haven’t
                happened overnight; they’re the result of years of
                struggle by people on both sides of the prison
                walls. Significantly, it’s incarcerated people who are
                taking the reins in organizing the strikes this time
                around—<a
href="https://itsgoingdown.org/organizing-prisoner-class-interview-iwoc/"><span>despite</span></a>
                <a
href="https://itsgoingdown.org/organizing-prisoner-class-interview-iwoc/">intimidation</a>
                by the state.</p>
              <p>If history is an indicator, the state will do all it
                can to limit media coverage. So organizers inside and
                outside are organizing communication via YouTube,
                Facebook and Twitter. The “revolution” may not be
                televised, but these strikes will be accessible in
                real-time via social media, despite prison officials’
                efforts to keep them hidden.</p>
              <p><b>Leaning on History and Technology</b></p>
              <p>Organizing incarcerated people on such a large scale is
                unprecedented for a reason. As recently as 2009, during
                my two-year stay with the Georgia Department of
                Corrections, simply <em>talking</em> about unions was
                unthinkable for fear of retaliation and isolation.</p>
              <p><span>Now, not only are incarcerated workers in Georgia
                  and across the country talking</span><span> about
                  fighting back against an unjust system—they’re
                  actually </span><i><span>doing</span></i> it.</p>
              <p>Many of us involved with organizing this wave of
                strikes weren’t even born when Attica happened. But we
                do have the twin resources of plenty of history to learn
                from and modern communications—especially mobile phones
                and social media—to lean on as we seek to shape
                resistance.</p>
              <p>Attica happened at a time when, <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/im-a-cop-and-i-support-black-lives-matter-how-can-we-heal-these-wounds/">like
                  today</a>, racial tensions and conflict between police
                and people of color and poor people were high. In 1971,
                the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of
                Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were fresh in the
                public mind, and the government was systematically
                targeting and eliminating leaders of more militant
                groups like the Black Panthers.</p>
              <p>Three months before the Attica Uprising, President
                Richard Nixon <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/nixon-advisor-we-created-the-drug-war-to-destroy-black-people-and-leftists/">had
                </a><span><a
href="http://theinfluence.org/nixon-advisor-we-created-the-drug-war-to-destroy-black-people-and-leftists/">declared</a> his War
                  on Drugs.</span><span> The combined US state and
                  federal prison population then </span><a
href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/new-solutions-drug-policy/brief-history-drug-war"><span>hovered
                    below 200,000 people</span></a>.</p>
              <p>Through the <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/how-ronald-reagans-drug-war-fueled-americans-addiction-to-racist-ideas/">Reagan</a>
                and Clinton years—which ramped up the drug war and
                introduced mandatory minimum sentencing—until today,
                that number ballooned to over <i>1.5 million. </i><span>In
                  total,</span><span> over 2.2 million people now behind
                  bars—in jail, prison, <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/how-the-drug-war-destroys-immigrants-lives/">immigration
                    detention</a>, or <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/americas-network-of-youth-prisons-is-shockingly-large/">youth
                    detention</a>—on any given day. </span></p>
              <p><span>This makes the United States the world’s <a
href="http://www.prisonstudies.org/highest-to-lowest/prison-population-total?field_region_taxonomy_tid=All">number
                    one prison state</a></span> and massively raises the
                stakes for organized resistance. Millions of people’s
                lives and freedom are on the line.</p>
              <p><b>Earlier Uprisings and the Long March to Reform</b></p>
              <p>The few improvements we’ve seen to the US incarceration
                system have been painfully slow in coming—and they
                frequently occur <a
                  href="https://www.thenation.com/article/after-attica-uprising/"><span>only
                  </span><i><span>after</span></i><span> resistance from
                    inside</span></a><span> or public pressure from
                  outside, like the 2009 </span><a
href="http://www.drugpolicy.org/docUploads/Explaining_the_RDL_reforms_of_2009_FINAL.pdf"><span>Rockefeller
                    drug law reforms</span></a></p>
              <p>The Attica uprising led to sweeping changes in New
                York’s penal system, but many of the particpants’
                grievances remain problems today. The demands of recent
                prison strikers strongly echo Attica’s <a
                  href="http://rac.sagepub.com/content/53/2/28.extract#"><span>Manifesto
                    of Demands</span></a><span> and the earlier </span><a
href="http://libcom.org/blog/folsom-prison-strike-manifesto-bill-rights-1970-05012012"><span>demands
                    of inmates at Folsom</span></a><span> in California:
                  basic medical care; fair pay for work; an end to abuse
                  and brutality by prison staff; fair decisions by
                  parole boards; sanitary living conditions; and
                  adequate and nutritious meals. </span></p>
              <p>One of the clearest, and least known, examples of
                prison workers striking to improve conditions came from
                North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW)
                in 1975, four years after Attica. Incarcerated women
                there staged a sit-in strike against conditions at the
                state’s only prison laundry facility.</p>
              <p>Their nonviolent protest was met with force by prison
                guards, who corralled them into a gymnasium and
                assaulted them. The women fought back, triggering the
                state to send in 100 guards from other prisons to quell
                the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four
                days after the strike began, but the prison laundry was
                closed shortly after the incident. [1. & 2.]</p>
              <p>The NCCIW strike, the Attica Uprising, and the <a
href="https://libcom.org/library/black-white-dead-all-over-lucasville-insurrection-staughton-lynd">Lucasville,
                  Ohio prison rebellion of 1993</a><span>—the only major
                  prison uprising in the US to be resolved peacefully—
                  provide vital lessons for prisoners and their allies
                  on the outside.</span></p>
              <p>Siddique Abdullah Hassan, who participated in the
                Lucasville uprising and remains incarcerated, was <a
                  href="https://itsgoingdown.org/final-straw-free-ohio-movement/"><span>recently
                    interviewed by IWOC members</span></a>. He expressed
                the need for solid support from the outside during
                prisoner resistance:</p>
              <blockquote>
                <p><em>“[I]t is a sad commentary on our part, meaning
                    both those people behind enemy lines and on the
                    outside who are activists. When people step up to
                    the plate and fight in a righteous cause, I think
                    that we should not leave those people for dead.”</em></p>
              </blockquote>
              <p><strong>2010: A Flashpoint in Georgia</strong></p>
              <p>The wave of hunger strikes and work stoppages that have
                built up to the September 9 coalition began in December
                2010, when inmates at six Georgia prisons refused to
                report for meals and work assignments.</p>
              <p>Since almost all the work that allows Georgia’s prison
                system to function comes from unpaid inmate
                labor—cooking meals, maintaining facilities, picking up
                trash, repairing storm damage, and doing other work for
                county government that would otherwise be filled by
                members of the community (many incarcerated workers work
                alongside workers from the free world), even building
                new prisons and handling administrative tasks for prison
                officials—the strike made an immediate and lasting
                impact.</p>
              <p><span>The strikers’ demands </span><a
href="http://www.georgiagreenparty.com/blogs/bdixon/GA_InmatesStageHistoricOneDayPrisonStrikeToday"><span>were
                    simple and familiar</span></a><span>. So was the
                  State’s response. The Georgia Department of
                  Corrections reacted by shutting off water and
                  electricity to the strikers’ living quarters. Most of
                  them quickly succumbed to these harsh measures, but a
                  handful dug in and continue to resist.</span></p>
              <p><span>The state retaliated against 37 inmates who were
                  identified as organizers with extreme isolation and
                  punishment. </span></p>
              <p><span>Prison guards at </span><span>Smith State Prison
                  in South Georgia</span><span> were captured on film
                  brutally </span><a
href="http://www.wsbtv.com/news/local/lawmaker-groups-arms-over-violent-prison-video/242915020"><span>beating
                    Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson with hammers</span></a>
                [<em>caution:<span> </span><span>graphic violence</span></em><span>]</span><span>.
                  In what prisoners say is a long-running practice, the
                  two men were isolated from public view and denied
                  visits from family members and legal counsel until
                  their wounds healed. </span></p>
              <p>Three Georgia corrections officers were convicted in
                2014 for an earlier beating, but justice continues to
                elude Jackson, Stevenson and their families. The Georgia
                Department of Corrections responded to the beatings <a
href="http://investigations.blog.ajc.com/2014/12/24/georgia-asked-google-to-censor-youtube-video/?ecmp=ajc_social_facebook_2014_politics_sfp"><span>by
                    asking Google to censor</span></a><span> the YouTube
                  video.</span></p>
              <p>Four of the original Georgia strikers, now under close
                security, staged another hunger strike in 2015. This
                time their only demand was that their security level be
                reconsidered, per state policy.</p>
              <p><b>The Rising Tide</b></p>
              <p><span>The Southeast, which incarcerates more of its
                  residents than any other US region, has been a focal
                  point of prison organizing. </span></p>
              <p>Inspired by the actions of their Georgia neighbors,
                incarcerated workers and supporters in Alabama began
                organizing work stoppages and hunger strikes of their
                own under the banner Free Alabama Movement (FAM). Since
                its inception, FAM has organized for a flurry of work
                stoppages and minor uprisings at St. Clair, Holman and
                Staton Correctional Facilities in <a
href="http://inthesetimes.com/prison-complex/entry/16607/alabama_prisoners"><span>2014</span></a><span>,
                </span><a
href="http://www.alabamaprisonwatch.org/2015/02/support-strike-at-st-clair-correctional.html"><span>2015</span></a><span> and
                </span><a
href="http://www.alabamanews.net/2016/05/11/more-prisoners-across-alabama-join-prison-strike/"><span>earlier
                    this year</span></a><span>.</span></p>
              <p><span>FAM organizers </span><a
                  href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrc8BSNO0jo&feature=youtu.be"><span>explain
                    in this YouTube video</span></a><span> why they’re
                  organizing incarcerated workers: </span></p>
              <blockquote>
                <p><em><span>“They [Alabama Dept. of Corrections] not
                      gonna make this man go to school if he needs a
                      GED. They’re not gonna make him get a skill or
                      trade. They’re not gonna make him do the things
                      that will help him be successful when [he] gets
                      back to the streets. They gonna make him work for
                      them and provide free labor. And that’s where Free
                      Alabama Movement comes in.”</span></em></p>
              </blockquote>
              <p>FAM developed a manifesto called “Let the Crops Rot in
                the Fields,” which lays out a framework that’s spread to
                prisons across the country. Instead of relying on
                support from the outside or passive actions like hunger
                strikes, incarcerated workers are utilizing the most
                powerful tool they have: their labor.</p>
              <p><span>Incarcerated workers are paid pennies an hour—or
                  not at all in Georgia and Texas—for often-backbreaking
                  labor that keeps prisons operating and benefits the
                  state and, increasingly, </span><a
href="http://usuncut.com/class-war/these-7-household-names-make-a-killing-off-of-the-prison-industrial-complex/"><span>private
                    corporations</span></a><span>. </span></p>
              <p><span>If they refuse or are unable to work, </span><a
                  href="http://freeohiomovement.org/call_to_action.html"><span>inmates
                    say they’re subject to punishment</span></a><span>,
                  including “isolation, restraint positions, stripping
                  off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though
                  we are animals.”</span></p>
              <p><span>FAM is also working within the system to enact
                  legislation geared toward improving conditions for
                  incarcerated people in Alabama. They recently
                  presented the </span><a
                  href="http://freealabamamovement.com/12-18-14%20fam%20bill.pdf"><span>Alabama
                    Freedom Bill</span></a><span>, which would expand
                  access to education, rehabilitation, and reentry
                  services—services which are already supposed to exist
                  on paper, but rarely do in practice.</span></p>
              <p>Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a formerly incarcerated person
                whose organization, The Ordinary People’s Society
                (TOPS), was a critical player in the early resistance in
                Georgia and Alabama, says: “They created the
                School-to-Prison Pipeline, we want to flip that and
                organize a Re-entry Pipeline.”</p>
              <p>Considering the barriers to <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/ex-prisoners-must-get-a-fair-chance-of-a-job-says-a-new-york-law-but-employers-are-breaking-it/">employment</a>,
                <a
href="http://theinfluence.org/ban-the-box-movement-fights-to-end-discrimination-against-formerly-incarcerated-college-applicants/">education</a> and
                housing created by a criminal record, reentry services
                are vital, yet the state rarely gives them priority—if
                they provide them at all.</p>
              <p><strong>An Alternative to the Silence of Mainstream
                  Unions </strong></p>
              <p>At a time of high tension, this coalition finds itself
                at a critical intersection of racial, structural and
                economic oppression.</p>
              <p>Mainstream unions have been largely silent on the issue
                of inmate labor. In fact, major unions like <a
                  href="http://www.afscme.org/union/jobs-we-do/corrections"><span>American
                    Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees</span></a><span>
                  (AFSCME), </span><a
href="http://www.seiu521.org/workplace/region4/fresno/cofresno/unit2-correctional-officers/"><span>Service
                    Employees International Union</span></a><span>
                  (SEIU), </span><a
                  href="https://www.afge.org/take-action/campaigns/safe-prisons-project/"><span>American
                    Federation of Government Employees</span></a><span>
                  (AFGE), and the </span><a
href="https://teamster.org/news/2016/04/teamsters-fighting-union-rights-florida-correctional-officers"><span>Teamsters</span></a><span>
                  represent corrections officers and police across the
                  country—placing them in direct conflict with prison
                  workers and the most marginalized people in our
                  society.</span></p>
              <p><span>These unions frequently fight to keep prisons
                  open, </span><a
href="http://solitarywatch.com/2013/02/21/solidarity-and-solitary-when-unions-clash-with-prison-reform/"><span>even
                    when their members are guaranteed work elsewhere</span></a><span>.
                  This effectively puts them in the same boat as private
                  prison companies like Corrections Corporation of
                  America and GEO Group, whose contracts often contain
                  quotas </span><a
href="https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2015/jul/31/report-finds-two-thirds-private-prison-contracts-include-lockup-quotas/"><span>which
                    require a certain percentage of beds remain filled</span></a><span>.</span></p>
              <p><span>IWOC currently </span><a
                  href="https://itsgoingdown.org/strike-against-white-supremacy/"><span>counts
                    about 1,000 incarcerated members</span></a><span>, a
                  number which continues to grow as September 9
                  approaches. This  makes it the largest area of
                  organizing within </span><a href="http://iww.org"><span>Industrial
                    Workers of the World</span></a><span>—a labor union
                  controlled directly by workers which operates outside
                  the mainstream union model.</span></p>
              <p>Most, though not all incarcerated people have committed
                crimes—or at least, what are considered “crimes” under
                our current system. But they often do so out of
                necessity, sometimes to support drug problems where
                treatment or harm reduction services don’t exist and,
                too often, to support families or just survive in a
                system which discriminates by race, gender, sexuality
                and economic status, and robs anyone with a criminal
                record of opportunities.</p>
              <p>Incarcerated workers are still workers, regardless of
                criminal records. Other than by ending or massively
                reducing incarceration itself, it is only by building
                connections between workers behind bars and in the free
                world that will we begin to reform a system that feeds
                on human suffering.</p>
              <p><strong>A Canary in the Coal Mine</strong></p>
              <p><span>September 9 could be the most powerful call in
                  over a generation to reform—or dismantle—a system that
                  IWOC organizer and Ohio prisoner </span><a
href="https://iwoc.noblogs.org/post/2015/06/26/why-should-free-world-workers-care/"><span>Sean
                    Swain calls</span></a><span> a “third world colony”
                  within the US and a “canary in the coal mine.”
                  Conditions in prison today foreshadow what workers on
                  the outside might face in the future, because the
                  oppression inside is merely an amplified version of
                  the oppression faced by poor people everywhere. In
                  this way and others, this issue impacts <em>all</em>
                  working people, not just those living in prison. </span></p>
              <p>Most incarcerated people will be released one day. Do
                we want people who are bitter, humiliated, lacking work
                skills and education, desperate just to put food on the
                table and at great risk of reoffending living next door?</p>
              <p>Or do we want people who can work, who have ties to
                their communities, have maintained relationships with
                loved ones, and who have a vested interest in helping
                build stronger, more socially and economically just
                communities when they return home?</p>
              <p>If we succeed in making the US pay attention to the
                events of September 9, it might just help the country
                decide which of those paths to pursue.</p>
              <hr>
              <p><em>References:</em></p>
              <p><em><span>1. </span></em><span>The New York Times</span><em><span>,
                  </span><span>“Women Inmates Battle Guards in North
                    Carolina,” June 17, 1975.</span></em></p>
              <p><em><span>2. </span></em><span><a
                    href="https://www.akpress.org/dixie-be-damned.html">Dixie
                    Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American
                    South</a></span><em><span>, “On the 1975 Revolt at
                    the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women,”
                    Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford</span></em></p>
              <hr>
              <p><em>Jeremy Galloway is harm reduction coordinator at <a
data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://fsdp.org&source=gmail&ust=1462557892590000&usg=AFQjCNFFBnBHMoba0AxXqIcYsjDYV3nKWA"
                    target="_blank" href="http://fsdp.org/">Families for
                    Sensible Drug Policy</a>, program director at <a
data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://facebook.com/SoutheastHarmReduction&source=gmail&ust=1462557892590000&usg=AFQjCNFmW9PXHdO2Aj7pX16qtyoQQRL6Ow"
                    target="_blank"
                    href="http://facebook.com/SoutheastHarmReduction">Southeast
                    Harm Reduction Project</a>, co-founder of <a
data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org/&source=gmail&ust=1462557892590000&usg=AFQjCNFXhLZ49BcxaoZv0yzpM60-k08y5w"
                    target="_blank"
                    href="http://www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org/">Georgia
                    Overdose Prevention</a>, and a state-certified peer
                  recovery specialist. He lives in North Georgia with
                  his wife and three cats. He writes and speaks
                  regionally about drug policy reform, harm reduction,
                  his experiences, and the importance of including the
                  voices of directly impacted people in policy
                  decisions. His last article for The Influence was “<a
href="http://theinfluence.org/lets-abandon-the-idea-that-if-youve-been-addicted-to-a-drug-total-abstinence-is-essential/">Let’s
                    Abandon the Assumption That If You’ve Been Addicted
                    to a Drug, Total Abstinence Is Essential</a>.”</em>
              </p>
            </div>
          </div>
        </div>
      </div>
      <div> </div>
    </div>
    <div class="moz-signature">-- <br>
      Freedom Archives
      522 Valencia Street
      San Francisco, CA 94110
      415 863.9977
      <a class="moz-txt-link-abbreviated" href="http://www.freedomarchives.org">www.freedomarchives.org</a>
    </div>
  </body>
</html>