Book Review: About Black Prison Organizing

[The movement and struggles of prison activists has played a major, even central, role in the social movements in the US.  But it has not often been recognized or embraced by many other activists and movements which, led by liberal reformists and organizations, avoid the injustices and enslavements of the “criminal justice” system.  Prison organizers, political prisoners, and prisoners as a whole have played a huge role in social movements  in the US (and in most countries throughout the world, as seen from Ireland to Palestine, South Africa to India, Peru to China).  But in the US, the role has been magnified by the mass incarceration of millions, whose pathways and influences in an out of prison have multiplied as a result.  This book review traces recent writing on the roots and links of the prison movement. — Frontlines ed].

The Prisoner’s Rebellion at Attica Prison, New York, 1971

A Hidden Legacy of the Civil Rights Era

by JAMES KILGORE, Counterpunch

Dan Berger’s latest volume, Captive Nation, is perfectly timed. In a moment where interest in mass incarceration across the political spectrum is on the rise, sanitized versions of carceral history will doubtless emerge. Berger’s account offers an instant antidote to any such efforts. He warns us we will be negating a long history of righteous rebellions of the oppressed if we opt for quick fix policy packages that do not address the inequalities underlying the rapid growth of incarceration.

Berger’s personal profile as an historian casts him in a unique position to tell his tale. He represents a bridge between the praxis of the 60s and 70s and today’s decarceration campaigners. Back in the day, activists connected to those in prison by striking up extensive correspondence via snail mail and making in person visits. In this age of digital communication, Berger has stepped back in time and used those old “analog” methods to establish relationships with a number of those still incarcerated for their activities in that era, people such as Veronza Bower, Sundiata Acoli, Jalil Muntaqim (also known as Anthony Bottom) and David Gilbert. These relationships were key to Berger’s framing of the stories he tells as well as his analysis.

Prison Intellectual Culture: The Case of George Jackson

Two things particularly struck me as I read Captive Nation. The first was the amazing radical intellectual culture that emerged in prisons during this period, a culture, I should add, that appeared almost totally absent in the federal and state prisons where I resided from 2002-09. Berger’s depictions of the richness of political debate and the eagerness of people inside to connect prison resistance to the Black liberation struggle and other movements of the era, were staggering. The politics of the rebels/revolutionaries Berger describes were not mere legal maneuverings aimed at overturning individual cases or re-doing legislation. Rather, they aimed to depict and contest the political economy and ideological foundations of a “system.”

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FERGUSON SOLIDARITY STATEMENT FROM SOUTH AFRICA

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Ferguson Solidarity Statement From South Africa

Dear Comrades,

We are writing to you from South Africa as a collective of black students, professionals, artists, writers and activists who have been watching the protests in Ferguson and other parts of the United States.

Although we are separated from each other by vast oceans and large tracts of land, our connectedness remains a bond as inextricable as it was the day your forebears made that sad and dreadful voyage through the middle passage. That bond is less a claim of being blood relatives or that we all have roots in the motherland but that our black skin has been marked for violence and death since the beginning of slavery.

Resistance to anti-black violence has historically been crushed each time it emerged, whether on the African continent, in the US or anywhere else in the world. And yet you, knowing this full well, have refused to let the gratuitous violence and murder of black people pass as a condition that is part and parcel of being black in the world. You have chosen to fight back, to put your bodies on the firing line, and it is this courage that has inspired us to write to you.

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Missouri museum censors Ferguson-Mexico solidarity event for including Palestinians

[Editor:  This article focuses on the St Louis museum officials decision to censor and cancel an event which linked up the resistance to oppression in Ferguson, Mexico, and Palestine.  The action highlighted the standard reactionary response to all protests which reveal the hand of oppressive systems–reactionaries always try to turn protests inward, to break the linkages between common experiences, to make every voice follow the line of narrow self-interest and keep things contained to single-issue orientation.  But those who are repressed or find issues suppressed always seek more.  As one student spoke out against the Missouri museum, “When I heard that they were canceling the panel, I thought it was even more important to come out to voice the fact that we know this is wrong and we can still be united even if we don’t attend a panel,”one student said…..She also said she believed that comparing the various situations would be helpful in making progress toward social justice and unifying people of different races and backgrounds…..“I think obviously there are differences on each one, but it only makes us weaker to divide them, and I think we’re stronger if we find the similarities instead of focus[ing] on the differences between the events,” she added.” — Censorship will fail, as issues, and their linkages, continue to grow. — Frontlines ed.]

electronicintifada.com, 03/20/2015 

https://i0.wp.com/www.stl-psc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Ferguson-to-Palestine.jpgThe Missouri History Museum in St. Louis canceled a community event scheduled for Thursday after organizers refused to remove Palestinian panelists from the platform.

The panel, titled “From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action,” was organized by the Washington University student group AltaVoz to draw parallels between the struggles against state violence in the US, Mexico and Palestine.

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Missouri History Museum’s webpage, before they cancelled the event

AltaVoz was formed in response to the police kidnapping of 43 leftist student activists from the Ayotzinapa teacher’s college in Mexico. The students, who went missing in the city of Iguala while on their way to protest the state’s corrupt education policies, are believed to have been murdered.

Among the panelists were activists from an assortment of social justice organizations in St. Louis, including the Organization for the Black Struggle, Latinos en Axion STL, the Interfaith Committee on Latin America and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee.

Film on Edward Snowden wins Academy Award

Featured photo - The Intercept’s Laura Poitras Wins Academy Award for ‘Citizenfour’

Laura Poitras, a founding editor of The Intercept, won an Academy Award tonight for her documentary “Citizenfour,” an inside look at Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower; with Glenn Greenwald, journalist who reported many of the Snowden exposés.

[The annual Academy Awards (“Oscars”) are selected by secret/anonymous votes of the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures (previous winners of Oscars).  So, on occasion, the awards are given to a film which rebukes unpopular government policies.  And that is definitely the case with the award of “Best Documentary” to Citizenfour, which described the path of the world’s most famous whistleblower, Edward Snowdon who, at great personal cost and risk, exposed the NSA and the most intrusive government betrayal of privacy rights in history.  Though vilified and threatened by the government and politicians, Snowdon has won popular praise and accolades to such an extent that even the filmmakers of Hollywood chose to reward Laura Poitras, director, and the film Citizenfour, with the highest honor.  We urge everyone to seek out and spread the word about this film.  —  Frontlines ed.]

“The disclosures that Edward Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy itself,” Poitras said in her acceptance speech. “Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage and for the many other whistleblowers.” Snowden, in a statement released after the award was announced, said, “My hope is that this award will encourage more people to see the film and be inspired by its message that ordinary citizens, working together, can change the world.”

The film, which has been hailed as a real-life thriller, chronicles Snowden’s effort to securely contact Poitras and Glenn Greenwald in 2013 and meet them in Hong Kong, where Poitras filmed Snowden discussing the thousands of classified NSA documents he was leaking to them, and his motives for doing so. The film takes its title from the pseudonym Snowden used when he contacted Poitras in encrypted emails that were revealed in her documentary.

US: The Torture of Democracy

The disappeared: Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden ‘black site’

  • Exclusive: Secret interrogation facility reveals aspects of war on terror in US
While US military and intelligence interrogation impacted people overseas, Homan Square – said to house military-style vehicles and even a cage – focuses on American citizens, most often poor, black and brown. ‘When you go in,’ Brian Jacob Church told the Guardian, ‘nobody knows what happened to you.
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The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.

Alleged police practices at Homan Square, according to those familiar with the facility who spoke out to the Guardian after its investigation into Chicago police abuse, include:

  • Keeping arrestees out of official booking databases.
  • Beating by police, resulting in head wounds.
  • Shackling for prolonged periods.
  • Denying attorneys access to the “secure” facility.
  • Holding people without legal counsel for between 12 and 24 hours, including people as young as 15.

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Ferguson: Thug Illusion in a Media Revolution

[In the US in recent years, the prominence of the repressive arm of the state has grown to a larger scope than ever before.  The occupation of Black and Brown communities, migrant communities, of increasingly and permanently vulnerable communities of occasional and unstable work, of displaced and homeless communities, youth castaways from schools and jobs, from broken families and internally abusive communities, have all suffered from repeated rounds of criminalization, police violence and mass incarceration.  Such attacks have been endorsed, promoted and justified in daily hysterical media accounts, in political and religious and cultural campaigns for ever-enlarging police forces, for overt and covert racist profiling, for militarization of police, and for multiplying the surveillance and snitch networks.  Opposition to these measures has also grown, and protest movements have also become major targets for political suppression and for beatings, arrests, and killings by cops, all reaching epidemic levels.

Not only does this repression hit at the increasingly re-proletarianized sections of the so-called “middle class” but many from the most oppressed peoples have joined the new and recurrent protest movements, at great personal risk.  Those who have histories of arrests and imprisonment and participation in many illegal and semi-legal pursuits have along with other sectors become politicized and have joined together to change the system.  In a number of cities, gang members have pointedly and significantly stood together, in de facto truces with each other, to defend their communities from attack – a pattern rarely, if ever, reported.  If anything, the twisted reports which occur in the media, are always of the horrifying and frightening “thuggishness” of protest movements.  This is a central ingredient of the media assault on all militant protest movements which now terms such protests as “terrorist.” 

The following article from revolution-news.com, describes these features as they have been seen in Ferguson, Missouri, and in the protest movements that have grown nationwide in recent months.  A largely untold story, we appreciate the courage of revolution-news in bringing it to light.  —  Frontlines ed.]

2/16/2015, Revolution News

“The revolution won’t be televised ya’ll know that.
And if it does get televised they gonna make it look as bad as possible.” – Shoota

The nationwide protests after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson have brought much needed attention to issues of institutional racism, police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men across the US. The #BlackLivesMatter protests have also brought people together and created unity in black communities throughout the country.

Mainstream media (MSM) broadcast images from Ferguson of stores being looted and buildings up in flames. The images shown in MSM succeeded in creating a massive media spectacle. MSM combined with some elements in social media also managed to push false narratives into the public discourse regarding who exactly was in the Ferguson streets and what they were doing there. The narrative that “thugs” were causing destruction and mayhem in Ferguson was amplified in MSM in attempts to smear and discredit the #BlackLivesMatter protests. But who are these so-called “thugs” running amok in Missouri? Continue reading

What Would Malcolm X Think?

An Opinion column in the New York Times, February 21, 2015

By ILYASAH SHABAZZ

Malcolm X — Credit: Associated Press

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — FIFTY years ago today my father, Malcolm X, was assassinated while speaking at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. I think about him every day, but even more in the last year, with the renewed spirit of civil rights activism after the tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., on Staten Island and in countless other parts of the country. What would he have to say about it?

People still look to Malcolm as a model for strident activism. They lament the lack of such a prominent, resonant voice in the modern dialogue about race. But they might not like some of the critical things he would have to say about the strategies of today’s activists.

Of course, my father would be heartened by the youth-led movement taking place across the nation, and abroad, in response to institutional brutality. And he would appreciate the protesters’ fervor and skillful use of social media to rapidly organize, galvanize and educate. In a sense, his ability to boil down hard truths into strong statements and catchy phrases presaged our era of hashtag activism. Continue reading