From Attica to Pelican Bay – Tear down the walls!
Published Sep 7, 2011 7:32 PM
On July 1, hundreds of prisoners at the Pelican Bay State Prison in California
went on a hunger strike for their right to be treated like human beings within
inhumane conditions. Their demands were basic and immediate: an end to group
punishment and administrative abuse; the abolition of the
“debriefing” policy and modification of active/inactive gang status
criteria; that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
comply with recommendations regarding long-term solitary confinement; adequate
and nutritious food; and the expansion of programming, correspondence and other
privileges for indefinite security housing unit-status prisoners.
Soon afterwards, upward of 6,000 prisoners at 11 other so-called correctional
facilities joined the hunger strike. National and international support actions
for the hunger strike spread like wildfire, putting pressure on prison
authorities to come to the bargaining table, just as workers force bosses to
the table over a union contract. With some of the hunger strikers facing death,
on July 20 the prisoners temporarily called off the strike after prison
authorities agreed to ongoing mediation. The prisoners stated that they
reserved the right to resume the hunger strike if the prison authorities did
not meet their criteria.
The PBSP prisoners have decided they will resume their hunger strike on Sept.
26 following a disappointing meeting Aug. 18 with California Undersecretary
Scott Kernan. PBSP inmate Mutupe Duguma, aka James Crawford, explained on the
PrisonMovement Webblog why the hunger strike will be continued: “This is
the only way to expose to the world how racist prison guards and officials have
utilized policy in order to torture us. And we have the material to expose them
because many of us suffer from serious medical conditions or a lack of medical
treatment, which we inherited right here in SHU.”
Thousands of prisoners throughout Georgia had carried out a week-long jobs
action strike in December. Prisoners of all nationalities and religions stayed
in their cells to protest intolerable conditions. These prisoners are paid
slave wages by some of the biggest corporations in the world, like JCPenney,
Best Western Hotels, Honda, Chevron, IBM, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret
and Boeing. Many prisoners in Georgia and elsewhere are paid less than 50 cents
an hour to work in call centers, a global phenomenon resting upon capitalist
restructuring for superprofits.
These prisoners in Georgia and California are carrying forth the legacy of the
heroic Attica rebellion, which occurred 40 years ago in upstate New York.
Hundreds of Black, Latino and white prisoners forged an unbreakable bond of
unity when they took prison guards hostage as a necessary tactic to force
prison officials to the bargaining table. These prisoners captured world
attention in their quest for justice and self-determination. Their rebellion
was sparked by the cowardly assassination of George Jackson, a revolutionary
prison leader and Black Panther Party member, in San Quentin prison on Aug. 21,
Many of the demands of the Attica brothers were outright revolutionary, a
reflection of the upsurge of the national liberation movements at home and
abroad. One demand was to have prisoners recognized as workers, with the right
to a living wage with decent working conditions, the right to have unions and
not to work more than eight hours a day. Another demand was the right to
amnesty for the Attica prisoners and political asylum in the socialist
countries of Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Attica rebellion was drowned in blood by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s
National Guard, who killed 39 prisoners and nine of the hostages in retaking
the prison. Hundreds of prisoners were forced to crawl naked on the ground as
they were beaten by guards.
What do the Attica rebellion and the prison strikes in Georgia and California
have in common? Prisoners are among the most exploited and repressed workers
and are hidden from the rest of society. Having lost their freedom of movement,
prisoners are forced to find other means to have their voices heard.
As the global capitalist economic crisis worsens and jobs disappear, the jail
and prison population inside the U.S. will swell with even larger numbers of
desperate oppressed workers, now close to 3 million. In the interest of
building the broadest class solidarity the progressive movement must support
the demands and tactics of prisoners, who are an integral sector of the working
class. The prisons are the crime! To rebel is justified! Long live the spirit
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