An analysis on the importance and need for anarchists, anti-authoritarians and autonomists to get behind and support the upcoming #PrisonStrike.
Earlier this year, prisoners in South Carolina announced a call for a national strike, to begin on August 21st, the anniversary of the revolutionary prisoner George Jackson, and continue until September 9th, the anniversary of the Attica Uprising.
It goes without saying that, as anarchists, we are collectively invested in promoting, generalizing, and showing solidarity with these prisoners’ efforts. As a movement that has recently faced heightened repression, from the J20 prosecution to proposed “anti-antifa” legislation, that knows the feeling of visiting friends and family behind bars and has our own historic legacies of resistance on the inside, we directly identify with these prisoners’ struggles. We don’t just hate prosecutors, judges, wardens, and COs philosophically, we hate them personally.
But there’s more to it than that. In the midst of a busy August that will see continued (and necessary!) efforts to disrupt ICE, stop pipelines, dismantle the police, and stop the Alt-Right, here are seven reasons we particularly want to urge our comrades across North America to step up their game for August 21st.
- The April 15th massacre at Lee Correctional in South Carolina, which (partly) prompted the call for the strike, was the most violent prison riot that the US has seen in years. Prisons across the country are slashing their budgets and cutting down on staff, limiting the resources that prisoners have and creating situations that are ripe for internally directed violence. Now, as Trump is flooding federal prisons with immigration detainees, the already overcrowded prisons are becoming powder kegs. This strike initiative can set a precedent of solidarity, mutual aid, and collective struggle among prisoners and gangs within the system, as opposed to the brutal, state-engineered competition over diminishing resources. Collective resistance may be the only alternative to prisoner-on-prisoner violence.
- The September 9, 2016 national strike was an incredible success. Two years ago an unprecedented, nationally coordinated, prisoner-led protest hit around 26 facilities, resulting in marches, sit-ins, mass labor withdrawal that forced administrations to bring in scabs, riots that destroyed prison infrastructure, and more. To our knowledge, never before has a prison protest been pre-planned and coordinated over so many US facilities. Despite retaliation, administrations met many prisoners’ more immediate demands shortly thereafter. The concept of “prison slavery”, the loophole of the 13th amendment, and the uncompromising voices of radical prisoners forced their way into living rooms across the country. Prisoners found that they could be powerful, and that they had support on the outside. Anarchist organizing on both sides of the wall was key to this, spreading the word about the strike and facilitating prisoner organizing with conference calls, mailings, and more.
- We’re much stronger now than we were then. Anarchists in North America have been busy the last two years. Our participation in anti-pipeline struggles has spread from North Dakota to a whole range of different camps across the US and Canada. Local assemblies exploded in size after Trump’s election. Though they still exist, we’ve largely pushed the Alt-Right off the streets and back into their chat-rooms and basements. Tenant organizing in many cities has taken off. We’ve soundly beaten the prosecution in one of the largest group political felony trials in American history with decentralized coordination, robust solidarity, and an absolute refusal to snitch. The various kinds of anti-prison agitation and infrastructure we had in 2016 have grown and matured. More broadly, social movements have started to find their courage. For reasons both practical and philosophical, it feels like more people are willing to concede the anarchist position that there is no “political” solution to the disaster that is this world.
- Prisoners have already been throwing down, and are pledging their participation for August. This spring and summer there has already been a wave of small to medium-sized rebellions at US prisons. In January, Florida prisoners organized Operation PUSH across seven different facilities, forcing admins to lockdown prisons across the state. Following the massacre at Lee Correctional, there was a work stoppage at the famous Angola prison in Louisiana in early May, in which prisoners vowed to participate in the national strike in August. Less than a week later, prisoners at the Crossroads facility in Missouri staged a peaceful sit-in. After their demands were ignored, they hot-wired several forklifts and used them to enter and destroy the food area, kitchen, and a manufacturing facility. These prisoners directly mentioned the national strike as well. Then on July 4th, prisoners in Tipton, MO had their own sit-in, and ultimately rendered a housing unit uninhabitable by smashing windows, walls, and furniture. Just this week, a prisoner in North Carolina’s Lanesboro CI announced a call for NC prisoners to join the national strike with “Operation POW.”
- It’s time to go on the offensive. Whether it’s occupying airports over the travel ban, de-platforming the far-Right, defending our friends from legal prosecution and Grand Juries, or occupying ICE over family separations, many of the more spectacular, and often successful, struggles we’ve put our collective weight behind in the last couple of years have had to be reactionary in nature. But this strike is not a reaction to a new state-driven policy or some media-sensationalized act of Trump putting his racist foot in his racist mouth. As a force that directly and fundamentally has the power to subvert the dominion of 21st century state, capital, and whiteness, prisoners are proactively testing the waters of their own power. We are a part of that power, not as allies, but as accomplices who recognize with our actions that prison increasingly has no walls, that both the border and the correctional facility permeate all aspects of daily life. We’ve been on the defense. Let’s go on the attack.
- The recent wave of occupations of and encampments at immigrant detention centers were also an attack on prisons that made large sectors of society newly familiar with a relevant tactic. As one former detainee made clear at a recent anti-prison conference in Pittsburgh, “all detention centers are prisons.” Prisoners in SC have specifically expressed their solidarity with the occupations and with immigrants detained by ICE, and articulate their strike as a related struggle. There is no reason why a wave of encampments and barricades couldn’t also appear at jails and prisons across the country on (or before) August 21st, preventing guards’ shift changes as well as the busing in of scabs to replace prisoners’ labor. Likewise, there’s no reason this strike shouldn’t result in a renewed wave of attention and interest in already existing #OccupyICE encampments.
- The Left is badly positioned to co-opt or capture this struggle. Unlike certain Democrats’ cleverly timed (albeit completely meaningless) call to “abolish ICE”, or non-profits’ strategic positioning to capture the struggle against the Alt-Right and Trump, the institutionalized Left has very little organizational presence in the anti-prison movement on either side of the walls. The few reform-oriented groups that do exist desperately avoid engaging with prisoner-led actions, preferring to instead do little more than plead, “See, we told you so” to the authorities once the smoke and dust from the riots clear.
This is in direct contrast to anarchists’ involvement in this movement, which has grown tremendously in the past 5 years and directly emphasizes prisoners’ own initiatives. Our infrastructure here is broad: it includes dozens of newsletters with prisoner-generated content, an array of podcasts and websites, prisoner reading groups, constant noise demos and call-in days, books-through-bars programs, commissary warchest funds, legal advocacy, radio shows, hundreds of prisoner members of the IWOC, and the largely invisible but constant personal relationships developed through one-on-one correspondence, visitation, and support. Some of this is done by large, publicly facing organizations like IWOC and Anarchist Black Cross; a lot is done by the myriad of smaller collectives and affinity groups coordinating with each other across regions. All of it will matter this August.
It hopefully goes without saying that this is not a declaration of priority or hierarchical importance; we are not attempting to raise this strike above other struggles or ask our comrades to set down their other work in favor of this singular moment. This strike will not be a momentary rupture but rather a period of heightened conflict in an ongoing social war, of which prisons and jails are simply one battlefield. But for the reasons laid out, we think it is particularly important to pull out all the stops in August, and not accidentally treat this as one more 24-hour, attention-grabbing news headline, after which a new series of crises and “holy shit 2018 is crazy” moments take over.
We are in this for the long haul, and our approach is multi-faceted and increasingly expansive. Because of this country’s history of chattel slavery and anti-blackness, and because prisons and jails are what they are, revolt against these institutions necessarily aligns with and heightens other struggles, even as it exposes the most brutal and contradictory elements of society at large. We have a world to destroy, and our freedom to win.
TLDR = August is gonna be lit,
Until every cage is empty,