Solidarity through the walls

Note: for unknown reasons, our computer is not allowing us to include apostrophes in text on the website, so we have replace all apostrophes with a *. Sorry for the inconvenience:

The struggle against the worst excesses of the California prison system continues. Until we can abolish prisons altogether, inmates, their families, and activists from the community are demanding that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) address overcrowding, abusive “segregated housing units,” and the lack of access to adequate health care and education.

Thousands of inmates in at least twelve prisons across California have participated in ongoing hunger strikes since last July, after the US Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in prisons throughout California causes “needless suffering and death” and ordered the state to reduce its prison population. Despite the ruling, inmates have seen few improvements.

To reduce overcrowding, the state began moving prisoners to other states. This is a shoddy response since these prisoners are now further from their families, making it harder for them to exercise visitation rights. They are also further from the arresting court, which reviews their cases in the event of an appeal.

On February 2, 2012, Christian Alexander Gomez, a 27 years old inmate held in an isolation cell who was participating in a hunger strike, died. He was refusing food in solidarity with 31 other inmates in the prison*s “administrative segregation unit” to protest lack of access to adequate health care, nutritious food, and legal assistance. He didn*t have to die. Why can*t the CDCR respond to prisoners* demands for education, health care, nourishing food, and healthy living conditions?

The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition works in solidarity with the hunger strikers, with a team of lawyers and organizers. They held a recent protest outside of Pelican Bay Prison. It is crucial for folks on the inside to be encouraged and supported by people on the outside.

Other ongoing projects, such as prison literacy groups which send reading material to inmates, are essential to the prisoners* rights movement. Holistic rehabilitation programs (that receive few or no funds from the state) use a humanistic approach to help folks with addiction problems. Where government services are lacking, autonomous peoples must gather to support inmates and their human rights.

On March 20, 2012, 400 inmates throughout California signed a petition to ask the U.N. to investigate solitary confinement as torture. It is a common practice for state prisons in California to isolate inmates as punishment for gang affiliations or for committing violent crimes in custody. The official excuse is that this strategy protects the rest of the prison population. Being held in isolation for days, months, and years on end can result in psychological illness. Currently, prisoners stay in the isolated housing units unless and until they drop out of the gang and “debrief” officials, which means disclosing information about the gang and other persons. This is similar to tactics used by the government in places like Guantanamo in order to extract names and information. It is more important than ever to call out the federal and state government for under-the-table acts of torture.

The existence of gangs is a reality of life in prison. The framework of gang separation is created and perpetuated by the prison system itself. Violent and nonviolent offenders are housed together in large open rooms that may contain over sixty beds. There is no concept of personal space or personal property. Resources are distributed unequally and inadequately to inmates, which induces prisoners to form alliances in order to protect themselves or trade for items that will help them survive. These collections of people are called gangs.

A report from the ACLU demonstrates that Mississippi lowered its crime rate and reduced its prison population by 22 percent between 2008 and 2011 by allowing inmates to earn time off their sentences for participating in educational and reentry programs. If California were really committed to rehabilitation and lowering crime, the CDCR would provide prisoners access to education, safe living conditions, and health care. The state and the cops do not want to admit fault nor relinquish their power over incarcerated people or people who are different, poor, or politically active.

The movement for prisoner rights and against police brutality and torture reaches far and wide from California, across the country, and throughout the globe. It is encouraging that inmates and their supporters in California are protesting, but frustrating that progress is slow. The system of oppression is deeply racist and immoral at its core; it will take time and persistence to break down the systematic walls that divide us. Those who are opposed to this system must build their own walls in resistance. Solidarity is perhaps the most important tool in this fight: inmates must know that they are neither alone nor forgotten in their struggle.

Occupy Wall Street!

By Liane Apple

The occupation of Wall Street was just beginning as Slingshot went to press — it is hard to say how it might evolve by the time you read this. Inspired by “Arab Spring” and the Egyptians who rocked Tahrir Square with mutual aid and a vision for their country, the occupation is leaderless, inclusive, participatory, and has avoided single-issue reformist demands. The occupation exists to expose a litany of issues: corporate personhood, bank bailouts, budget cuts, the misappropriation of wealth by the rich and the global control of the financial market from Wall Street itself. The financial district in New York directly controls the world money system, and incidentally the poverty of the whole planet. People at Occupy Wall Street are facing the bull.

After Adbusters magazine proposed the idea, the loose-knit internet group Anonymous helped organize the occupation with meetings this summer prior to the kickoff of the occupation to organize food distribution, media outreach, legal and street medic support. All of those logistics have also happened spontaneously by individual people power. Since the first day of the protest, people have steadily come onto the streets to join daily marches, to sleep in the park, to play music, to take their pants off, and to otherwise reclaim their voice from the oppression of the ruling class.

Signs are like a carpet on the sidewalk for people passing by to see. ‘People before profit,’ ‘End corporate personhood,’ ‘Banks got bailed out – we got sold out’ are some of the slogans that ring from the park and from the vibrant group of people who occupy it. Marches happen everyday from the park to the New York Stock exchange, with drums banging, people chanting and holding signs, disrupting business as usual.

Corporate media has covered the occupation, but considers it a failed attempt to shut down Wall Street. In reality it is just beginning and the movement is growing. As Slingshot goes to press, protestors have been camped out for over a week at Liberty Plaza Park in the financial district of New York. There have been related financial district occupations in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Canada, England, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, Australia, Israel, and Japan, some of which are still ongoing as Slingshot goes to press.

Police still surround the areas in New York where there are protesters and dozens have been arrested and brutalized, not without scrutiny from copwatchers and lawyers from the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild. It is a point of discussion amongst the group to continue to resist police repression of the event and to maintain voice and power.

Everyday the park occupiers hold a General Assembly, which is facilitated as a consensus meeting. At the assembly people talk about the park autonomous zone, and hear announcements from working groups, such as direct action, food, and media outreach. The general assembly provides space for anyone to have a voice and it also inspires creativity and communication amongst the group.

Participation of steady numbers of concerned people is crucial of the Occupy Wall Street movement and toward life less controlled by world markets and businessmen. Each one of us represents our own voice but together our voices ripple outward louder.